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Most people are under the impression that the practice of lifestyle medicine and the whole food, plant-based diet and lifestyle upon which it is based is only a few decades old.  However, the true credit for this revolutionary approach to health care and diet rests with a group of 19th Century pioneers of the Natural Hygiene movement whose visionary and powerful writings and speeches inspired the founders of the American Natural Hygiene Society—now known as the National Health Association.  We are pleased to share their remarkable stories and contributions.

Isaac Jennings, M.D.
Isaac Jennings, M.D.


Isaac Jennings deserves credit for being the father of medically supervised water fasting. He studied medicine at age 20 and started a practice. He found that a regimen that included fasting, a vegetarian diet, pure water, sunshine, clean air, exercise, and rest was more conducive to health than the allopathic drugs (a system in which healthcare professionals treat symptoms and diseases using drugs, radiation, or surgery) of the time. From this, he concluded that most diseases were reactions to unfavorable environmental factors rather than entities of their own, a philosophy that he called “Orthopathy.” Disease results from a ‘deficiency of force.’ Rest and non-interference with the body’s innate healing mechanisms are the best means to regain health. Fasting as complete physiological rest was employed extensively to regain and maintain good health. Soon, the only drugs he prescribed were bread pills and colored water that he gave his patients, along with detailed instructions for lifestyle change. After many years of a successful practice, he announced that he had no faith in drugs and would no longer make any pretense of prescribing them.

“None who believe in the existence of a Supreme Creator and are in the habit of observing the exact order and harmony that prevail in all the material substances and bodies around them, will question that their own bodies, which are so “fearfully and wonderfully made”, are constituted in accordance with fixed principles and that ordinarily, at least, all the vital machinery of their physical systems is controlled by expressed law.”

Excerpt From Fasting Supervision and Lifestyle Care (Burton, Burton and Krackler)

Sylvester Graham
Sylvester Graham


Sylvester Graham is generally considered the founder of the National Hygiene movement. He was America’s first crusader for healthful living in diet, exercise, sleep, bathing, clothing, and sexual, emotional, and mental expression. His mastery of anatomy and physiology guided his advocacy of vegetarianism and abstinence from alcohol and tobacco. In 1830, Graham launched the Crusade for Health and Physiological Reform through his lectures and writings. He became a champion of Natural Hygiene and living reform that we see in the National Health Assocation. He boldly asserted that right living is a surer means to health than a resort to physicians and drugs. His great monumental treatise, his Lectures on the Science of Human Life published in 1839, became a leading text on health reform.

It is requisite that the physician should well understand the physiological powers and laws of the body; in the second place, that he should understand the nature of the disease, and in the third place, as a general rule, that he should fully and clearly ascertain the cause of the disease. For, as Hippocrates justly observes, the man who attempts to cure a disorder without knowing the cause is like groping in the dark as a blind man.

Mary Gove
Mary Gove


Though little known today, Mary Gove Nichols was one of the most influential women in America. She was a radical social reformer and a pioneering feminist who promoted good health through Graham’s principles and healing through Hydropathy.

After hearing Sylvester Graham lecture on his crusade for health, Mary instantly began following his lifestyle. Grahamites, as they were called, limited their diets, had strict mealtimes, avoided meat, spices, and condiments, abstained from tea, coffee, or alcohol, breathed fresh air, and bathed regularly. She incorporated these ideas throughout her lectures, courses, and publications.

Mary taught sex education, physiology, equality in marriage, free love, and spiritualism for women. She made them aware of the health risks of women’s clothing (particularly corsets) and promoted clothing reform. 

Mary and Thomas Nichols founded the American Hydropathic Institute to teach the principles of water therapy and Graham’s lifestyle. Men AND women were equally accepted and, upon graduation, awarded a medical degree. The American Hydropathic Institute was one of the first programs in the country to award a medical degree to women.

Mary was part of the beginning of the Hygienic movement, which became the foundation of the National Health Association. 

Quote from The Greatest Health Discovery
Graham, S., Trall. R., Shelton, H. (2009) The Greatest Health Discovery. Youngstown, OH. National Health Association. 

“Women have acted for so long and have little idea of independent action. The public puts its mold upon us, and we come out as nearly alike as peas. Mind, health, beauty, and happiness are all sacrificed to the processes of mold. My remedy for all this slavery of women is for her to begin to judge and act for herself. God made her for herself, as much as man was made for himself. She should not be the victim of man or false public opinion.”

Russell Thacker Trall, M.D.
Russell Thacker Trall, M.D.


Russell Thacker Trall was born in Vernon, Connecticut, on August 5th, 1812. Poor health during his childhood laser-focused his interest in medicine. He studied the leading schools of therapy, i.e., “regular” (allopathic) medicine, homeopathy, and the eclectic, physico-medical, and chrono-thermal traditions.  In 1840, he settled in New York City and began a “regular” (allopathic) practice. Discontent with the results of most therapies, he based his practice in increasing measure on the ideas of PrieBniz (water cure) and Graham (health through healthful living). In 1853, he opened a medical school, the New York Hygeio-Therapeutic College. According to Trall, the root cause of disease was the accumulation of toxic substances caused by improper living habits and allopathic medications. Hygieo-therapy was coined for employing proper living habits and the occasional fast in the acutely ill to regain health. Trall was a forceful debater, preacher, and editor of several magazines for laymen and medical practitioners. He was the author of many books in which he relentlessly propagated his findings. He died in Florence, New Jersey, on September 23rd, 1877.

(From Fasting Supervision and Lifestyle Care (Burton, Burton, and Krackler)

James C. Jackson, M.D.
James C. Jackson, M.D.


James Caleb Jackson, M.D., received his degree in medicine from Syracuse College, focused on nutrition, and created the first breakfast cereal called Granula.

Throughout the first part of his life, he suffered from poor health, and he eventually became the patient of Dr. Gleason, a hydro-hygienist. After four months under this care, Jackson partnered with Dr. Gleason and Theodosia Gilbert, establishing a Hygienic Institute known as the Glen Haven Water Cure. Jackson remained there until 1858, when he opened Our Home Hygienic Institute, becoming the largest Hygienic Institution in the world. During the early 1860s, Mrs. Ellen G. White, founder of the Seventh Day Adventist Movement, visited Dr. Jackson’s institution for treatment. There, she experienced the principles of natural hygiene firsthand and incorporated some of Jackson’s teachings into the Seventh-Day Adventist Church’s tenets.

Dr. Jackson’s principles included simple food, clean air & water, sunshine, solid sleep, exercise, and hydropathy treatments as required. He was an influential natural health practitioner of the 19th century and one of the great pioneers leading to the National Hygiene Movement, which became a cornerstone of the National Health Association.

“It is because the world stands so much in need of this knowledge that we are determined to make it available to those who might come within our influence. And though we have had to suffer as almost all persons who undertake new truths, we have been enabled to endure, and that is what always wins victories.

Excerpt From

The Greatest Health Discovery

Sylvester Graham, Russell T. Trall, and Herbert M. Shelton

Thomas Low Nichols, M.D.
Thomas Low Nichols, M.D.


Thomas Low Nichols was a journalist, editor, physician, author, rebel, and radical reformer. After hearing Sylvester Graham’s lecture on Crusade for Health and Physiological Reform, he immediately began to follow Graham’s principles. He graduated from Dartmouth College in 1850 with a degree in Medicine. 

In 1851, Thomas and his wife, Mary Gove Nichols, opened the American Hydropathic Institute, the first medical establishment created to teach the principles of water therapy and living simply. Most significantly, it was one of the first medical schools in the world to admit women.

As noted in the publication section, Thomas was a prolific writer. His numerous books and periodicals focused on the principles of the American Hydropathic Institute. He also authored works on social science, progressive literature, marriage, free love, life in America, manners, and morals. He lectured extensively all over the East Coast and in England.

He became a champion of the Natural Hygiene movement, some of which provides the foundational base of the National Health Association.


What is good for the healthy man …is not always suitable for the sick. 

“It is good for the well man to eat, drink, exercise, labor, and partake of all enjoyments. But the best thing for the sick man may be to stop eating entirely and to rest his mind and body. The effort to digest food, to take exercise, and to ‘keep up’ is a cause for exhaustion. Fasting, or absolute rest to the stomach, is one of the simplest means of cure in both acute and dyspeptic diseases. No food, not one atom, should ever be taken in any acute disease until cured. Fasting with water is all that is needed. And in all chronic diseases complicated with dyspepsia, the digestive system needs absolute rest more than anything else. Let such a patient eat nothing and drink water for three weeks, and it will go farther to secure a cure than months in the most active treatment.”

Excerpt From

The Greatest Health Discovery

Sylvester Graham, Russell T. Trall, and Herbert M. Shelton

Harriet Austin, M.D.
Harriet Austin, M.D.


Harriet Austin was a hydrotherapist, author, and dress reform advocate. She was among the first women in the world to receive the title Doctor of Medicine and one of the first doctors (male or female) to specialize in hydrotherapy. 

She went into practice at Our Home Hygienic Institute, which became the largest hygienic institute in the world. Working with Dr. James Jackson, she promoted and practiced his principles, which included simple food, clean air and water, sunshine, solid sleep, exercise, and hydropathy treatments as needed. 

As editor of the magazine Laws of Life, she spread the message of Hygiene and remained in this position throughout her life. She also authored several books on women’s health, bathing, and dress reform.

Together with Susan Dodds, Harriet Austin promoted the National Dress Reform Association. To support the movement, she created and modeled an outfit that she felt would promote health. She dressed in this style her entire life.

She was an influential female natural health practitioner of the 19th century, a dress reform advocate, and a true trailblazer. She became one of the great pioneers of the National Hygiene Movement, a cornerstone of the National Health Association.

“People need to learn that the natural condition of human beings is one of health; and that every instance of sickness and suffering, unless caused by accident, is brought about by some wrongdoing, either on the part of the sufferer or others.” -Harriet Austin, M.D. (1826-1891)”

Charles E. Page, M.D.


Robert Walter, M.D.


Susanna Way Dodds, M.D.
Felix Oswald, M.D.


John H. Tilden, M.D.
John H. Tilden, M.D.


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