Skip to content
Dr. William Alcott – Timeline


1798: William Andrus Alcott, also known as William Alexander Alcott, was born on August 6th to Obiendence Alcox (who later altered the spelling to Alcott) and Anna Andrus. His early life was spent on their farm.

1816: At 18, Alcott began teaching in a school next to his father’s house and would teach over the next nine years. His experiences as a school teacher would become the subject of many of his publications, as well as how to better a school classroom with improved desks, heating, ventilation, and intellectual content.

Alcott was diagnosed with tuberculosis, an infectious disease usually caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis (MTB) bacteria, historically known as consumption.
His health rapidly failed, with a severe cough, significant weight loss, and fever.

1824: William suffered an attack of erysipelas, a relatively common bacterial infection of the superficial layer of the skin (upper dermis), extending to the superficial lymphatic vessels, characterized by a raised, well-defined, bright red rash, typically on the face or legs, but which can occur anywhere on the skin. He also was diagnosed with tuberculosis, an infectious disease usually caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis (MTB) bacteria, historically known as consumption. His health rapidly failed, with a severe cough, significant weight loss, and fever. He was forced to give up teaching and try to regain his health. He fasted, quickly restored his health, and returned to teaching. 

1825: William began studying medicine due to his illnesses. He entered the study of medicine not so much with the design of making it a profession but with the thought that the extra knowledge would help his health. 

1827: In March, he graduated from Yale with a degree in medicine and was granted a license to practice medicine and surgery. He practiced medicine until 1829, finding another opportunity to engage in teaching again. 

1830: Alcott met William Channing Woodbridge, an author on geography. He began to work for him, checking facts and helping to improve maps.

1831: Woodbridge purchased the American Journal of Education and renamed it the American Annals of Education and Instruction. Both Woodbridge and Alcott moved to Boston, and Alcott wrote many articles for the journal, mainly focusing on school design and physical education. Woodbridge and Alcott became friends, and William wrote a memoir of Woodbridge’s life.

1832: Alcott assumed editorship of the periodical The Juvenile Rambler and Peter Parley’s magazine, both of which he published his articles on hygiene.

Juvenile Rambler Magazine

1835: Alcott had several years of experience editing periodicals when the first issue of the Moral Reformer appeared in January 1835. This was a monthly journal devoted to the cause of healthful living.

1836: On June 14th, he married Phebe Lewis Bronson and had two children (Rev. William Penn Alcott, Phebe Ann Alcott. For a time, they shared a house, Cottage Place, with the family of his old friend and cousin Amos Bronson Alcott, father of Louisa May Alcott.

1836: Alcott wrote a letter to the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal editor titled The Graham System (based on the work of Sylvester Graham and his protocol) and gained mass exposure supporting the Graham system. 

1837: Alcott became the editor of the American Annals of Education And Instruction

1837: William Alcott and Sylvester Graham cofounded the American Physiological Society (APS). The APS shared similar goals with Grahamism but emphasized scientific knowledge and members’ collective work rather than one leader. The APS was established to teach physiology and anatomy, focusing on a vegetarian diet. The formation of the APS was a milestone for the vegetarian movement. Not attached to a religion, as was the Bible-Christians, the APS was likely the first exclusively vegetarian organization and was the first natural hygiene organization in the nation. The Society held its first meeting on March 7 in Boston, naming Alcott as the first president, David Campbell as the secretary, and Nathaniel Perry as treasurer. John Benson served as vice president. The APS hired Mary Gove Nichols to present lectures to women.

Alcott - recipe grains
Recipe (or receipts as they were called) from the Vegetable Diet: As Sanctioned by Medical Men and By Experience in All Ages.

1838: Alcott published “Vegetable Diet: As Sanctioned by Medical Men and By Experience in All Ages.” It was his best-known work and is significant in the medical literature about a vegetarian diet. Other editions were published in 1849 and 1853, with an added cookbook and medical testimonies supporting a vegetarian diet. It was America’s first vegetarian cookbook, with many vegan recipes as well. The book contains letters from physicians, including Horace A. Barrows, about the health benefits of a vegetarian diet.

1840: William and Phebe moved to Newton, Massachusetts (just outside of Boston), and lived out their life there.

1840: The Moral Reformer and The Graham Journal of Health and Longevity merged in the Library of Health Journal, and Dr. Alcott became the editor.

1850: Dr. Alcott wrote letters to the editor of the New York Tribune about the health benefits of a diet that used no animal products (vegan). 

American Vegetarian and Health Journal

1850: Dr. William Alcott, William Metcalfe (pastor of the Bible-Christian Church, founded 1817 in Philadelphia), Dr. Russell Thacker Trall, and Sylvester Graham united to create the American Vegetarian Society (AVS). Following the founding convention in New York City, the society’s first official meeting occurred in Philadelphia’s Bible-Christian Church on September 4, 1850. The first meeting would also elect Dr. William Alcott as the AVS president, a title he held until he died in 1859. Metcalfe and Graham were elected vice presidents, and Trall was the recording secretary. The society promoted vegetarian precepts (intertwined with women’s suffrage and the abolition of slavery) across the nation. By the time of the Civil War, the group’s membership and influence waned, partially because the fight for abolition had turned to military violence. 

1851: A year after the American Vegetarian Society‘s founding, the American Vegetarian and Health Journal (1851-1854) became the organization’s national publication, with Dr. Alcott as editor. During its production, the journal helped to inform vegetarians across the nation of different developments within the movement, advocated vegetarianism as the most natural diet, and connected this movement with others directed at social reforms. The publication also included columns that provided advice and tips on topics such as preparing animal-free meals.

1859: Dr. William Alcott died in Newton, Massachusetts, of a lung infection and was buried in the Newton Cemetery on Tuesday, March 28th.

Welcome to the new home of the National Health Association!
If you are an existing member, you will need to reset your password in order to log in and take advantage of all the great benefits being a member provides—which now includes the ability to update your own contact information (address, phone number, email, upload a picture and much more). Please start by clicking the Register/Log In button and follow the instructions on that page. Once your password is reset, you will use your email address as your username. You no longer have or need a Member Number. Please contact us if you have questions—and thanks for your support!