Ida Pauline Rolf, PhD (1896–1979) – The Woman, The Researcher and Bodyworker extradonaire: Where did the The Line and The Recipe come from?
1896 – Born in NYC and raised there in public schools in the Bronx.
1916 – Graduated from Barnard College (article on her class and grad photo), with honors in Chemistry and had many other interests.
1917 – Hired to work in the Chemistry Laboratory at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research.
1917–1927 – First woman to hold a research post at the Rockefeller Foundation, where she coauthored over a dozen research articles on the chemistry of lipids, mostly with her mentor Phoebus Levin.
1920 – Graduated from the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons with a doctorate in biological chemistry.
1920 – 1932 – researching organic chemistry at the Rockefeller Institute in New York. Despite being the first woman to hold a research position at Rockefeller, Rolf went on to become an associate professor there and published numerous papers on biochemical compounds. Worked in Chemotherapy. (An Interview with Ida Rolf (PDF). Somatics 1979)
Three Contributions to the Chemistry (Free on Google Books) of the Unsaturated Phosphatides By Ida Pauline Rolf, Phoebus Aaron Levene · 1922
1926 – Took a leave of absence and studied aboard. Studying physics in Zurich and Geneva to study homeopathy.
1927 – Left Rockefeller Institute.
1920s to the early 1940s her professional shift took her from scientific medicine back to wholism. Just as Descartes was achieving supremacy in American science, she headed back to Hippocrates. (See the paradigm shift article.)
Why did Ida choose/decide on 10 sessions? Structural Integration: Origins and Development by Eric Jacobson, PhD mentions: “Formatting her work as a series of 10 sessions, each pursuing specific biomechanical goals, may have been prompted by the movement awareness method of Lawson-Woods, who had formatted his method as a series of 10 lessons.” His book “Lawson-Woods D. Psycho-Logics and Posture. Ashington, England: Daniel; 1958 is referenced in the article. I have searched everywhere for a copy of this book to see what it says but can’t find anything. The closest I have come is finding this book: Glowing Health through Diet and Posture.
Although later in the same article it says something about “The earliest published description of Rolf’s 10-session method was authored in 1958 by Lawson-Woods.17 So what is it?
Cool Fact: she originally created it with 7 sessions but got the advice that 10 is a more marketable number. (According to Morales –What is Structural Integration)
She studied with various osteopaths according to the article: Structural Integration: Origins and Development Eric Jacobson, PhD
- William Sutherland, the originator of cranial osteopathy,
- Cranial osteopath Isabel Biddle.
- Amy Cochran, Physiosynthesis, a system of exercise intended to improve biomechanics. The exercises were said to be handed down by psychic perception from Dr. Rush who was the medic who signed the Declaration of Independence.
- Kenneth Little
- John Wrenham
- Jeanette Lee
- Carl Jung
- F. M. Alexander
- Moshe Feldenkrais
- Wilhelm Reich
- Emanuel Swendenborg
- William Sutherland
- Andrew Still
- Alfred Korzypski
- Benjamin Whorf
She also studied with Dr Thomas Morrison, a blind osteopath in Port Jefferson after finding him to work on her as she had a previous injury from being kicked by a horse. Others who she studied with include Korzybiski the author of Science and Sanity and Sam Fulkerson who was instrumental in getting Ida to teach. Story in Rolfing and Physical Reality.
Late 1930’s – studied Yoga (or yog as she called it) in Nyak, NY. (An Interview with Ida Rolf (PDF). Somatics 1979) under Pierre Bernard, a tantric trained Yogi. Story in Rolfing and Physical Reality. She was attracted to Yoga because it was said to help develop a human being to bring out their best qualities. Her main premise was : A balanced body will give rise to a better human being. Her study of yoga helped her realize that there were often problems in the joints that restricted movements.
Moved away from chemistry because her father who owned a big business was ill and she had to help the family out. She first thought about Structural Integration while traveling by train through Europe as she thought about what would happen to the body if you changed it’s chemistry. She postulated that the way to change chemistry is through physics. The development of SI was “Just and accident”. (An Interview with Ida Rolf (PDF). Somatics 1979)
Why gravity? “When Ida Rolf was asked who influenced her work, she usually never gave an answer.However, one day when William Schutz, an American psychologist, asked Rolf this question, she answered: Dr. Feldenkrais—his book Body and Mature Behavior— the chapter on gravity.” Feldenkrais Method Website.
1940 – Worked on her first client, a music teacher named Ethel, who she had wanted to teach her sons but could not because of a serious injury to her arm/hand. Ida ‘fixed it’. Ida started with yoga exercises to help her. Story in Rolfing and Physical Reality.
In the 40s and 50s, it was known as Structural Dynamics according to her son, By Richard Demmerle Ph.D” D.C., D.N in his commerative speech. Memories of a Pioneer (archive.org)
Ida Rolf never took an anatomy class in her life. (An Interview with Ida Rolf (PDF).
1954/1955 – Taught her first class which was called Postural Dynamics at the Kansas City College of Osteopathy and Surgery. She and her students conducted two research projects, including a study of the effects of her work on cholesterol levels. Two Paradigms article.
Ida says to “If you don’t reach the nervous system, you haven’t got it”. Excerpts from a conversation with Shawnee Isacc-Smith by Hadidjah Lamas in the book Rememering Ida Rolf.
1958 – Colonel Arthur Burks wrote a book called Human Structural Dynamics about his experience of Rolfing.
STRUCTURAL INTEGRATION Gravity, ( PDF on rolfing.london) an Unexplored Factor in a More Human Use of Human Beings Ida P. Rolf, Ph.D. Article in Systematics Systematics. 1963;6:67–84
1960s – Al Drucker studied with Ida Rolf at Esalen and mentioned Rolf Monster get-togethers where they would Rolf each other while taking ‘little mushrooms’. Rememering Ida Rolf.
1964: Ida Rolf, creator of Structural Integration, began a series of extended residence
periods. Structural Integration involves a deep muscular-fascial restructuring of the body.
With Esalen as a platform, this work grew into international prominence, with its own
licensing body and training program. Esalen’s Half-Century of Pioneering Cultural Initiatives 1962 to 2019
Training with Ida Rolf involved an application process of reading anatomy books, getting the sessions and writing a paper.
1965 – Guild for Structural Integration Created by Ida. Also involved were Karen Bolesky, Bill Williams, and Joseph Heller. (According to this chart from the Guild )
1969 – 1st research project on Rolfing set up by Julian Silverman of Esalan to study brain waves, phychological profiles, blood and urine samples before and after sessions. Dr. Valarie Hunt of the UCLA Movement Behavior Lab measured muscle potential at different locations in the body during various activities.
1967 – Went to Esalen to study with Dr. Fritz Perl, creator of Gestalt Theory.
1970 – First meeting of Rolfers at Esalen to create an educational institute.
1971 – Fritz Smith trained with Ida at Big Sur (Esalen) and got to be a model for the class. He noticed that her work on him did not hurt but when others worked on him it did. He guessed it was that Ida was working with “energy” so that he felt the pressure of her physcial structure, but not pain. She was doing something that was beyond what she was teaching.
1972 – Rolf Institute created by Ida Rolf according to NYT article upon her death.
“For the last 40 years of her career, Dr. Rolf had worked in applied physiology, and in 1975 she established the Rolf Institute in Boulder, Colo. The institute is maintained by Rolfing practitioners and conducts research that evaluates Rolfing in terms of physical efficiency and emotional well being. The institute also provides training in the Rolfing technique and a public information program.”
1976 – Letter to Ida from Moshe Felenkrais.
1977 – Rolfing: The Integration of Human Structures
Ida’s last years, she was suffering from cancer. Rememering Ida Rolf.
1979 – Letter from Moshe Feldenkrais upon the Death of Ida Rolf.
March 21, 1979 – New York Times – Ida P. Rolf, Developer of ‘Rolfing’Husband Was a ContractorDr. Ida P. Rolf, a biochemist who developed a technique known as “Rolling,” which involved the manipulation of soft tissues of the body, died Monday at a nursing home in Bryn Mawr, Pa. She was 82 years old and had lived most of her life in New York.
Ida Rolf’s Personal Life (Wikipedia): Rolf was married to Walter Frederick Demmerle, an electrical and mechanical engineer and building contractor who held patents for heating thermostats, and traveled abroad frequently with his work. They resided in Stony Brook, New York, and Manhasset, New York, while raising a family. They had two sons, Alan Michael Demmerle and Richard Rolf Demmerle, a chiropractor and also a Rolfing instructor and practitioner. (Why isn’t this work called Demmerle Method?)
At the age of twenty-five she married Walter Demmerle, a childhood and family friend. He was an electrical engineer who had graduated from Cooper Union in New York City. She kept her maiden name since she already had a Ph.D. with the name Rolf on it and had begun her career as a researcher at the Rockefeller Institute (now called The Rockefeller University).
Dick Demmerle, one of Ida Rolf’s sons, was a Rolfer who lived in Switzerland. He gave a speech to honor Ida – Memories of a Pioneer (archive.org)