William Andrus Alcott
|Died||March 29, 1859 (aged 60)|
|Education||Yale School of Medicine|
|Occupation||educator, physician, author|
William Andrus Alcott (August 6, 1798 – March 29, 1859), also known as William Alexander Alcott, was an American educator, educational reformer, physician, vegetarian and author of 108 books. His works, which include a wide range of topics including educational reform, physical education, school house design, family life, and diet, are still widely cited today.
Early life and family
William Alcott was born in Wolcott, Connecticut. His father was a farmer, Obedience Alcott (1776–1847); in the 1820s, like many members of the family, he altered the spelling of his last name, which on his tombstone appears as "Obid. Alcott".[a] His mother was Anna Andrus (1777–1864) who was the daughter of a Revolutionary War soldier and William's most important educational influence. He attended local schools and became a close friend with his near neighbor Amos Bronson Alcott who would later enjoy wide fame as a philosopher and as the father of writer Louisa May Alcott. Although sometimes described simply as "cousins" the two were actually second cousins; William's grandfather David Alcott (1740–1841) was the brother of Amos Bronson Alcott's grandfather, Captain John Alcott. The two boys shared books, exchanged ideas, and started a small library together. Odell Shepard had written of Amos Bronson Alcott, "Indeed there is a sense in which nearly everything Alcott wrote and did is attributable to William".
Alcott lived in Dedham, Massachusetts where he was the superintendent of the Sunday School at the Allin Congregational Church. He was known to walk barefoot in summer mornings from his home in the village up to Federal Hill to obtain a bucket of milk.
Teaching and medical education
At the age of 18 Alcott began teaching in a school located just a few yards from his father's house. With brief interruptions, he would continue to teach for the next nine years. His experiences as a student country school teacher would later become the subject of many of his later publications. He observed that the benches used by students were often painful and, at his own expense built backs onto the benches; these became the ancestors of the later school desks. He campaigned for better heating and ventilation in schools. He labored to improve the intellectual content of classrooms. While he was successful as a teacher, in the summer of 1824 he suffered an attack of the disfiguring, dangerous skin infection erysipelas, and about this time was beginning to suffer from tuberculosis. He would suffer symptoms of both for the remainder of his life. He began studying medicine, with the thought that the extra knowledge would aid his teaching. His formal study of medicine was brief. In the winter of 1825–26 he attended "a regular course of medical studies" in New Haven, Connecticut. In March 1826 he was granted a license to practice medicine. In addition to teaching, he practiced medicine at least until 1829.
William Channing Woodbridge and early writing
In the spring of 1830 he met William Channing Woodbridge. Woodbridge had just returned from Europe and was in the process of revising his second geography. Alcott at first worked as an assistant to Woodbridge for which he was paid twelve dollars a month to check facts and improve maps. The two became close friends. In 1831, Woodbridge purchased the American Journal of Education and renamed it American Annals of Education And Instruction. The two men then moved to Boston. Alcott wrote many articles for the journal, especially those dealing with school design and physical education. Even after Woodbridge lost control of the Journal in 1836 and became its foreign editor, Alcott became its Editor in 1837. He would later publish a poignant memoir of Woodbridge's life. While still teaching he had begun to contribute articles to newspapers and started work on the book that would become The Young Man's Guide.
On June 14, 1836, he married Phebe Lewis Bronson (June 14, 1812 – November 9, 1907). They had three children. For a time they shared a house, Cottage Place, with the family of his old friend and cousin Amos Bronson Alcott. In the 1840s William moved to the town of Newton, Massachusetts, just outside Boston. Eventually he would settle into a house in Auburndale in the town of Newton. He died here of a lung infection. He worked until the day before he died. William Alcott is buried in Newton Cemetery.
Alcott published "Vegetable Diet: As Sanctioned by Medical Men and By Experience in All Ages." in 1838. It is his best known work and is significant to the medical literature about a vegetarian diet. A second edition was published in 1849 "with an added cookbook and medical testimonies supporting what today would be called a vegan diet."
In 2009, author Andrew Smith said in the book "Eating History" that "Vegetable Diet" was "America's first vegetarian cookbook." In 2020, journalist Avery Yale Kamila wrote: "The book is considered a seminal work in the cannon of American vegetarian literature." The book contains letters written by physicians, including Horace A. Barrows, about vegetarian diets. The book is still in print.
Ideas, diet and morals
Alcott became one of the most prolific authors in early American history. He wrote frequently on the topics of education and health. In 1836 he wrote a letter to the editor of the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal titled "The Graham System" (May 4, p. 199-201; he signed it "M.D." The cause of greatest interest to Alcott throughout his life was vegetarianism. In 1850 he wrote three long letters on vegetarianism to the editor of the New York Tribune - at the request of the editor (Aug 14, Nov. 6). Here he shows clearly that his preference was for a diet that used no animal products - what would today be called a vegan diet.
Alcott opposed the consumption of alcohol, coffee, meat, spices and tea. He argued against the use of condiments which were "stimulating" substances. He rejected the use of ginger, fennel, cardamom, mace, nutmeg and coriander. He believed that garlic, horseradish, molasses and sauces were disgusting and indecent "drugs".
Alcott wrote The Physiology of Marriage in 1856. He deplored free courtship manners. He specifically deplored "conversation which is too excitable", "presence of exciting books", "unnecessary heat", and many other courtship practices prevalent in 18th century America but steadily going out of fashion by 1856. He warned young people of the dangers of courtship. He is criticized by modern-day feminists for his "rigidity".
Alcott edited the Moral Reformer (1835-1939) in Boston, a journal dedicated to eliminating intemperance, gluttony and licentiousness. He was the editor of the vegetarian Library of Health journal. In 1840, the Moral Reformer and The Graham Journal of Health and Longevity were merged in the Library of Health.
Alcott was a founding member of the American Physiological Society in 1837, America's first vegetarian organization. He was a founding member (in 1850) and the first president of the American Vegetarian Society.
In all, he wrote about one hundred works, which have been influential in reforming educational methods, and improving the physical and moral well-being of mankind.
- Confessions of a School Master, 1839
- The Young Man’s Guide, 1834
- The Young Woman's Guide
- The Use of Tobacco: Its Physical, Intellectual, and Moral Effects on The Human System 1836
- Vegetable Diet: As Sanctioned by Medical Men, and by Experience in All Ages, 1838
- Tea And Coffee, 1839
- The Boy’s Guide to Usefulness, 1845
- Art of Good Behavior, 1848
- The Young Housekeeper, 1842
- The Young Mother Or Management Of Children In Regard To Health
- The Young Mother
- Adventures of Lot, the Nephew of Abraham
- Familiar letters to young men on various subjects.: Designed as a companion to The young man's guide.
- Trust in the Lord; or the Story of Elijah and the Ravens.
- Stories of Eliot and the Indians
- Lectures on Life and Health, Or, The Laws and Means of Physical Culture, 1853
- The House I Live In The first Anatomy book for the general public.
- Forty Years in the Wilderness of Pills and Powders, 1859
- The Laws of Health: Or, Sequel to "The house I live in", 1859
- Photographs are available on the commercial site Ancestry.com in several family trees
- Kelly, Howard A.; Burrage, Walter L. (eds.). . . Baltimore: The Norman, Remington Company.
- Orcutt, Samuel, History of the Town of Wolcott, Waterbury, Conn.: American Printing company, 1873, pp. 265-267, 435.
- The Journals of Bronson Alcott, edited by Odell Shepard. Boston: Little Brown, 1958, p. xv.
- Clarke, Wm. Horatio (1903). Mid-Century Memories of Dedham. Dedham Historical Society. p. 9.
- "Dr. William A. Alcott", Memoirs of Teachers, Educators and Promoters of Education Literature and Science, edited by Henry Bernard; New York Brownell, 1859a, pp. 249-267.
- Orcott 1873, p. 268
- "Dr. William Alcott," Historical Magazine, June 1859b, p. 193
- Alcott, William A. (1859). Forty years in the wilderness of pills and powders. Boston: J. P. Jewett. LCCN 01019657.
- "Dr. William A. Alcott, 1859a, p. 257.
- Johnson 1906, p. 69
- "Dr. William A. Alcott", 1859a, pp. 163-164.
- Alcott, William A. "William C. Woodbridge," Memoirs of Teachers, Educators and Promoters of Education Literature and Science, edited by Henry Bernard, New York: Brownell, 1859, p. 51–64.
- "Dr. William A. Alcott, 1859a, p. 266.
- Orcutt 1873, p. 267
- "History of Vegetarianism - William Andrus Alcott (1798-1859)". ivu.org. Retrieved June 30, 2020.
- Bramen, Lisa. "The Long Marriage of Vegetarianism and Social Activism". Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved October 12, 2020.
- "William Alcott and the cultural meaning of medical knowledge in the nineteenth century - Hektoen International". hekint.org. Retrieved August 23, 2020.
- Smith, Andrew F. (September 18, 2009). Eating History: Thirty Turning Points in the Making of American Cuisine. Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0-231-51175-9.
- Kamila, Avery Yale (March 29, 2020). "Vegan Kitchen: A meat-free diet in Maine is nothing new". Press Herald. Retrieved June 30, 2020.
- Daley, Bill (December 4, 2013). "The history of America, in cookbooks". The Seattle Times. Retrieved June 30, 2020.
- "Delicious history: The American story told in cookbook series | Food and Cooking | siouxcityjournal.com". siouxcityjournal.com. Retrieved October 12, 2020.
- "Vegetable Diet". Andrews McMeel Publishing. Retrieved October 12, 2020.
- Smith, Andrew F. (2013). Food and Drink in American History, Volume 1. ABC-CLIO. p. 16. ISBN 978-1-61069-232-8
- Fletcher, Robert Samuel. (1971). A History of Oberlin College: From its Foundation Through the Civil War, Volume 1. Arno Press. p. 319
- Numbers, Ronald L. (2008). Prophetess of Health: A Study of Ellen G. White. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. p. 105. ISBN 978-0-8028-0395-5
- Shprintzen, Adam D. (2013). The Vegetarian Crusade: The Rise of an American Reform Movement, 1817-1921. University of North Carolina Press. p. 37. ISBN 978-1-4696-0891-4
- Iacobbo, Karen; Iacobbo, Michael. (2004). Vegetarian America: A History. Praeger Publishing. pp. 36-37. ISBN 978-0275975197
- International Vegetarian Union - History of Vegetarianism - American Vegetarian Society
- Old Sturbridge Village | Explore & Learn | OSV Documents - William Alcott’s First Day as a School Master
- Old Sturbridge Village | Explore & Learn | OSV Documents - Advice on Choosing a Wife
- http://www.nimbus.org/ElectronicTexts/YgMnsGde.1836.html online text
- Project Gutenberg Edition of The Young Woman's Guide
- Use of Tobacco: Physical, Intellectual, Moral Effects on Human System (1836), by Alcott, William A., M.D
- Old Sturbridge Village | Explore & Learn | OSV Documents - The Ward Families and Their "Helps": Domestic Work, Workers, and Relationships on a New England Farm, 1787-1866
- Project Gutenberg Edition of The Young Mother: or, Management of Children in Regard to Health
- Electronic Text of William A Alcott's "The Adventures Of Lot"
- http://quod.lib.umich.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=moa;idno=AJF2317 page images
- Elijah the Tishbite - Alcott, Wm A
- Stories of Eliot and the Indians
- Internet Archive text
- The Anatomical mission to Burma Sciencemag
- Alcott, William A. "Memoir of William C. Woodbridge" American Journal of Education 5 (1858) 51-64
- Hyowitz, Carol; Weissman, Michaele: A History of Women In America
- Johnson, Rossiter, ed. (1906). "Alcott, William Alexander". The Biographical Dictionary of America. Vol. 1. Boston, Mass.: American Biographical Society. p. 69. Retrieved November 9, 2020 – via en.wikisource.org. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
- The American Cyclopædia. 1879. .
- Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. 1900. .
- . .
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