Her father was a farmer from
Ireland and worked as an itinerant on the various farms
around New South Wales and Queensland. Because of this the
family moved a lot, making her education very limited. She
attended many small primary schools in Queensland and New
She was trained as an army nurse
and treated the sick for 31 years in the bushlands of
Australia. She acquired the title "Sister" -- used in
British countries for "nurse."
In 1911, when she encountered her first case of polio,
Sister Kenny was unaware of conventional polio treatment --
immobilizing the affected muscles with splints. Instead, she
used common sense and her understanding of anatomy to treat
the symptoms of the disease. Sister Kenny applied moist
hotpacks to help loosen muscles, relieve pain, and enable
limbs to be moved, stretched, and strengthened. The theory
of her treatment was muscle "re-education" -- the retraining
of muscles so that they could function again. The medical
profession widely opposed her unorthodox methods and brought
about a Royal Commission to stop her practicing. This was in
In 1940 the Queensland
government assisted her to go to the United States where her
renown had preceded her. Thus she began courses for Doctors
and Physiotherapists from all over the world. In 1942, the
Sister Kenny Institute was established in Minneapolis,
Minnesota. Sister Kenny's pioneering principles of muscle
rehabilitation became the foundation of physical therapy.
Today, Sister Kenny Rehabilitation Services is one of the
premier rehabilitation centers in the country, known for its
progressive and innovative vision.
In 1951 she retired to Toowoomba in Queensland and died
there the following year.