Originally known as the St. Louis Training School for Reconstruction Aides, the Program in Occupational Therapy began in November 1918 to address the needs of returning soldiers from World War I. The idea for the school originated following a meeting held on October 28, 1918 at the request of Rachel Stix Michael to discuss the possibility of training reconstruction aides for military hospitals. Mrs. Michael formed a committee of people who would later comprise the founding members of the Missouri Association for Occupational Therapy. Together, they established the foundation for the school, which included developing the tentative curriculum. Eleanor Clark Slagle, a founder of the American Occupational Therapy Association, visited St. Louis on November 7, 1918 and approved the group’s plans.
The mission of the School was to give young women a definite vocation and to fill the growing demand for occupational therapists. This was the first program in occupational therapy offered west of the Mississippi River. Four schools of comparative stature existed at that time: The Henry B. Favill School of Occupations in Chicago, the Boston School of Occupational Therapy (currently Tufts), the Philadelphia School of Occupational Therapy and Milwaukee Downer College (AOTA Archives school bulletins).
Miss Alice Dean was appointed director of the School on November 25th and the first class of students began on December 2, 1918. Initially, the School offered a six-month course of instruction. On December 14, 1918, the name was changed to the St. Louis School of Occupational Therapy. A second class of students began on February 24, 1919. The first class of 12 women completed their course of instruction in May 1919. The third class began September 23, 1919, with the school relocating to 3510 Washington Avenue.
The Junior League of St. Louis, which had already established an occupational therapy workshop in the basement of St. Louis Children’s Hospital, gave the Missouri Association for Occupational Therapy (the “Association”) $5,000 to help finance the training school.