Sylvester Graham

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  (Redirected from Grahamism)
Jump to navigation Jump to search

The Reverend Sylvester Graham (July 5, 1794 – September 11, 1851), a 19th-century Presbyterian minister, was an American dietary reformer who was known for his emphasis on vegetarianism, the temperance movement, and eating whole-grain bread; with his preaching, he inspired the graham flour, graham bread, and graham cracker products.[1]:29[2]

Early life[edit]

Graham was born in 1794 in Connecticut, to a family with 17 children; his father was 70 years old when Graham was born and his mother was mentally ill. His father died when Graham was two, and he spent his childhood moving from one relative's home to another.[1]:15 One of his relatives ran a tavern where Graham was put to work; his experience with drunkenness there led him to hate alcohol his whole life and forswear drinking, which made him an exception among his peers at the time.[1]:15 He was often sick, and missed a great deal of schooling.[1]:15 He worked as a farm hand, cleaner, and teacher before deciding on the ministry as an antidote for his poor health. He entered Amherst Academy in his late 20s to become a minister, as his father and grandfather had been, but was forced to leave when his schoolmates created a scandal by claiming he had improperly approached a woman.[1]:17 However, while he was at Amherst, his gift for oratory was first recognized.[1]:17

Graham suffered a nervous breakdown as a result of his expulsion and moved to Rhode Island to recover, where he met and married a woman who nursed him back to health. He studied theology privately, and in 1828, began working as an itinerant preacher at the Bound Brook Presbyterian Church in Bound Brook, New Jersey. [3]:30


In 1830, Graham was offered a position at the Philadelphia Temperance Society and accepted it.[3]:30 However, he quit the Temperance Society after six months to focus his preaching on health.[3]:30

Graham's appointment and conversion to vegetarianism came as the 1829–51 cholera pandemic was breaking in Europe, and Americans were terrified that the epidemic would reach America.[3]:29–30 Accepted medical opinion at the time was that eating plenty of meat, drinking port wine, and avoiding vegetables was the best way to prevent contracting cholera.[1]:18[3]:30 People also believed that cholera was a plague sent by God to punish people.[1]:19

The Philadelphia Temperance Society was led not by ministers, as most other temperance societies were, but by doctors who were primarily concerned about health effects of alcohol.[3]:30 Moving in that company, Graham may have met two of the other fathers of American vegetarianism: William Metcalfe, an English minister who established a vegetarian church in Philadelphia, and William A. Alcott, a Philadelphia doctor who wrote extensively about vegetarianism and wrote the first American vegetarian cookbook.[3]:31 Graham taught himself about physiology and apparently arrived at his own conclusion that meat was just as much an expression of and spur to gluttony as alcohol was, that they corrupted both the body and soul of individuals and harmed families and society.[3]:31 His belief was influenced by the book Treatise on Physiology by François-Joseph-Victor Broussais, published in Philadelphia in 1826, that claimed what people ate had enormous influence on their health.[3]:31 Graham's interest was also captured by the books written by the German chemist, Friedrich Accum, called Treatise on Adulteration of Foods, and Culinary Poisons, in which he denounced the use of chemical additives in food and especially in bread, and Treatise on the Art of Making Good and Wholesome Bread. Wheat flour at that time was often doctored to hide odors from spoilage, to extend it, and to whiten it, and bread was made from very finely ground flour (which Graham viewed as "tortured") and brewers yeast (used to make beer).[3]:31–32

Like other members of the temperance movement, Graham viewed physical pleasure and especially sexual stimulation with suspicion, as things that excited lust leading to behavior that harmed individuals, families, and societies.[4] Graham was strongly influenced by the Bible and Christian theology in his own idioscyncratic way. He believed that people should eat only plants, like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and believed that plague and illness were caused by living in ways that ignored natural law.[1]:21–22, 27 He urged people to remain calm, and not allow worry or lust to shake them from living rightly - perhaps one of the first people to claim that stress causes disease.[1]:19

From these views, Graham created a theology and diet aimed at keeping individuals, families, and society pure and healthy - drinking pure water and eating a vegetarian diet anchored by bread made at home from flour coarsely ground at home so that it remained wholesome and natural, containing no added spices or other "stimulants" and a rigorous lifestyle that included sleeping on hard beds and avoiding warm baths.[3]:31–33 The regimen has been described as an early example of preventive medicine.[1]:20 The emphasis on milling and baking at home was part of his vision of America in which women remained at home and nursed their families into health and maintained them there, as his wife had done for him.[2] Graham believed that adhering to such diet would prevent people from having impure thoughts and in turn would stop masturbation (thought by Graham to be a catalyst for blindness and early death[5]:16) His piece On Self-Pollution, published in 1834, contributed to the masturbation scare in antebellum America. He believed youthful masturbation was dangerous to children's health because of the immaturity of their reproductive organs.[5]:15, 72

As a skilled and fiery preacher, his peculiar message, combining patriotism, theology, diet, lifestyle, and messages already prevalent from the temperance movement, captured the attention of the frightened public and outraged bakers and butchers, as well as the medical establishment.[1]:19, 21[4][2] When the cholera epidemic reached New York in 1832, people who had followed his advice appeared to thrive, and his fame exploded.[3]:29 When he published his first book in 1837, Treatise on Bread and Bread-Making, his lectures in New York and Boston that year were thronged; the Boston lecture was disrupted by a threat of riots by butchers and commercial bakers.[3]:33

In 1837, Graham and Alcott founded the American Physiological Society, which lasted just three years.[6]

As his fame spread, "Grahamism" became a movement, and people inspired by his preaching began to develop and market graham flour, graham bread, and graham crackers.[1]:29[2] He neither invented nor endorsed any specific product, nor did he receive any money from their sale.[1]:21, 29[2]

In 1850, William Metcalfe, William Alcott, Russell Trall, and Graham founded the American Vegetarian Society in New York City[7], modeled on a similar organization established in Great Britain in 1847.[8] He died the following year at the age of 57 at home in Northampton, Massachusetts.[3]:35 Graham influenced other Americans including Horace Greeley and John Harvey Kellogg, founder of the Battle Creek Sanitarium.

Selected works[edit]

Of his numerous publications, the best known were Lectures on the Science of Human Life (Boston, 1839), of which several editions of the two-volume work were printed in the United States and sales in England were widespread, and Lectures to Young Men on Chastity.[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Iacobbo, Karen; Iacobbo, Michael (2004). Vegetarian America : a history. Westport, Conn.: Praeger. ISBN 978-0275975197.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Tompkins, K. W. (2009). "Sylvester Graham's Imperial Dietetics". Gastronomica. 9: 50–60. doi:10.1525/gfc.2009.9.1.50. JSTOR 10.1525/gfc.2009.9.1.50.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Smith, Andrew F. (2009). Eating history : 30 turning points in the making of American cuisine. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 9780231140928.
  4. ^ a b Shryock, Richard H. (January 1, 1931). "Sylvester Graham and the Popular Health Movement, 1830-1870". The Mississippi Valley Historical Review. 18 (2): 172–183. doi:10.2307/1893378. JSTOR 1893378.
  5. ^ a b Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz (Ed.), Attitudes toward Sex in Antebellum America, 2006, See specific pages.
  6. ^ "An American "Physiological" Society Of 1837". The British Medical Journal. 2 (4057): 757–757. January 1, 1938. JSTOR 20300989.
  7. ^ The American Vegetarian Society, International Vegetarian Union website on American vegetarian history
  8. ^ Avey, Tori (January 28, 2014). "From Pythagorean to Pescatarian – The Evolution of Vegetarianism". PBS Food: The History Kitchen. Retrieved September 15, 2016.

Further reading[edit]

  • Smith, Andrew F. Ed. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and drink in America. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, (2004).
  • Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Graham, Sylvester". Encyclopædia Britannica. 12 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 318.
  • Burrows, Edwin G. and Mike Wallace, Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, (1999).
  • "Recent Deaths"; New York Daily Times; September 18, 1851; page 2. (Accessed from The New York Times (1851–2003), ProQuest Historical Newspapers, September 19, 2006)
  • Nissenbaum, Stephen, Sex, Diet, and Debility in Jacksonian America: Sylvester Graham and Health Reform. Praeger (1980)

External links[edit]