Dr. Ida P. Rolf Ph.D. & Rolfing® SI – Chronology

Dr. Ida Rolf and Baby

© Photo: Ron Thompson

Ida Rolf
(May 19, 1896 to March 19, 1979)

The American biochemist Dr. Ida Rolf developed Rolfing® Structural Integration and for a better overview we’ve summarized her life’s most important milestones below. In 1971 Ida Rolf founded the Rolf Institute of Structural Integration (RISI) in Boulder, Colorado as an educational center and professional organization for certified Rolfers™. Since 1991 the European Rolfing Association e.V. (ERA) in Munich is responsible for European Rolfers.

May 19, 1896 Ida Pauline Rolf grows up as her parents’ only child in the Bronx in New York. Her father Bernard Rolf works as an engineer, constructing docks and moles on the East Coast in the US. Her mother’s five sisters live nearby. Ida Rolf attends public schools.
1916 At the age of 22 Ida Rolf earns her Bachelor’s degree from Barnard College in New York. The Independent College of Liberal Arts and Sciences for women had been founded by Frederick A.P. Barnard to enable women to receive equal access to education.
1917 to 1920 Ida Rolf studies biochemistry at Columbia University – todays Rockefeller University. She is one of the first women to earn a PhD, which she receives in 1920. Her dissertation’s title is “Three Contributions to the Chemistry of the Unsaturated Phosphatides”.
1918 Ida Rolf lives in Greenwich Village in New York and pays for her degree working as a researcher at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research – at first in the Chemotherapy Department, later at the Department for Organic Chemistry.
1918 to 1927 Her institute’s manager, Phoebus Levene, makes Ida Rolf an associate, which, at the time, was the greatest distinction for a researcher at the Rockefeller Institute. In the following 15 years she publishes professional papers together with Levene.
1921 At the age of 25 she marries the electrical engineer Walter F. Demmerle (born in 1893), a friend of the family. Because she had earned her PhD under her maiden name, she kept it. Their marriage lasts until her husband’s death in 1947.
1920s Ida Rolf practices Yoga in her free time – at first with the Tantra-Yoga teacher Pierre Bernard (Peter Coon). Later she practices Hatha Yoga for many years.
1926 to 1928 A year before Ida Rolf leaves the Rockefeller Institute, she goes to Europe. She studies math and nuclear physics at the ETH Zurich, Switzerland, and takes courses on homeopathic medicine in Geneva an on biochemistry at the Pasteur Institute in Paris.
1928 Ida Rolf’s parents pass away and leave her a house in the small town of Stony Brook on Long Island, where she moves in with her husband.
1932 At the age of 26 Ida Rolf becomes a mother. Her son Richard Demmerle has problems coordinating his movements as a child. His fine motor skills are also not well developed. Ida Rolf prefers holistic medical approaches to support her son. She befriends the blind osteopath Dr. Morrison, with whom she discusses scientific papers once a week for several years. Her son Richard later becomes a chiropractor and supports his mother’s work as a Rolfer. He dies in 2015.
1933 Ida Rolf and her husband have their second son. Alan Demmerle, who becomes an electrical engineer like his father, remembers:
 “Whenever she encountered a problem with herself or her family, it was her nature to seek a solution. She was always open to new ideas and was willing to try new methods on herself or her family.”
And also:
“Dr. Rolf was insatiably inquisitive. She ardently studied aspects of anatomy, physiology, philosophy, religion, yoga, general semantics, homoepathy, and even astrology. She slept very little… She was first and foremost a curious and imaginative intellectual, with a passion to understand the world around her.”
1938 Alan Demmerle recounts how his mother saved the family’s boat at the age of 42:
„In the height of this viscous wind and rainstorm, she went to town, boarded the boat, started the engine (a major job under the circumstances) and piloted the boat back down the main street to the harbor. Courage, conviction and fortitude were elements of Ida Rolf’s constitution.”
1939 Ida Rolf moves to Manhasset on Long Island with her family because her husband wants to be closer to his new office on Wall Street. Her son Alan reports:
„I would guess, though it was never said, that she felt the value of moving to a town of professionals and intellectuals in closer proximity to New York City, a place she always loved. It was about that time, she was in her late forties, that her work toward the development of structural integration got a sharper focus. My brother and I were in school, and she had more opportunity to persue her other interests.”
Ida Rolf intensively studies health issues arising in her personal environment, likes to get to the bottom of things, and integrates a variety of methods in her contemplations – such as chiropractic and the Alexander Technique, but also mental practices, such as Alfred Korzybski’s awareness studies.
1944 Ida Rolf begins working with clients regularly from her home. She calls her method “Structural Dynamics”.
1947 Ida Rolf becomes a widow at the age of 50 because her husband, Walter F. Demmerle, dies of a heart attack. Her two sons are 14 and 13 years old. In order to make a living, she works in her practice in Manhasset and holds workshops in England during summer vacation – at first at the European College of Osteopathy in Maidstone, later at an institute in Surrey.
1953 Ida Rolf teaches her first official class in the US in Los Angeles. She travels throughout the US to illustrate her method to osteopaths and chiropractors. Her son Richard Demmerle supports her.
1954/1955 Now Ida Rolf refers to her method as “Postural Integration”. In order to make it better known, she teaches her first training course at the College of Osteopathy and Surgery in Kansas City, Missouri and works on two research projects with the group.
1958 Ida Rolf develops the ten-series, which Denis Lawson-Wood describes for the first time in a professional article.
* Lawson-Wood, D.: Psycho-Logics and Posture. Ashington, England: Daniel; 1958.
Ida Rolf now calls her method “Rolfing” and develops a logo for it: on the left a 4 year old Tim Barret, whom she treats, can be seen. The boy has problems with upright posture and in 1959 his doctors diagnose Leggs-Perthes Disease, an orthopedic childhood condition that causes limited movement in the hip joint, knee pain, and limping.
In order to illustrate the boy’s problem, Ida Rolf shows before-and-after images. On the right it says “The Vertical”, in terms of to evolution, structure, relationship, stability, potential, alignment, movement, balance, agility, health, grace, mass.
The doctors suggest making the boy wear a body cast for five years and predict he will need a wheelchair at age 20. Ida Rolf treats him for several months without placing him in a cast. The result: Tim Barret grows up without any physical discomfort. Later – in his mid-40s – he lives on Hawaii with his family and enjoys surfing.
1959 After Ida Rolf sells her houses in Stony Brook and Manhasset, she moves to New York into an apartment with a spectacular view of the Hudson River and sunsets over New Jersey. She lives there for ten years.
1963 Ida Rolf recognizes gravity’s effect on the human body. She describes her method in professional articles, illustrating the text with before-and-after images. Her first professional article about “Rolfing Structural Integration” becomes known as “The Blue Book”.
* Rolf, I.: Structural Integration: Gravity, an Unexplored Factor in a More Human use of Human Beings. Systematics. 1963; 6:67-84.
Alan Demmerle illustrates his mother’s willpower by describing a coastal hike near the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California. He climbs down the steep coast with his mother, who was 67 years old at the time, to accompany a friend, the Rolfer John Lodge, to go fishing.
„About 80% of the way up, she declared she couldn’t go any further, and had to sit down. Her legs, she declared, had given out… John kneeled on those sharp stones of that crumbling path, worked on my mother’s legs and back for fifteen or twenty minutes and produced a miracle as Rolfers sometimes do. Ida Rolf gathered herself up and plodded the rest of the path to the house. She had done what she wanted to do…In retroperspect, however, I see her attitude as just her desire to live in such a way as to get the most out of her life.”
1964 The well-known American author Arthur Burks explains Ida Rolf’s method in a book.
* Burks A.: Human Structural Dynamics. Lakemont, GA: CSA Publishers; 1964.
The mid-1960s Ida Rolf meets Friedrich „Fritz“ Perls, the cofounder of Gestalt Therapy. She treats him and invites him to teach at the Esalen Institute, which had been founded in 1962 in Big Sur on the coast of California. Ida Rolf works on the Human Potential Movement (HPM), a precursor of the New-Age-Movement, and Humanistic Psychology.
1967 Ida Rolf writes three chapters for her own book, but doesn’t make much headway alongside teaching and Rolfing. In the following year, her secretary, Rosemary Feitis, trains to become a Rolfer. Both women work on the book for ten years until it is finally published in 1977.
1969 At the age of 73, Ida Rolf moves from New York to Blackwood, Philadelphia, to be closer to her older son, Richard, and his family.
1970 Robert Pritchard’s documentary shows Ida Rolf teaching at the Esalen Institute, how she explains the basic principles and the theory behind Rolfing Structural Integration to a class.
1971 Ida Rolf founds the “Rolf Institute of Structural Integration” (RISI) as an educational center and professional organization. The school was – and is to this day – in Boulder, Colorado, a town at the foot of the Rocky Mountains.
1973 Ida Rolf explains how she defines stress and the effect Rolfing has on the body, mind, and soul in a Swiss professional journal.
* Rolf I. Structural Integration: A contribution to the understanding of stress. Confinia Psychiatr. 1973; 16:69-79
1976 Ida Rolf writes a brochure on the treatment of connective tissue (fascia) through Rolfing with the Rolfer Roger Pierce.
* Dr. Rolf and Roger Pierce, Ph.D.: The Rolfing Technique of Connective Tissue Manipulation, Verlag?, 1976, Neuauflage 2003
1977 Ida Rolf publishes her only book and illustrates the text with photos and anatomic drawings.
* Rolf I. Rolfing: The Integration of Human Structures. Santa Monica, CA: Dennis-Brown; 1977.
1978 For the conference “Explorers of Human Kind” in Los Angeles Ida Rolf publishes a brochure in a magazine for Humanistic Psychology.
* Rolf IP.: The vertical-experiential side of human potential. J Humanistic Psych. 1978;18:37-39.
Rosemary Feitis, who has worked as Ida Rolf’s personal secretary since 1968, assembles a collection of teaching materials and publishes them in a book.
* Feitis R.: Ida Rolf Talks About Rolfing and Physical Reality. New York: Harper and Row; 1978.
1979 In a professional article Ida Rolf explains what she means by the human body’s “structure”.
* Rolf I.: Structure: A new factor in understanding the human condition. Somatics Mag. 1979; Spring: 6-8
March 19, 1979 Ida Rolf dies at the age of 82, two months before her 83. birthday. She is buried in the family grave on the Woodlawn cemetery in the Bronx, New York, leaving behind her two sons Richard and Alan.
1996 Seventeen years after Ida Rolf’s death, her longtime secretary, Rosemary Feitis, publishes an anthology of her quotes.
* Feitis R., Schultz L.: Remembering Ida Rolf. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 1996
2007 Ida Rolf’s oldest son holds a short speech on the first Fascia Research Congress at Harvard University in Boston. Richard Demmerle (1932-2015), who worked as a Rolfer himself for many years, states:
“This is one of the milestones, that my mother had been working for all her life. If she were here today, I don’t know whether she could handle the emotional component. It would be an overwhelming experience for her. She has worked hard, she has given her life to an ideal, to an idea. And fortunately today, this ideal, this dream, that she had about the physical structure has come into a reality. It is something you can touch. It is something that you can feel. It is something – I don’t find the right word for it. But it is real. It is not a dream anymore. She has perpetuated in giving everyone here, who has ever come in contact with her or her work. She has given you something that – like she gave to me -, carries you through the rest of your life. I only have one request: Live the line. Don’t try to put it back. Live it. If you live it, it will carry you through thick and thin.”