Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Florence Peterson Kendall (1910-2006)
MSA SC 3520-13804


Born Florence May Peterson, May 5, 1910, near Warman, Minnesota.  Daughter of Charles August and Mathilda (Kruse) Peterson.  Attended the University of Minnesota.  Married Henry Otis Kendall (1898-1979) in 1935.  Three daughters:  Susan Kendall Nolte, Elizabeth Kendall McCreary, and Florence Kendall Tyler.  Died January 28, 2006, in Severna Park, Maryland.

The child of Swedish immigrants, Florence Peterson Kendall graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1930 with a bachelor of science degree in physical education.  Upon graduation, she began a career in teaching, but soon decided to enter hospital work.  In September 1931, she began training in the field of physical therapy at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, D.C.  After civilian personnel cuts at the hospital, she began working and studying under Henry Kendall at the Children's Hospital in Baltimore.  The couple married a year and a half later.

At Children's Hospital, the Kendalls treated patients with polio, and soon gained national attention for their work.  In 1938, at the request of the U.S. Surgeon General, the Kendalls published U.S. Public Health Bulletin #242, "Care During the Recovery Period of Paralytic Poliomyelitis."  Other pamphlets published by the couple addressed muscle imbalance in low back pain (1936), and lower-extremity amputations (1946).  They also produced films of the treatment of polio, as well as, posture, scoliosis, and exercise.  From 1957 to 1971, and again in 1988, Florence served on the faculty at the University of Maryland Department of Physical Therapy.  She and Henry also served together on the faculty of The Johns Hopkins Hospital School of Nursing from 1943 to 1961.  In an interview, Florence said, "Our work did not evolve out of ambition, but more out of a sense of responsibility.  When people referred to us as mentors and role models, I always considered it a privilege to serve in these roles."

In 1939, the Kendalls organized the Maryland chapter of the American Physiotherapy Association, and Florence became its first president.  Florence and Henry Kendall played a significant role in the passage of legislation in 1947 which established and regulated the practice of physical therapy in Maryland.  "It was a labor of love, with the only compensation being the satisfaction of helping attain standards for the quality of physical therapy in the health field.  We were very involved in writing this bill and spent a lot of time on it."  The Act also created the State Board of Physical Therapy Examiners, on which Florence served in the early 1970s.  Also during the 1940s, while raising a young family, Florence worked for the Maryland State Department of Health, supervising therapists throughout the state who operated free clinics for polio patients.  While dedicated to the treatment of patients stricken by the disease, the Kendalls worried about carrying it home to their own children.  "It was a very difficult time because nobody knew what caused polio.  We didn't know if children could catch it at the beach, at school, through the food they ate...It was especially hard for Mr. Kendall and me.  After treating children with polio at the hospital all day, we didn't know if we were exposing our own children to the disease.  We lived with constant concern."

In 1949, the Kendalls published Muscles:  Testing and Function.  This book has set the standard in the study of physical therapy.  During the last fifty years, four editions have been published, and it has been translated into eight foreign languages.  Other publications include:  Posture and Pain; Golfers:  Take Care of Your Back; and Peterson Family Tree, Roots and Branches.

Florence has received numerous awards for her work, among them the Lucy Blair Service Award in 1971, the first Outstanding Alumni Award from the U.S. Army Physical Therapy Division, and  four honorary doctorates:  The University of Indianapolis, Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science, Shenandoah University, and the University of Maryland.  The American Physical Therapy Association annually awards the Henry O. and Florence P. Kendall Practice Award.   In March 2002, two months before her 90th birthday, she was inducted in the Maryland Women's Hall of Fame.  Later that same year she was named Physical Therapist of the Century by the Maryland Chapter of the American Physical Therapy Association. 

Return to Florence P. Kendall's Introductory Page

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