Pre-Ellen White Health Reformers

Pre-Ellen White Health Reformers
Was Ellen White Really Ahead of Her Time?

Compiled by D. Anderson

Contrary to popular myth, Mrs. White brought few, if any, new health reforms to the world. Other popular health reformers were promoting most, if not all of her teachings on health, before she began teaching them.

Influence of Methodist Founder John Wesley

Having been raised up in the Methodist church, Mrs. White was most likely familiar with the writings and practices of church founder John Wesley. Wesley believed that health and healing were an integral part of the gospel message. In 1746, as a young evangelist Wesley studied medicine and began visiting the sick, prescribing various natural remedies for their health problems. By 1753 he was testing the curative powers of electricity, which he described as the “most efficacious medicine, in nervous disorders of every kind, which has ever yet been discovered.”

He authored a number of books on health reform. Here are some of the health reforms he practiced and advocated in the 1700s:

* Moderation in food and drink
* Warned against intemperance, indolence, excessive passions
* Frowned upon medicines such as opium and quinine
* Recommended two hours of walking a day
* Advised the ill to exercise in the fresh air
* Avoided highly seasoned foods
* Abstained from tea for years
* Stressed that cleanliness promotes health
* Advised Methodists to avoid snuff and tobacco

In addition to his many books and tracts on health, Wesley founded a system of Methodist hospitals that is one of the largest private healthcare systems in the world today.

Influence of Elder Joseph Bates

Health reform was an important subject amongst the Adventist pioneers, particularly to Captain Joseph Bates. There is no doubt that Bates had a strong influence on the Whites and the early Adventist church. Bates was a health reformer who crusaded against “tobacco and snuff boxes, and pipes.” He further decried the use or trafficking of “alcoholic drinks, from brandy to cider, and beer.” (The Sealing Message, pp. 67-68)

Health Reforms of Mrs. M.L. Shew
In 1844, a full 19 years before Mrs. White’s first “vision” on health reform, Mrs. M.L. Shew published the third edition of an 156-page book on health reform entitled Water Cure for Ladies: a Popular Work on the Health, Diet, and Regimen of Females and Children, and the Prevention and Care of Diseases. In it she teaches:

* Alcohol is a deadly poison
* Drug medicines are “most pernicious”
* Get rid of salt in the diet
* Spices, such as mustard, pepper, and vinegar are “pernicious”
* Tea is “one of the most destructive poisons”
* Tobacco is a very powerful poison
* Daily bathing, exercise, and fresh air are important for good health
* Use cream instead of butter
* A vegetarian diet will promote health
* Cheese is hard for the body to digest
* Meals should be six hours apart. Two meals a day is “better for sedentary persons”
* Bread is the “staff of life.” Fresh bread should not be eaten while still warm.

1843 daguerreotype of Joseph Smith, Jr. taken by Lucian Foster (Library of Congress)
Fellow Prophet Joseph Smith

In 1833, thirty years before Ellen White’s first health reform “vision”, the Prophet Joseph Smith received his health reform vision. In Doctrine and Covenants (section 89, verses 5-17) Smith reveals the following health reforms:

* Use of “wine” and “strong” alcoholic drinks is proscribed.
* Tobacco is forbidden.
* “Hot drinks [coffee and tea] are not for the body”.
* Fruits, vegetables, and grains will bring health to the body.
* Meat is allowed, but should be eaten “sparingly”.

Today Mormons proclaim that Joseph Smith was “years ahead” of modern-day science. As further proof of the divine origin of Prophet Smith’s revelation they point to the fact that the average Latter Day Saint outlives the average American by approximately 10 years.

Health Reforms of Sylvester Graham

Sylvester Graham, in his Lectures on the Science of Human Life, (published in 1849, pp. 224-286) expounded on the following:

* Avoid all simulating and unnatural foods, living “entirely on the products of the vegetable kingdom and pure water.”
* Butter should be used “very sparingly.”
* Fresh milk and eggs were frowned upon but not proscribed.
* Cheese was permitted only if mild and unaged.
* Condiments and spices, such as pepper, mustard, and cinnamon, were banned as being “all highly exciting and exhausting.”
* Tea and coffee, like alcohol and tobacco, poisoned the system.
* Pastries, with the exception of fruit pies, were “among the most pernicious articles of human ailment.”
* Sleep was preferable before midnight.
* Sleep should be taken in a well-ventilated room.
* A sponge bath every morning was desirable.
* Clothing should not be restrictive.
* “All medicine, as such, is itself an evil.”

Furthermore, Graham was opposed to both marital excess and self-abuse (masturbation). Graham believed that stimulating foods aroused the sexual passions. Therefore, he concluded that one of the best ways to control sexual urges was to adopt a vegetarian diet and forsake condiments, spices, alcohol, tea, and coffee (Lecture to Young Men on Chastity, pp. 83, 144-148).

Two-Meals-a-Day from Dio Lewis

In the 1850’s Dio Lewis became a nationally known lecturer on health reform. He taught many of the same things as Graham, but he added the reform of eating only two meals a day. The Whites were well acquainted with Dr. Lewis. In Mrs. White’s biography, grandson Arthur notes that in the early 1860’s:

“The Review and Herald, edited by James White and Uriah Smith, occasionally carried items on rest, fresh air, exercise, et cetera, selected from other journals or from the writings of a Dr. Dio Lewis. Quite often articles and admonitions discouraging the use of tobacco, tea, and coffee were included.” (Ellen White, vol. 2, p. 73)

Not only were the Whites familiar with Dr. Lewis’ health writings, in 1871 they actually visited his home in Boston and held a private discussion with him (see letter 15, 1871 to Edson and Emma White, November 15, 1871, 5MR 397.1}

Millerite Reformer Larkin Coles

Larkin B. Coles was less known than Graham or Lewis. However, he is of special interest to Adventists because he was a Millerite preacher-physician. Before his death in 1856 he authored two books on health. In his books he advocated fresh air, exercise, a vegetarian diet, non-use of stimulants, reform in dress, sexual purity, and drugless medicine. A number of Mrs. White’s writings on health reform appear strikingly similar to Coles’ writings.

Coles not only warned against meat eating because it increased the animal propensities, but he also discussed the connection between meat-eating and disease. He was notable for sounding a warning (which others health reformers had already voiced) that there was a relationship between tobacco use and carcinomas. (The Beauties and Deformities of Tobacco-Using, 1853, p. 142)

Ellen White and Health Reform

Ellen White was a “late-comer” to health reform. She did not receive her first “vision” on health reform until 1863, a full 30 years after Prophet Joseph Smith’s vision. While Mrs. White was still feasting on pork in the early 1850s the health reform movement was in full swing in America. Health and temperance lecturers traveled throughout the country, speaking in churches and halls, promoting the vegetarian diet, and warning against alcohol, tobacco, and corsets. A full decade before Mrs. White received her “vision” on health reform, all the major tenets of her health teachings were being taught by nationally-known non-Adventist Christian health crusaders.

Her First Attempt at Health Reform

Mrs. White’s first attempt at health reform was to write a book called Appeal to Mothers, published in 1864. Like Sylvester Graham’s efforts two decades earlier, Mrs. White decided her church members needed to be warned about the health dangers of masturbation. On the first page she warns of the astonishing numbers of deaths caused by masturbation:

“Have you observed the astonishing mortality among the youth?” (Appeal, p. 5)

According to Mrs. White, not only does masturbation cause death and a wide range of physical ailments, it also causes mental health problems:

“The mind is often utterly ruined, and insanity takes place.” (Appeal, p. 27)

Needless to say, Appeal to Mothers is no longer available in print. Like so many other of her writings and visions that were proven incorrect, this book simply disappeared from the public sight. (If you want to learn more about what Mrs. White wrote in this book and other early health writings, click here.)

Later Attempts

While she never achieved the fame in the health reform arena attained by fellow prophet Mary Baker Eddy–whose first book Science and Health, published in 1875, sold over 10 million copies–Mrs. White’s later efforts proved more successful. With the assistance of her staff of professional writers and editors, she was able to produce a much better health reform book which is still available today: Ministry of Healing. Perhaps Mrs. White had the opportunity to read Mrs. Eddy’s book:

Mary Baker Eddy, Science and Health, 1875
Prayer cannot change the Science of being, but it tends to bring us into harmony with it. (p. 1)
…will mould and fashion us anew, until we awake in His likeness. (p. 4)
Their imperfections and impurity felt the ever-present rebuke of his perfection and purity. (p. 52)

Ellen G. White
Prayer is not to work any change in God; it is to bring us into harmony with God. (Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 143, 1900)
Then He will mould and fashion us after the divine likeness… (Signs of the Times, 3/11/1903)
To all things untrue and base His very presence was a rebuke. In the light of His purity, men saw themselves unclean… (Education, p. 79, 1903.

Sources of the above material:

1. E. Brooks Holifield, Health and Medicine in the Methodist Tradition, 1986.

2. Dr. Ronald Numbers, Prophetess of Health, 1992.

3. Sydney Cleveland, White-Washed, 1998.

Ellen White’s Health Plagiarisms


Dr. J.H. Kellogg, a long-time associate of Ellen White, explains how he discovered Ellen White’s plagiarism of health reformer L.B. Coles:

Dr. Kress was down in Detroit, and he ran across the book eight or ten years ago–Cole’s Philosophy of Health, and he came to me with great interest and he said:”I have discovered a book here that reads just like [Ellen White’s book] How to Live. Such a wonderful thing that the Lord should put this into two minds at different times, but the curious thing about it is that this book was written before How to Live was written.”

I said, “Dr. Kress, I know all about that. I have got the book in my library. It is Cole’s Philosophy of Health, isn’t it?”


“Now, I know all about it. His book was in my library, and sister White had access to it when How to Live was written, and that is the explanation of that. There is no miracle about that.” (Interview with J.H. Kellogg as published in Spectrum, vol. 20, no. 3, p. 58)

Ellen G. White
Christian Temperance, 1890
L.B. Coles
Philosophy of Health, 1853
It is as truly a sin to violate the laws of our being as it is to break the ten commandments. p. 53 …it is as truly a sin against Heaven, to violate a law of life, as to break one of the ten commandments. p. 215
Through the use of stimulants, the whole system suffers. The nerves are unbalanced, the liver is morbid in its action, the quality and circulation of the blood are affected, and the skin becomes inactive and sallow. The mind, too, is injured. The immediate influence of these stimulants is to excite the brain to undue activity, only to leave it weaker and less capable of exertion. The after-effect is prostration, not only mental and physical, but moral. p. 35 …affects the whole system, and especially the nervous system, by its effects on the stomach. But, besides this, it creates a morbid action of the liver. … It affects the circulation of the blood, and the quality of the blood itself, so that a great coffee-drinker can generally be known by his complexion; it gives to the skin a dead, dull, sallow appearance. Coffee affects not only the body to its injury, but also the mind It…excites the mind temporarily to unwonted activity. … [But afterward] come prostration, sadness, and exhaustion of the moral and physical forces. p. 79
When these tea and coffee users meet together for social entertainment, the effects of their pernicious habit are manifest. All partake freely of the favorite beverages, and as the stimulating influence is felt, their tongues are loosened, and they begin the wicked work of talking against others. Their words are not few or well chosen. The tidbits of gossip are passed around, too often the poison of scandal as well. p.36 See a party of ladies met to spend an afternoon. … Toward the close of the afternoon…come the tea and eatables…the drooping mind becomes greatly animated, the tongue is let loose, and the words come flowing forth like the falling drops of a great shower. … Then is the time for small thoughts and many words; or, it may be, the sending forth of fire-brands of gossip and slander. p. 82
Ellen G. White
Testimonies, 1868-1876
L.B. Coles
Philosophy of Health, 1853
The sympathy which exists between the mind and the body is very great. When one is affected, the other responds. Vol. 4, p. 60 The sympathy existing between the mind and the body is so great, that when one is affected, both are affected. p. 127
The brain nerves which communicate with the entire system are the only medium through which Heaven can communicate to man and affect his inmost life. Whatever disturbs the circulation of the electric currents in the nervous system lessens the strength of the vital powers, and the result is a deadening of the sensibilities of the mind. Vol. 2, p. 347 Whatever mars the healthy circulation of the electric currents in the nervous system, lessens the strength of the vital forces; and, through them, deadens the native susceptibilities of the soul. The nervous system is the only medium through which truth can reach Interior man. Divinity himself uses no other medium through which to reach the human heart. pp. 266-267
…flesh meat is not necessary for health or strength. If used it is because a depraved appetite craves it. Its use excites the animal propensities to increased activity and strengthens the animal passions. When the animal propensities are increased, the intellectual and moral powers are decreased. The use of the flesh of animals tends to cause a grossness of body and benumbs the fine sensibilities of the mind. Vol. 2, p. 63 Flesh-eating is certainly not necessary to health or strength. … If it be used, it must be used as a matter of fancy. …it excites the animal propensities to increased activity and ferocity. … When we increase the proportion of our animal nature, we suppress the intellectual. …the use of flesh tends to create a grossness of body and spirit. pp. 64-67
Those who subsist largely upon flesh cannot avoid eating the meat of animals which are to a greater or less degree diseased. The process of fitting animals for market produces in them disease; and fitted in as healthful manner as they can be, they become heated and diseased by driving before they reach the market. The fluids and flesh of these diseased animals are received directly into the blood, and pass into the circulation of the human body, becoming fluids and flesh of the same. Thus humors are introduced into the system. And if the person already has impure blood, it is greatly aggravated by the eating of the flesh of these animals. The liability to take disease is increased tenfold by meat eating. The intellectual, the moral, and the physical powers are depreciated by the habitual use of flesh meats. Meat eating deranges the system, beclouds the intellect, and blunts the moral sensibilities. Vol. 2, p. 63 When we feed on flesh, we not only eat the muscular fibres, but the juices or fluids of the animal; and these fluids pass into our own circulation–become our blood–our fluids and our flesh. However pure may be the flesh of the animals we eat, their fluids tend to engender in us a humorous state of the blood. … The very process taken to fit the animals for market, tends to produce a diseased state of their fluids. … Some of our meat is fatted in country pastures; but, by the time it reaches us, the process of driving to market has produced a diseased action of the fluids. … Animal food exposes the system more effectually to the causes of acute disease. Where the fluids are in a diseased state, the ordinary causes of disease find a more easy prey. … The objections, then, against meat-eating, are three-fold–intellectual, moral, and physical. Its tendency is to check intellectual activity, to depreciate moral sentiment, and to derange the fluids of the body. pp. 67-71
Ellen G. White
Testimonies, 1873-1876
Horace Mann
Dedicatory and Inaugural Address, 1853
Man came from the hand of God perfect in every faculty of mind and body; in perfect soundness, therefore in perfect health. It took more than two thousand years of indulgence of appetite and lustful passions to create such a state of things in the human organism as would lessen vital force. Vol. 4, p. 29 Man came from the hand of God so perfect in his bodily organs…so surcharged with vital force, that it took more than two thousand years of the combined abominations of appetite and ignorance…to drain off his electric energies and make him even accessible to disease. pp. 335-336
If Adam, at his creation, had not been endowed with twenty times as much vital force as men now have, the race, with their present habits of living in violation of natural law, would have become extinct. Vol. 3, p. 138 …if the race had not been created with ten times more vital force than it now possesses, its known violations of all the laws of health and life would, long ere this, have extinguished it altogether. p. 340


Thanks to Dr. Ronald Numbers for his research on the above material, which was taken from his book Prophetess of Health.

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