The Twentieth Century

Here is where it really gets interesting. While all this work was going on in Europe, William Fitzgerald was studying at the University of Vermont. Intent upon becoming a doctor, he specialized in the treatment of the ears, nose, and throat while working at Boston City Hospital. From Boston, Dr. Fitzgerald moved on to work in London and then to Vienna, where zone therapy was in use and different publications on this subject were accessible.

Bringing Zone Therapy to the States

When Fitzgerald returned to the United States, he was appointed head of the Nose and Throat Department of St. Francis Hospital in Hartford, Connecticut. Dr. Fitzgerald began to talk about zone therapy, encouraging others in the medical field to learn this drug-free modality. Clearly Fitzgerald was influenced by what he saw and read while in Europe, so much so that he developed his own theories regarding zone therapy and reflexes.


This is where you can see how history has made almost a complete circle, as zones are different from but similar to the meridians mentioned earlier. Meridians come from traditional Chinese medicine and are the twelve energy lines that run through the body either beginning or ending in the feet or hands.

The doctor believed that by exerting pressure on certain areas of the mouth and face a patient would experience a numbing effect mimicking anesthesia without the use of drugs. He took this study further and discovered that pressure applied on the hands, feet, or over joints produced the same results. Fitzgerald soon found that pain relief often reduced or relieved the cause of the pain, further assisting in overall healing.

Dr. Fitzgerald began to record the areas of pain, the conditions that caused the pain, and the resulting relief. He continued to research this therapy he called zone therapy, experimenting with various areas of the body and charting his findings. He divided the body into ten zones. Each zone runs from a toe up to the head and out to a finger and back again, separating the body into ten parts. Any place on a zone can be affected by pressing points on the feet and/or hands. For instance, Fitzgerald found that if you have a headache, you can press your big toe or your thumb to help relieve the pain.

Influencing Others

Dr. Fitzgerald learned through his research and practical application how to relieve painful symptoms often without anesthesia. Fitzgerald published a book, Zone Therapy, in 1917 and lectured and demonstrated his findings to his colleagues — some accepted and many did not. Some doctors who did find zone therapy effective felt the practice was too unorthodox and time consuming to adopt. However, there were dentists, chiropractors, naturopaths, and others in the medical field who preferred a drugless treatment and began to use the zone method.


Fitzgerald advocated using metal clamps, clothespins, rubber bands, and metal combs to apply pressure on the extremities and bony eminences, which would anesthetize an area. Dentists today may speak about pressing the area under the nose with two fingers. Applied pressure to this area will actually produce a sensation very much like Novocain — try it and see!

One doctor who did believe and practice zone therapy was Dr. Joseph Shelby Riley. He was a doctor of medicine — chiropractic and naturopathy — as well as a teacher of these practices. Together with his wife, he operated a school in Washington, D.C., covering many drug-free therapies. Riley did not use any of the tools that Dr. Fitzgerald had employed; rather, he created a technique using his fingers and thumbs. He spent time documenting in charts the regions he felt were affected within the zones.

The Mother of Reflexology

You can see how Dr. Fitzgerald and Dr. Riley introduced this concept in the United States, but there was one person who was responsible for truly introducing reflexology to the modern world. Eunice Ingham, a therapist working for Dr. Riley in the 1930s, accepted zone therapy completely. Ingham is considered the mother of reflexology and is honored by all reflexologists. Through her work with Dr. Riley, Ingham moved zone therapy into a new modality she called reflexology. Ingham saw a correlation between glands and points in the feet and felt that working these points was key to zone pressure therapy.


Ingham connected the actual anatomy of the body with the zones. She introduced the concept of the feet as a mirror image of the body structure. Ingham's belief that the sensitivity of the feet improved the treatment led reflexologists not to consider hands as a medium for many years. We now know both are effective in enhancing the treatment.

In Ingham's book, Stories the Feet Have Told Thru Reflexology, published in 1951, she introduces the importance of nerves in the feet. She explains through her method, Ingham Compression Method of Reflexology, that it is possible to help congestion in certain areas of the body, particularly in the glandular system. Ingham indicates that stimulation of reflex points in the feet relieves symptoms throughout the body.

Ingham made other changes in zone therapy. She discovered that alternating the pressure created profound results in encouraging the body to heal itself. Ingham charted where she found reflexes for the body in the feet. She separated reflexology from zone therapy and recognized this as a new modality, further removing the treatment from massage. Equally as important, Ingham continued a dialogue with the medical community, holistic practitioners, and the lay consumer. She traveled around the country writing, lecturing, demonstrating, and teaching.


Ingham has influenced many people who then began their own training schools. Doreen Bayley, a former student of Ingham's, established the Bayley School of Reflexology in the United Kingdom. Hanne Marquardt met Ingham and developed her own training school of reflexology in Germany. Mildred Carter, another student of Ingham's, developed a teaching program in reflexology and wrote many books on the subject.

A Threat to the Medical Profession

The medical profession concurred with Eunice in recognizing the effectiveness of reflexology, particularly in relieving congestion throughout the body and in promoting circulation; some even viewed the importance of this technique as a diagnostic tool. However, many doctors thought reflexology took too long and didn't bring in enough money. The trade of reflexology became a threat, limiting what Ingham and those she taught could do.

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