The World Federation of Occupational Therapists (WFOT) began with formal discussions at a meeting of occupational therapists held in England in June 1951, at which there were 28 representatives from various countries. There was a continued discussion in September of the same year at the Congress of the International Society of the Rehabilitation of the Disabled held in Stockholm, Sweden.


A Preparatory Commission was held in Liverpool, England in 1952, attended by representatives from seven countries with occupational therapy associations or organisations and written approval for the organisation of such an association from three other countries. These ten associations from the Australia, Canada, Denmark, India, Israel, New Zealand, South Africa, Sweden, United Kingdom (England and Scotland), United States of America, inaugurated the WFOT. At this meeting, Ms Helen Willard of the USA served as temporary chairperson until the officers were elected. The first elected officers were President, Ms Margaret B Fulton of Scotland; First Vice-President, Ms Gillian Crawford of Canada; Second Vice-President, Ms Ingrid Pahlsson of Denmark; Secretary-Treasurer, Ms Clare S Spackman of USA; Assistant Secretary-Treasurer Mrs Glyn Owens of England.

The Constitution was developed at the 1952 meeting and contained the following initial objectives:

  • to act as the official international organisation for the promotion of occupational therapy;
  • to promote international cooperation among occupational therapy associations, therapists and other allied professional groups;
  • to advance the practice and standards of occupational therapy;
  • to help maintain the ethics and to advance the interests of the profession;
  • to facilitate the international exchange and placements of therapists and students;
  • to facilitate the exchange of information;
  • to promote the education and training of therapists; and
  • to hold international congresses.


In 1959 WFOT was admitted into official relations with the World Health Organisation (WHO).


In 1963 WFOT was recognised as a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) by the United Nations (UN).

WFOT Archive Collection

The Wellcome Library in London, United Kingdom, published the WFOT Archive Collection in September 2011.

The WFOT archive provides a valuable insight into the birth and subsequent growth and evolution of WFOT as an international association and of the profession between 1951 and now. The papers cover the administrative history, management structure and activities of the Federation primarily through various committee reports and minutes of meetings. It also reflects the development of the WFOT through growth in membership and matters related to education of occupational therapists in member organisations, which was at times a challenge for some national associations with limited resources. The collection includes a wealth of contemporary clinical information. This is primarily through sources such as papers presented at WFOT Congresses. Go to http://archives.wellcome.ac.uk and enter ‘SA/WFO’ in the Reference search box.

Wfot Marque

WFOT Logo Marque

The Crest

WFOT continues using the crest that was designed and agreed upon in 1964 for all official purposes and for future congresses in order to achieve continuity.

The crest represents:

  • The staff of life with serpents entwined: a recognised medical symbol of Hippocrates.
  • The wings of the Phoenix topping the upper end of the staff: symbolises high aspirations.
  • The encircled five rings: represents the continents of the world.


In 1960 the President contacted the member organisations to submit suggestions of a design for a crest to the Publications Committee.

In 1962, eighteen designs were mounted and presented for the consideration of Council. The designs had been on display for two days and after thoughtful discussions on whether additional designs or professional designers should be sought, Council decided to select two from the eighteen designs. A professional designer incorporated the two designs to create the WFOT crest.

The crest was launched at the WFOT 3rd International Congress in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA in 1962.

The crest was adopted for use by the WFOT for all official purposes and congresses in order to achieve continuity.

Past Presidents

Roll of Honour

Miss Margaret B Fulton

United Kingdom

1952 – 1958

Miss Clare Spackman

United States of America

1958 – 1964

Miss Ingrid Pahlsson


1964 – 1968

Mrs Thelma Cardwell


1968 – 1972

Miss M Alicia Mendez

United Kingdom

1972 – 1976

Miss Barbara Pfenninger


1976 – 1980

Dr Andrȇe Forget


1980 – 1986

Prof Jo Barker


1986 – 1990

Mrs Maria Schwarz


1990 – 1994

Mrs Barbara Tyldesley

United Kingdom

1994 – 1998

Mrs Carolyn Webster


1998 - 2002

Dr Kit Sinclair

Hong Kong

2002 - 2008

Prof E Sharon Brintnell


2008 - 2014

Ms Marilyn Pattison


2014 - 2021