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Dr. James C. Jackson – Biography

(1811 -1895)


James C. was born to James and Ann Jackson on March 28, 1811, in Manlius, New York. ​​ James’ earliest memory was watching his father, who became an allopathic physician, ride off to the War of 1812, serving as physician and post-surgeon at Sacket Harbor.

James was a diligent student from a young age and completed his education at the Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York.

Jackson battled persistent health issues as a youth. His father believed that medicines had curative qualities. He thought that the human body was powerless to heal and needed the intervention of doctors and their medications. James C. became his father’s case study. Sick as his son was, his father continued medical interventions with toxic treatments, which were completely ineffective.

During his youth, Jackson began to use tobacco, which severely impacted his health, resulting in a diagnosis of heart disease. Specialists advised that he should be taken out of school and kept quiet. His father continuously administered medications. Despite these ongoing toxic treatments, Jackson somehow managed to survive to adulthood.

James was a supporter of temperance and frequently spoke on the topic. He was also an anti-slavery abolitionist and became a prominent speaker for the cause through the New York Anti-Slavery Society. In 1840, Jackson edited the National Anti-Slavery Standard until he bought the abolitionist newspaper, the Albany Patriot, and wrote for the paper until 1847.

At 19, he married Lucretia Edgerton Brewster, a lineal descendant of William Brewster, a Mayflower colonist. He worked on a farm during this time, but his health continued to decline. As a result, he discontinued farming and instead began studying medicine to better understand his health.

During a medical crisis in the fall of 1846, he became so seriously afflicted that he had to discontinue all activity. His efforts to recover his health proved futile and was pronounced “incurable” by many doctors. His continued illness catalyzed him to continue his search to achieve health, and he eventually became aware of the basic principles of hygiene. He sought treatment from Dr. Silas Gleason at his institution (water cure) in Cuba, N. Y. His health improvement was so dramatic that, as a result, he spent the rest of his life as an advocate for hydropathy. He trained to become a physician and eventually partnered with Dr. Gleason. Together, they opened a water cure at Glen Haven, NY. Some years later, Jackson left Glen Haven and opened his own clinic. 

Our Home on the Hillside - Dansville, NY
“Our Home” was for people seeking to restore health.
His spa provided patients with clean air, sunbathing, pure spring water, and menus that included simple foods such as vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.

A reformer in every way, social, political, and religious, he realized that the basis for all personal and social change was the improvement of the human organism. He believed that humans should be able to live free of illness and that those who were sick need not die. Many of his friends and supporters could not believe that sick people could heal without medicine.

His first patient was a woman who had been physically infirmed for years. Her various treatments had included the use of many toxic medications. Her healing took time, but eventually, her health was restored. Word of her medical transformation spread like wildfire. People traveled long distances to see her at the clinic to verify her healing. 

Before long, people with every form of chronic disease that did not involve surgical intervention came to the clinic for treatment. There, they remained while receiving Dr. Jackson’s protocols. Numerous recoveries were documented. Onlookers and patients thought it strange that the body could heal without significant intervention. But in reality, Jackson provided time for the body to heal and gave it what it needed: simple food, clean air & water, sunshine, solid sleep, exercise, and hydropathy treatments as needed.

James’ son, Giles, followed in his father’s footsteps and entered medical college. While in school, he was exposed to typhus fever and came home to recuperate. Gile’s fever raged for a short time, but he recovered much faster as compared with similar cases where the patients were drugged and medicated. Four of his college group did not survive the fever. 

Needing a larger facility, in 1858, Jackson purchased a former spa founded by Nathaniel Bingham and renamed it “Our Home on the Hillside.” The institute was situated on a beautiful wooded hillside overlooking a picturesque valley. “Our Home” was for people seeking to restore health. His spa provided patients with clean air, sunbathing, pure spring water, and menus that included simple foods such as vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Treatment included mineral baths along with lectures on various health topics. Jackson worked with his wife and their adopted daughter, Dr. Harriet Newell Austin. Harriet was among the first women in the world to receive the degree of Doctor of Medicine.

Seven years after he opened the Institute, a typhoid epidemic broke out in town. Jackson treated 18 cases of typhus, and not one of his patients died. However, many of the townspeople who were treated allopathically died after receiving the current medical treatments of the day.

Along the way, Jackson’s focus began to include a Christian influence. He believed in Jesus Christ as a life force that could heal the body. Since the Institute opened, he thought that the sick who arrived as unbelievers were healed by their journey of faith and love for Jesus Christ. He wrote the book Christ as a Physician, sharing what he witnessed and discussing the theological exploration of Christ’s role as a healer. He wrote that many diseases that afflict our people are avoidable and might be prevented by Christians if they lived closer to Christ. 

Like Grape Nuts in texture, Granula was much larger and more challenging to chew. It was made of bran-rich graham flour formed into chunks. Chewing was so tough that the cereal had to be soaked overnight to be consumed.

In 1863, Jackson invented the first breakfast cereal food based on Sylvester Graham’s principles to promote a simple diet and named it Granula. Jackson believed that the digestive system was the basis of most illnesses. He began experimenting with using cereal as a treatment. Like Grape Nuts in texture, Granula was much larger and more challenging to chew. It was made of bran-rich graham flour formed into chunks. Chewing was so tough that the cereal had to be soaked overnight to be consumed.

As a physician, lecturer, and editor of his health journal, “The Laws of Life,” he eloquently preached the gospel of health. He opposed the use of drugs, promoted positive life habits, and taught the laws of health to promote wellness and vitality. He placed great value upon mental and moral influences in strengthening the will and banishing doubt and despair. The focus was placed on a healthy lifestyle of eating, drinking, physical exercise, reformed clothing, and observing all physiological laws. 

He said, “If man will obey the laws of his being, he may live free from sickness and the fear of premature death and attain a physical strength and beauty. But there can be no law without penalty; pain, sickness, sorrow, deformity, infirmity, and death directly result from violating physical law.” He states that to live free from sickness, man needs only to obey the natural laws of life on which his health depends.

Dr. Jackson called his work psycho-hygiene. It has a few things in common with psychosomatic medicine; it is so all-embracing that it has a distinct and different approach to health problems. To Dr. Jackson, understanding the laws of life meant growth and development after the recovery of health. The laws of health are essential for the maintenance of normal function. 

Despite the indescribable suffering in his youth, Jackson lived to a ripe old age. Once he achieved good health, he only ate 1-2 simple meals daily. No salt, butter, spices, or meat were consumed and only drank mineral water. For over 33 years, he did not utilize any medications. Because of this lifestyle, he could read without glasses, had good overall health, and walked upright until he passed away in 1895. He fully believed in the body’s power to restore and preserve its health and saw it happen throughout his lifetime. Jackson’s ideas are being heralded today in other forms as modern medical discoveries.

Life in the 1800s 

Jackson was a pioneer and well ahead of his time. The 1800s witnessed repeated outbreaks of typhus and cholera. The leading causes of death for adults during this period were malaria and tuberculosis, while children commonly died from measles, mumps, and whooping cough. The general death rate was high, but for infants and children, it was excessively high. Many mothers died in childbirth or from childbirth fever. 

Grains, pork, bread, and lard pies were central to people’s diets—vegetables and fruits were neglected. Many thought that fruits and vegetables were the cause of cholera. 

Bathing and fresh air were feared. Houses were unventilated and foul-smelling. Sunlight was not permitted to enter lest it fade carpets or tapestries. Sanitation was neglected; tobacco was used almost universally, and disease was rampant.

The medical “art” in America during this period seems incomprehensible today. Physicians frequently bled patients to “force” disease “out,” and many died in the process. Blistering was also a widespread healing technique used. For at least a century, strychnine, a potent poison, was used as a treatment for paralytic conditions. Quinine was used for fever, with such side effects as severe bleeding, kidney damage, irregular heartbeat, and severe allergic reactions. Water was routinely withheld from the sick, heightening the chances of dying from dehydration. More often than not, the ‘cures’ were worse than the disease.


An advertisement found in the back of one of Jackson’s publications.

Along with water cures, Jackson believed diet was fundamental to improving health. He did not serve meat, tea, coffee, or alcohol, and the use of tobacco was prohibited. He promoted a vegetarian diet emphasizing fruits, vegetables, and unprocessed grains.

James’s holistic approach to health underscored the significance of consuming unprocessed foods and adhering to a simple diet while avoiding stimulants. He advocated for the healing power of a balanced diet abundant in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. That formula would help the sick regain and maintain their health. Through his groundbreaking treatments, he healed such distinguished figures as Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross, and Ellen G. White, founder of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, who incorporated some of his teachings in the Seventh-Day Adventist Church’s tenets.

Jackson firmly believed that unhealthy living habits and toxic medications were the causes of illness. The universal practice of using medications that were harmful to the body was found to hasten death. People believed in the curative efficiency of these drugs. Ironically, remedies that would kill a strong, healthy man were used in an attempt to heal the sick. That statement may seem incredible, but nevertheless, it was true.

Dr. James Jackson was a true pioneer, and many of his tenets formed the foundation of the Natural Hygiene Movement, which evolved into the National Health Association.

Notable Achievements

If a history of human endeavor were to be written that encompasses all of the tremendous constructive deeds performed by men as they traveled through life, a prominent place would have to be given to Dr. James Caleb Jackson. Few today are aware of the value of the work of this incredible health and medical reformer.

Early in his life, he developed into a fighter for truth and freedom. He lectured extensively for the New York Anti-Slavery Society and became a prominent speaker. For ten years, he had positions of eminence in social reform and was a powerful force as editor and proprietor of the Albany Patriot newspaper.

James’ health was challenged from an early age. It didn’t help that his father, who was trained in the allopathic medical practices of the day, continued to use these techniques on his son, which usually made him worse. Despite this care, he was able to mature to adulthood but continued to have a sickly constitution until he received treatment.

James recovered after taking a water cure at Silas Gleason’s Greenwood Spring Water Spa in New York. After his recovery, he worked there until he opened the hydropathic institute at Glen Haven, New York, in 1847. 

Jackson quickly outgrew these facilities. In 1858, he bought a former spa founded by Nathaniel Bingham in Dansville, New York, and began Our Home Hygienic Institute. It became the largest hygienic institute in the world, caring for over 20,000 patients, utilizing the psycho-hygienic philosophy of treating the sick, and proving, again and again, the fallacy of giving toxic medicines to invalids. Clara Barton, the most famous recipient of this treatment, often claimed that Dr. Jackson’s practices saved her life and allowed her to continue her mission, becoming a nursing pioneer and founder of the American Red Cross.

An advertisement found in the back of one of Dr. Jackson’s books.

The institute was renamed ‘Our Home on the Hillside,’ where Jackson worked with his wife and their adopted daughter, Dr. Harriet Newell Austin, one of the first women to receive a medical degree. The family eventually called it the Jackson Sanatorium, also known as the Jackson Health Resort.

The founding and development of this institution was the pinnacle of Dr. Jackson’s career. He shared his treatments and observed the results of his years of practice in the Journal of Laws of Life. The journal treated all subjects relating to Life and Health and shared his experiences operating the largest Hygienic Institution in America. He advocated and wrote about improving people’s lifestyles throughout his life. He educated his patients on how to live, making health the foundation for growth and development through all the stages of life.

He was a prolific writer, as noted in the publication section. One of his significant publications was Hints on the Reproductive Organs: Their Diseases, Causes, and Cure on Hydropathic Principles. In this book, Jackson begins with the doctor’s role. He reviews qualifications, issues of medicine, and medicinal abuses. He specifically discusses men and women and their diseases, treatment, and the five principal causes of disease. Jackson believes that man’s vices negatively impact not only one’s health, but on family relationships as well.

He also wrote on various subjects along with treatments utilizing his principles. Summaries of each book he wrote can be found under the publication section.

Nutrition formed a significant part of his beliefs, and he invented a breakfast food named Granula based on Sylvester Graham’s principles. It was made of bran-rich graham flour and made into chunks. Granula was similar to Grape Nuts but with much larger rock-hard pieces, which had to be soaked overnight to be consumed.

On his 70th birthday, he gave a speech celebrating the health and length of his life due to the principles he learned. He started with his youth and continual illness at the hands of his allopathic medical doctor father. He next shared his learning path, which led to the Water Cure. He also shared his journey to Christianity and discussed the role of prayer and belief. This speech was bound into a publication titled The Sanitarium

James C. Jackson turned his Home on the Hillside” into one of the most successful and famous medical institutions and served as its chief physician. His medical wisdom, comprised of numerous lectures and publications, was published in the journal “Laws of Life. Jackson preached the gospel of health and opposed the use of drugs. He lectured on his Laws of Life and believed one could remove the cause of sickness by conforming to those tenets. 

He was highly aware of true health and so compassionately motivated that his words and actions at the bedside of the sick were uplifting and filled them with hope and joy. He influenced tens of thousands through his lectures. His words, crystal clear and rhythmic with life, were a verbal symphony. Fifty years after his death, those who heard him still spoke reverently, inspired by his words, as though they had just been heard.

Jackson had a long and fascinating life, with stints as a farmer, abolitionist, doctor, and founder of a medical spa. He was also an early proponent of what we now call “clean eating” and treated famous patients, including Clara Barton (the founder of the American Red Cross) and Ellen White (the founder of the Seventh-day Adventist Church).

His life’s work became a sacred cause focused on health reform. Strict dietary rules, exercise, reformed dress, and sleep formed his guidelines. He promoted a simple lifestyle, including fresh air and drinking mineral water. Jackson’s term “psycho hygiene” aptly encompasses all the ideas he successfully founded in his practice.

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The NHA wishes to remind the readers that nothing in this or other publications is intended to constitute medical treatment or advice. Readers should further be aware that in several areas, previous publications do not reflect the NHA’s current teachings or health approaches.

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