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Isaac Jennings, M.D. – Excerpts

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

The development of the philosophy of Natural Hygiene was pioneered in the 19th century primarily by medical doctors and includes such names as Sylvester Graham, Mary Gove, Isaac Jennings, Russell Thacker Trall, Robert Walter, Thomas Low Nichols, Susanna Way Dodds, James Caleb Jackson, Charles E. Page, and John Henry Tilden.

The Rise of Physiological (Natural Hygiene) 

Care Of The Sick 

Out of the contradictions, confusions, chaotic and heterogeneous collection of delusions that were called the art and science of medicine, out of the conflict of the schools, out of the apparent failure of medicine to fulfill its promises, and out of the refusal of the medical men to consider the everyday needs of life in their care of the sick, grew the need, or rather the urgent necessity, for a revolutionary reconstruction of biological thought and a resurrection of a biological view of man’s needs. 

Above the reform and revolutionary movements of Europe, we have little to say in this book, as we are primarily interested in the development of the system of Natural Hygiene which took place on American soil. Generally, it is probably correct to say that the revolutions in Europe and America were interrelated and interconnected; they certainly exercised considerable influence upon each other. Especially did the work of Priessnitz, Schrodt, and Rausse of Germany, Ling of Sweden, and Lamb and Combe of Britain influenced the American scene. The French school seems to have exercised very little influence outside of France. 

In America, the crusade for health and “physiological reform” of the people was launched in 1830 by Sylvester Graham through his lectures and writings. However, the beginning of health care based on physiology, or natural hygiene as it was later known, started with Isaac Jennings, M.D., in 1822.

Born in Fairfield, Connecticut, on November 7, 1788, Jennings worked on his father’s farm until he was twenty. Having long had an ambition to become a physician, he received an opportunity at this age to enter the office of Eli Ives, M.D., and “read medicine,” as was the custom of the time. 

Jennings says that he made his debut in medicine under the flag of Cullen, having studied under the celebrated Professor Ives of New Haven and Yale. He spent twenty years in the regular drugging and bleeding practices of the time, but his confidence in these practices had grown steadily weaker so that his lancet had been sheathed, and his doses were fewer, further apart, and smaller. In 1822, he discontinued all drugging. 

On the occasion of the publication of Jennings’ second book, The Philosophy of Human Life, Dr. Trall wrote in 1852, “Dr. Jennings is widely known as the advocate of the ‘orthopathic’ plan of treating disease—a plan whose details consist mainly in placing the patient under organic law, and there leaving him to the vis medicatrix naturae (the healing power of nature). From the dawn of creation down to the year of our Lord eighteen hundred and fifty-two, this method of medicating the vital machinery has been eminently successful, and the personal experience of the author of the work before us demonstrates the reasons for its superior efficacy over the drug-shop appliances, so widely and so fatally popular. 

“With a mind well constituted for critical observation and the right opportunity for calling its powers into action, Dr. Jennings, after receiving a thorough medical education, commenced the practice of the healing art drugopathically. But his zeal to relieve his fellow creatures of their maladies was not rewarded by the results he had been instructed to expect. He noted, also, in consultation with his more experienced professional brethren, that old doctors, as a general rule, gave much less medicine than the young ones. The former trusted more to nature; the latter trusted all to drugs. These observations led him to doubt the prevalent ideas of medicine; further observations induced him to discard them altogether. 

“While enjoying an extensive practice in Derby, Conn., some thirty years ago, he changed his manner of doctoring the people to an extent little suspected by his patrons of the time. Laying aside the well-filled saddlebags, he furnished one pocket with an assortment of bread pills; another pocket was stored with a variety of powders made of wheaten flour, variously scented and colored, and a third pocket with a quantity of vials filled with pure, soft water, of various hues. With these potencies in the healing art, he went forth ‘conquering and to conquer.’ Diseases vanished before him with a promptness unknown before. His fame spread far and wide. His business extended over a large territory; in fact, no other physician could live at the trade of pill peddling in that place.” 

Professor James Munroe used to describe how Jennings would dispense a box of bread pills with explicit directions as to when and how they should be taken, at the same time giving much good advice as to diet and hygiene.

Such was and ever has been, and such ever will be the consequences of substituting innocent placebos, of the do-nothing medication, for that which consists in sending a score of physiological devils in the shape of apothecary stuff into the stomach, blood, bones, and brain. Before moving from Derby to Oberlin, Dr. Jennings disclosed the secret of his remarkable success. Although his customers were still inclined to ‘stick to the old doctor,’ it is hardly probable that there are many who have not fallen back into the slough of despond, medically speaking, so difficult is it to induce people to think and act rationally for themselves. 

The general plan of the work is sufficiently expressed by its title. We commend it to the general inquirer after truth, especially the medical man. It seems impossible to us that any candid physician of the old school can peruse its pages without getting some of the dark and foggy delusions and musty unphilosophical theories of that school driven out of his head to run like the

swine of an ancient parable, down to the sea of oblivion, and be there drowned out of the recollection of men.

Physician N. Bedortha, writing in 1853, records that after 15 to 20 years of the bread pill and pure water practice, Jennings “burst the bubble he had so long been inflating, and came out before his medical brethren, and before the world, a sworn enemy of all drug medication.” Bedortha adds, “Surprise and chagrin seized his medical friends, but the effect upon the community where he practiced was various. Some denounced him as an imposter, unworthy of confidence or patronage, and were ready to stone him for deceiving them, while others, who were the more elevated portion, though confounded by the ruse practiced upon them, took the doctor by the hand and said, ‘If you can cure our diseases without medicine, then you are the doctor for us.’ ”

Jennings continued his no-drug practice, which he called the “let alone” practice, for another 20 years before he retired. He worked out a theory of disease, diverse from any that had preceded him, which he called Orthopathy. In this theory, disease is a unit and, in its various forms of fever, inflammation, coughs, etc., it is entirely faithful to the laws of life, which any system of medication or medication cannot aid. It relies solely upon the healing powers of the body, and placing his patients in the best possible condition for the operation of the body’s own healing processes by means of rest, fasting, diet, pure air, and other Hygienic factors, he permitted his patients to get well. 

Bedortha records that Jennings was never successful in getting his theories and practices accepted, although many “warm friends” adopted his views. So great was the success of Jennings and so far did his fame spread that Yale University conferred an honorary degree upon him in recognition of his unheard-of-success, but many of his former patients complained when he revealed his plan of care that Jennings had charged them for “medicines” they had not received, and they deserted him. 

After a few years, in 1837, Jennings visited the perfectionist colony at Oberlin, Ohio, where he moved in 1839. He was a trustee of Oberlin College and served the city once as mayor. His drugless practice did not meet with much response from the people of Oberlin, and several years before his death on March 13, 1874, he retired from practice. 

Jennings’ teachings were based on his observation that there are vital laws of life: The Law of Action (Exercise), The Law of Repose (sleep, rest), The Law of Economy (to conserve the vital energy), The Law of Distribution (supplying each part of the body with vital energy), The Law of Accommodation (adjustment to poisons, etc.), The Law of Stimulation (“sounding the alarm” in danger), The Law of Limitation (prevention of the waste of vital energy by Nature), The Law of Equilibrium (revitalization of weak spots). 

Unlike the medical doctors of his time, Jennings felt, “Impaired health or disease is simply a lower degree of the action of parts affected, than is performed by the same parts in their highest state of health, together with such defects in the solids and fluids as flow from such depressed action . . . When the tide of vital energy is on full flood, the organ’s action will be at the highest point of health for any given condition of the organ. And as the tide of energy ebbs, the condition of the organ in other respects continuing the same, its action declines in the same ratio as long as a sufficient quantity remains to move it at all . . . I affirm that lack of vital energy is the immediate generic reason why derangements of any kind are suffered to take place in the human system. . . .” 

As causes of this depletion of vital energies, Jennings mentions excessive exertion, dietetic errors, tea, coffee, and alcohol, sexual excesses, insufficient rest and sleep, emotional strains, and stresses. 

In discussing the diet of patients, Jennings has this to say: “Food has no more to do with the production of vitality than the timber, planks, bolts, and canvas for a ship have in supplying ship-carpenters and sailors. In the mass of disease and most of the disorders termed febrile, the proper course of treatment is exceedingly plain and simple. So long as there is no call for nourishment, a cup of cool water is all that is needed for the inner man. A good nurse, however, who knows how to humor the patient’s whims, will often find enough to do in caring for the outer man. The great object to be steadily aimed at in all cases of sickness is to favor the renovating process in constant progression within. Rest and quiet is the remedy. Let there be no unnecessary expenditure of vital funds, either through mental exercise or any undue exercise of bodily functions. When there is a disposition to sleep, let it be indulged. And as there is no medicine to be given by the hour, sleep may be protracted to any length unless it is laborious; then a slight jog, a little change of position, or a swallow of water will start it in its regular train again. 

“In cases of great debility, the common belief is that food must be taken for the purpose of communicating strength, but this is as great a mistake as the supposition that exercise strengthens. Food carries no vital power into the system but requires much to convert it into organized texture and endow it with vitality. Any quantity, therefore, that is taken into the system, beyond the ability of the nutritive apparatus to animalize, will do more hurt than good. . . . It will answer no good purpose to employ excitants to appetite. If there is not enough power to create appetite, the case is hopeless. Provocations can neither create power nor make an appetite without power. The common non-professional rule of giving food in cases of debility, ‘little and often,’ will answer very well as a common one by striking out the word ‘often.’” 

In his writing, Clinical Diet, Jennings says: 

“So long as persons are confined to their beds without appetite, there is very little to be done for them by feeding. It is useless to urge food upon the stomach when there is no digestive power to work it up. If nutrient substances lie a few hours in the warm bath of the stomach without being sufficiently vitalized to protect them from the action of chemical affinity, they will be converted into acrimonious fluids and gasses and be sources of mischief. When people learn and practice the art of right living, physicians may go back to their farms and workshops!” 

Dr. Jennings converted Dr. William Alcott of Boston, who advocated for Jennings’ theories and practices and rejected those of the hydropaths. Jennings’ work greatly influenced such professional men as Drs. Trall, James Jackson, and successors in natural hygiene such as Robert Walter, Charles Page, and Felix Oswald. Unfortunately, Dr. Jennings was not a crusader, which was very harmful to the early days of the Hygienic Movement. Had he promulgated his views and practices with greater ardor and attacked the water cure system with more force, many mistakes of the early Hygienists may have conceivably been avoided. 

Shelton, H. (1968). Natural Hygiene: The Pristine Way of Life Youngstown, OH. National Health Association. 

The Evolution of Natural Hygiene

Early in the 1800s, Isaac Jennings, M.D., quietly started a revolution in health care when he began to notice that simple measures – such as eating a healthy diet, breathing plenty of fresh air, drinking pure water, exposing the skin to sunshine, partaking of exercise, and balancing that exercise with plenty of sleep and rest – produced much better health results than the pills, potions and poisons he was taught to use in his medical practice.

Initially, he covered up his discovery by using placebos – bread pills and sugar pills – along with his recommendations for improved living habits. He achieved widespread clinical success, much better than any of his medical colleagues, and people came from long distances to partake of Dr. Jennings’s wonderful elixirs.2

Jennings eventually tired of deceiving his patients with placebos, and in 1822, he went public with his approach of using what later came to become known as “Hygiene,” the science of health. Unfortunately, instead of praising him for his groundbreaking work and following his example, his medical brethren criticized him and dismissed his methods.”

As Graham’s lectures and writings represent the launching of a crusade for health and what he called “physiological reform” of the people and not the actual beginning of Hygienic practice, I shall begin this story with his predecessor, Isaac Jennings, M.D. A writer in The Science of Health, January 1876, includes Jennings, Trall, and others as worthy of reverence for their revolutionary work. Jennings launched no crusade and his work had not been made public at the time Graham launched his crusade–hence the tendency to start with Graham. I shall consult chronology rather than the beginning of the public work at this time.

Jennings says that he made his debut in medicine under the flag of Cullen, having studied under the celebrated Professor Ives of Yale. After 20 years spent in the regular drugging and bleeding practices of the time, during which his confidence in drugs and bleeding had grown steadily weaker so that his lancet had been sheathed and his doses were fewer, further apart and smaller, he discontinued all drugging in 1822 and relied after that on Hygienic care of the sick, using water (drops of it) and bread pills to meet the demands of his patients for “medicines” for another 20 years before he made public the secret of his phenomenal success.

Writing in 1852 on the occasion of the publication of Jenning’s second book (The Philosophy of Human Life), R. T. Trall, M.D., said of his career: “Dr. Jennings is widely known as the advocate of the ‘orthopathic’ plan of treating disease–a plan whose details mainly consist in placing the patient under organic law, and there leaving him to the vis medicatrix naturae. From the dawn of creation down to the year of our Lord eighteen hundred and fifty-two, this method of medicating the vital machinery has been ‘eminently successful,’ and the personal experience of the author of the work before us demonstrates the reasons for its superior efficacy over the drug-shop appliances, so widely and so fatally popular.”

With a mind well constituted for critical observation and the right opportunity for calling its powers into action, Dr. Jennings, after receiving a thorough medical education, commenced the practice of the healing art drugopathically. But his zeal to relieve his fellow–creatures of their disorders, secundem artem, was not rewarded by the results he had been instructed to expect. He noted, also, in consultation with his more experienced professional brethren, that old doctors, as a general rule, gave much less medicine than young ones. The former trusted more to nature; the latter trusted all to drugs. This led him to doubt the prevalent ideas of the faculty of medicine, and further observations induced him to discard them altogether.

While enjoying an extensive practice in Derby, Conn., some thirty years ago, he changed his manner of doctoring the people to an extent little suspected by his patrons of the time. Laying aside the well-filled saddle bags, he furnished one pocket with an assortment of bread pills; another pocket was stored with a variety of powders made of wheaten flour, variously scented and colored; and a third pocket with a quantity of vials filled with pure, soft water, of various hues. With these potencies in the healing art, he went forth ‘conquering and to conquer.’ Diseases vanished before him with a promptness unknown before. His fame spread far and wide. His business extended over a large territory; in fact, no other physician could live at the trade of pill-peddling in that place.

Such was and ever has been, and such ever will be the consequences of substituting innocent placebos, of the do-nothing medication, for that which consists in sending a score of physiological devils, in the shape of apothecary stuff, into the stomach, blood, bones, and brain. Dr. Jennings, before removing from Derby to Oberlin, Ohio, disclosed the secret of his remarkable success; and, although his customers were generally still inclined to ‘stick to the old doctor,’ it is hardly probable that this day there are many who have not fallen back into the slough of despond, medically speaking, so difficult is it to induce people to think and act rationally for themselves.

The general plan of the work is sufficiently expressed by its title. We commend it to the general inquirer after truth, especially the medical man. It seems to us impossible that any candid physician of the old school can peruse its pages without getting some of the dark and foggy delusions and musty unphilosophical theories of that school, driven out of his head, to run like the swine of an ancient parable, down to the sea of oblivion, “and be there drowned out of the recollection of men.

Writing in 1853, N. Bedortha, M.D., records that after 15 to 20 years of the bread pill and pure water practice, Jennings “burst the bubble he had been so long inflating, and came out before his medical brethren, and before the world a sworn enemy of all drug medication.” He adds that “surprise and chagrin seized his medical friends, but the effect upon the community where he practiced was various. Some denounced him as an imposter, unworthy of confidence or patronage, and were ready to stone him for deceiving them, while others, who were the more elevated portion, though confounded by the ruse practiced upon them, took the doctor by the hand and said–‘If you can cure our diseases without the use of medicine, then you are the doctor for us.’

Jennings continued his no-drug practice, which he called the “let alone” practice, for another 20 years before he retired. “He worked out a theory of disease, diverse from any that had preceded him, which he called Orthopathy. Disease, in this theory, is a unit and, in its various forms of fever, inflammation, coughs, etc., is entirely true to the laws of life, which cannot be aided by any system of medication or any medication whatever, but, relying solely upon the healing powers of the body and placing his patients in the best possible conditions for the operation of the body’s own healing processes, by means of rest, fasting, diet, pure air and other Hygienic factors, he permitted his patients to get well.”

Bedortha records that Jennings was never successful in getting his theories and practices accepted, although many “warm friends” adopted his views. Although so great was the success of Jennings and so far did his fame spread that Yale University conferred an honorary degree upon him in recognition of his unheard-of success, many of his former patients complained, when he publicly revealed his plan of care, that Jennings had charged them for “medicines” they had not received and deserted him. They would no longer employ him. It was not enough that he had saved their lives (many of them would have died had they been drugged in a regular manner), significantly shortened the period of their illnesses, relieved them of the chief expenses of disease, preserved their constitutions unimpaired, and preserved their health. Oh, no! They wanted what they had paid for; they had not paid for services but for “medicines.” Had they employed drug-giving physicians, many of them would not have lived to pay their drug bills, but this did not weigh, in their judgment, in Jennings’ favor.

Fasting

CHAPTER XXVIII

Although fasting has been practiced by both man and animals since the origin of life on earth, and there has never been a time within this period when it has not been employed, the professional use of the fast in sickness in this country dates from 1822, in which year Isaac Jennings, M.D., began to employ it. In 1830, Sylvester Graham began to advocate fasting. From that period to this, it has been extensively employed by hygienists and others in this country. It has also been employed extensively in Europe, but in what follows, I shall confine myself to a discussion of its employment by Hygienists in America.

With the exception of Graham, the men whose experiences and statements I shall discuss were medical men, almost all of them being or having been members of one or the other of four medical professions existing in this country during the last century. A few of them were graduates of the College of Hygeo-Therapy. The drug-medical graduates quoted are men who had forsaken drugs and were practicing Hygienically or primarily so. The general attitude of these men towards drugs may be well summed up in the words of George H. Taylor, M.D., who wrote (Journal, April 1857), “I have not a shadow of faith in the remedial virtues of drugs, of whatever name or nature, by whosoever administered.”

Fasting, which is entire abstinence from all food but water, is a definite physiological or biological procedure adopted by the animal kingdom under various circumstances; but we are primarily interested in its employment in a state of illness. Trall stressed that nothing is remedial except those conditions which economize the expenditure of the forces of the sick organism. When the overtaxed, satiated and surfeited system rebels against its abuses, what is more logical than the other extreme of abstinence or spare diet and water, such as Adam and Eve quaffed when cigars and quids were unheard of? This permits the relaxed and prostrated digestive organs to rally and restore their functioning powers. The irritableness and fretfulness of the sick, commonly observed under conventional care, are reduced to a minimum when the patient fasts. After such a period of repose, the stomach regains its tone, the heart its usual healthy action, and the blood courses cheerily through its vessels.

Writing September 16, 1859, a physician living in upstate New York accused Hygienists of starving their patients to death. This accusation indicates that the use of the fast, while general among Hygienists, was as little understood by physicians of the period as by those of today. The fear of starvation has been instilled into us by the medical profession for a long time.

Discussing the fast that an acutely ill child was undergoing, Dr. Jennings said: “There is now little action of the system generally, and consequently, there is but little wear and tear of machinery; and like the dormouse, it might subsist for months on its own internal resources if that were necessary, and everything else favored. The bowels, too, have been quiet for several days, and they might remain as they are for weeks and months to come without danger if this were essential to prolonging life. The muscles of voluntary motion are at rest and cost nothing for their maintenance; save a slight expenditure of safekeeping forces to hold them in readiness for action at any future time if their services are needed. So, of all the other parts and departments, the most perfect economy is everywhere exercised in appropriating and using vital energies.

The man who placed the most significant stress upon fasting, other than Jennings, was Dr. Kittredge. In an article published in the Journal, June 1851, Kittredge says: “Nature, knowing the impossibility of quelling insurrection in one of her chief citadels (he was dealing with diseases of the liver), while there was anything to feed the fires of rebellion, wisely stops the appetite at such times, so that the excitement may cease, knowing that flames without fuel cannot last always.” His resort to pictorial language and reversion to old fallacies about disease (a rebellion and a flame) somewhat spoils his assertion about abstinence in disease, but the fact that the desire for food is cut off in acute disease is not destroyed. In the Journal in January 1861, Dr. George H. Taylor said: “The coated tongue is nature’s peremptory method of refusing food, which indication must be respected.” In this same article, he advised abstinence from headaches and dyspepsia, these latter being commonly regarded as chronic diseases.

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