Graham, Sylvester

American reformer

Sylvester Graham, a Presbyterian minister and reformer, is best known for his creation of the Graham cracker. He also put forth the idea that moderation is beneficial, and that certain foods and behaviors are detrimental to both physical and spiritual health. It is not enough to practice moderation in all things, he claimed, because some things are simply not good, either for spiritual or physical reasons, or both. These theories made Graham a central figure in the health reform movement of the 1800s.

Graham was born on July 5, 1794, in West Suffield, Connecticut. His father, the clergyman John Graham, was seventy-two years of age at the time of his birth. Within two years, his father was dead, and Graham was raised by various relatives.

Graham worked as a farm-hand, clerk, and teacher before preparing for the ministry. He married Sarah Earl in 1826. In 1830 he was made general agent for the Pennsylvania Temperance Society, and he began to study human physiology , diet , and regimen. He then launched himself on a lecture career that took him up and down the Atlantic Coast.

He advocated bread at least twelve hours old, made of the whole of the wheat, and coarsely ground. He also recommended hard mattresses, open bedroom windows, cold shower baths, loose and light clothing, daily exercise, vegetables and fruits, rough (whole-grain) cereals, pure drinking water, and cheerfulness at meals. He taught that temperance included both physical and moral reform.

In 1832, Graham edited Luigi Cornaro's Discourse on a Sober and Temperate Life. This discourse was translated into many languages and first published in the United States in 1788, after which it went through at least twelve editions. Cornaro wrote of three social evils: adulation and ceremony, heresy, and intemperance. Intemperance was, to Cornaro, the principal vice, and he wrote that a person should choose "to live in accordance with the simplicity of nature, to be satisfied with very little, to follow the ways of holy self-control and divine reason, and to accustom himself to eat nothing but that which is necessary to sustain life."

In 1837, Sylvester Graham wrote his Treatise on Bread and Bread Making, which advocated the use of Graham flour, made from coarsely ground whole-wheat kernels, and instructed wives to bake their own bread. Perhaps as a result of his impact on their business, which was reduced by the making of homemade bread, he was attacked by a mob of bakers. Meanwhile, Graham flour showed up in barrels and Graham boarding houses sprang up to minister to the new demands.

Graham influenced others to take up the cause of health reform. John Harvey Kellogg, while working as an apprentice typesetter, was exposed to a compilation of articles on health, including Graham's Health, or How to Live, a series of six pamphlets published by the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and he became intensely interested in Graham's dietetic and sanitary reforms. In his spare moments Kellogg read all of Graham's writings. Ralph Waldo Emerson made reference to Sylvester Graham as the "poet of bran and pumpkins." Graham died in 1851.

Louise E. Schneider


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Schwartz, Richard W. (1970). John Harvey Kellogg, MD. Nashville, TN: Southern Publishing Association.

Shryock, Richard H. (1931). "Sylvester Graham and the Popular Health Movement, 1830–1870." Mississippi Valley Historical Review XVIII:172–183.

Whorton, James C. (1987). "Traditions of Folk Medicine." Journal of the Medical Association 257:1632–1640.

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