Free acupuncture next Saturday, December 9 in honor of Miriam Lee’s birthday! Free treatments are available to both new and existing patients, and all treatments that day will be “Miriam Lee’s 10 Great Points.” Make an appointment to come in and try this awesome treatment for yourself!
But who the heck is Miriam Lee, you ask? She’s an amazing figure in acupuncture history, and since I wrote a paper about her once upon a time, I thought I’d share some of her story for anyone who’s interested.
Miriam Lee was instrumental in the legalization of acupuncture in the U.S. in the 1970s, and her 10-point treatment protocol is one of the staples of community acupuncture. My first year in acupuncture school, we were told that if the only thing we ever did was Miriam Lee’s 10-point treatment protocol, we would still would help more than 80% of the things bringing people into the clinic. It’s a pretty great treatment.
Miriam Lee was born in China in 1926, and began her medical career as a nurse and midwife. She trained in acupuncture as a disciple of the Master Tung Ching Chang (often referred to simply as “Master Tung”) lineage, a traditional form of acupuncture and herbalism passed down through a family line for more than 300 years that used special techniques to treat pain and suffering. She moved to Singapore in 1949 (as did many people during and following the revolution in China), and continued to practice there until 1966 when she came to the US.
When she arrived, Lee didin’t have the right credentials to practice in the medical field, so she got a job on the assembly line of the Hewlett Packard factory. When she met a young man through her church who could not walk following a tumor surgery, she decided that her skills were required. She treated him with acupuncture, and he regained the ability to walk. Soon, news of her abilities was spreading and more people came to her for help, some driving from hours away. She saw these patients in her home; at one point there were so many people lined up on the back stairs waiting to get in to see her that the stairs broke.
Lee was unable to rent office space as she did not have a medical license, but in 1973, an MD offered to let her work out of his office for limited hours (before 1pm). To be able to see all the patients who wanted to see her, she came in earlier and earlier, eventually starting her days at 5am, and seeing up to 80 patients per day. Unlike the modern spa-style acupuncture of mainstream US culture today, Lee practiced in the Chinese fashion. Patients were seen all in the same space, with multiple patients getting treated at any given time. (Sound familiar?) Some were able to sit in chairs, while others stood. Tables were reserved for the disabled who could not stand. People in wheelchairs were treated in the bathroom to take advantage of all available office space.
This form of medicine was not understood by white Americans, and on April 15, 1974, Governor Ronald Reagan vetoed a state bill that would have legalized acupuncture in the state of California. The next morning, Miriam Lee was arrested at 6:45am, and she already had patients receiving acupuncture, so she had to remove their needles before being taken to jail. It is widely believed that sexism and racism contributed to the decision to arrest her.
At the trial, her patients filled the courtroom each day to show their support, and there was not even standing room available for all who wished to be there. The case was dismissed and state legislators compromised with Governor Reagan, labeling acupuncture an experimental procedure that could only be conducted for research purposes through an institution. Lee immediately began practicing under this allowance through the University of California at San Francisco with MD. However, this doctor was so attacked for participating in the program that he dismissed her. Following this second disruption in her practice, Lee traveled to South America and practiced there for some time, though not much has been written about this time in her life.
When Miriam Lee returned to the U.S., she became involved in the fight for legalizing acupuncture as a form of medical practice. Though her practice was closed several times over the years, she continued to fight for the right to help people who wanted her help.
In 1976, Governor Jerry Brown signed the bill that legalized acupuncture in California, and Lee could finally practice her form of medicine without fear of prosecution or political/economic retribution. In 1980, she founded the Acupuncture Association of America to work for the development of a comprehensive scope of practice and professional licensure requirements for acupuncturists.
In 1984, at the age of 58, after practicing acupuncture for more than 35 years, she was awarded a doctorate in Oriental Medicine from the San Francisco College of Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine, finally bearing an academic honor in keeping with her status as one of the founders of American acupuncture.
Miriam Lee worked as an acupuncturist until 1997, when she retired and relocated to southern California. She died in 2009 at the age of 82.
By repeatedly putting herself at risk of criminal prosecution and working with advocacy groups and the state legislature, Miriam Lee made it possible for the medicine of her homeland to be practiced legally in her new country. This was a huge win for Asian-Americans, who had been not only prosecuted in the past, but even killed by white mobs in the 1800s for practicing acupuncture in the U.S.
Lee was one of two students of Master Tung who would bring his methods to the U.S. Unlike most acupuncturists in America, who kept their techniques to themselves to increase their own mystique, Miriam Lee was a born teacher, and shared her techniques to maximize the number of people who could be helped by them. She took on students of her own, who would continue her tradition by taking students in turn to continue handing down the techniques from person to person.
In addition, Miriam Lee wrote two books to share her knowledge with an even wider audience. One was a textbook on the points and techniques of Master Tung. The last and most popular was Insights of a Senior Acupuncturist, which laid out the treatment protocol that came to be known as the “Miriam Lee 10.”
Lee created her 10-point protocol while she was seeing 80 patients a day in the days before legalization. Because she did not have sufficient office space to treat everyone with privacy and length, she needed to create a treatment that would work on the majority of people, leaving her more time to think when trickier cases occurred. This protocol, used to treat a wide variety of diseases, mental illnesses, and injuries, is now used the world over.
Because of Miriam Lee’s efforts, acupuncture is available throughout the U.S. Her highly effective treatment protocols enable community acupuncturists to treat many patients per day, the way Lee did, and her books continue to inspire acupuncturists, students, and patients alike.
To honor her memory, we’re offering free treatments to everyone who comes in on Saturday, December 9. Come in and try the Miriam Lee 10 Great Points for free! Make an appointment.
References for this post:
Acupuncture Association of America – wikidoc. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.wikidoc.org/index.php/Acupuncture_Association_of_America
American Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (AAAOM), the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM), the Council of Colleges for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (CCAOM), and the Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (ACCAOM) (2007). AOM Pioneers & Leaders (Vol. 1). Retrieved from https://aaaom.wildapricot.org/resources/Pictures/Pioneers and Leaders Vol 1.pdf
Fan, A. Y., & Fan, Z. (2014). Dr. Miriam Lee: A heroine for the start of acupuncture as a profession in the State of California. Journal of Integrative Medicine, 12(3), 182-186. doi:10.1016/s2095-4964(14)60016-9
Johnson, S. (2009, September). In Memoriam: Dr. Miriam Lee (1926-2009). Acupuncture Today, 10(9). Retrieved October 4, 2016, from http://www.acupuncturetoday.com/mpacms/at/article.php?id=32021
Lee, M. (1992). Insights of a senior acupuncturist: One combination of points can treat many diseases. Boulder, CO: Blue Poppy Press.
The Pacific Journal Of Oriental Medicine, a Publication of the San Francisco College of Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine, 1(1). (1984, Fall).
Why and How the CPC Works in China – China.org.cn. (n.d.). Retrieved October 20, 2016, from http://www.china.org.cn/arts/2011-06/30/content_22890344_7.htm
Wu, E. S. (2012). History of Traditional Chinese Medicine in California. Chinese America: History & Perspectives, 11.
Zhan, M. (2009). Other-worldly: Making Chinese medicine through transnational frames. Durham: Duke University Press.