To honor Prof. Joe Dorsey's legacy, a memorial donation may be made to the University of Massachusetts Lowell in support of the Joseph Dorsey Endowment Fund. Donations can be made online at
Donations can also be mailed to UMass Lowell Advancement Office, 45 Lawrence Drive, Lowell, MA 01854. Make checks payable to UMass Lowell and note that the gift is in memory of Dr. Joseph Dorsey.

Joseph Dorsey, Founder of the Physical Therapy Program, Dies at 88

Prof. Joe Dorsey of physical therapy demonstrates an aqua therapy device in the early 1980s
Prof. Joe Dorsey of physical therapy demonstrates an aqua therapy device in the early 1980s.

He saw himself in ‘The kids’ for whom he created the program

Joseph Dorsey, who developed and launched the physical therapy program at the University in 1976, died in February 2021. He was 88 years old.
In the mid-1970s, he wanted to establish an affordable physical therapy program to serve eager students who didn’t have a lot of money. 
In a 2007 UMass Lowell alumni magazine article, he explained that the university was open to the idea.
“Lowell,” said Joe Dorsey, “was the only place that would talk to me.”
In the mid-1970s, he was chair of Physical Therapy education at Boston State College where he had been a faculty member since 1968.
“The kids wanted to take physical therapy and I looked for a place to start it,” he said. Boston State didn’t have the funds or facilities for such a program. Three schools in Boston area did have programs but they were private institutions and the tuition was more than Dorsey’s students could afford.
“I thought of my own background, when I had no money and wanted to go to school,” said Dorsey, who grew up in a hardscrabble neighborhood in Baltimore, one of eight children. After graduating from Douglass High School, he joined the Marines, served a tour of duty in Korea and then used the GI Bill® to finance his undergraduate education at Springfield College.
After unsuccessfully trying to interest the UMass Medical School in a PT program, Dorsey contacted Trudy Barker, dean of the College of Health Professions at the University of Lowell. She was receptive to the idea and, in 1976, Dr. Joseph Dorsey (who, by that time, had a master’s degree in education from Northeastern and a doctorate in exercise physiology and kinesiology from Boston University) came to Lowell to establish a physical therapy program.
The first class—22 students—enrolled in 1977. Dorsey directed the program and hired faculty.
The first class graduated in 1981 with bachelor’s degrees after earning between 140 and 150 credits, considerably more than most other degree programs.
“I did it because of the kids,” said Dorsey. “They wanted it and I could see myself in them. They had no money and that motivated me. They worked hard. They were great kids.”
No doubt the “kids” also thought Dorsey was great. He created an affordable degree program for them and, over time, raised it to the graduate level. Finally, before retiring in 2002, he established the doctoral program in physical therapy (DPT).