Joseph Bates was most likely the first Sabbatarian Adventist Health Reformer and he began his journey even before he became a Christian. During his years as a sea captain, Bates had stumbled upon some of the principles of health reform and had chosen to eliminate hard liquor entirely by 1821. The following year he added wine to the list and then gave up tobacco as well.
A few years later he joined the Fairhaven Massachusetts Christian Church and tried to rope the church pastor into organizing a temperance society with him but the Pastor wasn’t overly excited about the idea. Bates then began to work on his friends and acquaintances until he had gathered enough people to organize one of the first temperance societies in the United States by 1827.
The on his final voyage as a sea captain, at the age of 35, he refused to let his sailors drink. He was warned by his friends that such restrictions would cause a mutiny but Bates was pleasantly surprised to find that the lack of alcohol only improved the conditions aboard his vessel. Shortly after his retirement, he gave up tea and coffee as well.
Later while he was part of the Millerite movement, his belief in the nearness of Christ’s coming, led Captain Bates to make drastic dietary changes. He gave up meat, butter, cheese, grease, pies and rich cakes. He drank only water and lived on a whole food plant-based diet. Interestingly enough though many early Sabbatarian Adventist leaders like James White, John Loughborough, Uriah Smith and John Andrews were plagued with ill health, Joseph Bates managed to largely avoid health issues for the better part of his eighty-year lifespan.
In the early 1840s and 50s, Adventists didn’t champion health reform on as large a scale as they later did but there were a few health principles they endorsed right from the outset, the most prominent being total abstinence from Alcohol. As early as 1848 Ellen White was shown the harmful effects of tobacco, tea, and coffee writing that tobacco was a filthy weed that must be given up. By 1853 the Review and Herald began to take a firm stance against tobacco, tea, and coffee as well. Ellen White was also shown that Adventists should practice principles of hygiene and avoid greasy rich foods as much as possible, opting instead to eat more whole foods.
Despite all this counsel dietary reform was slow and gradual. One example was the issue of abstaining from pork which was raised in 1850. James White wrote that while he did not object to individuals following this principle he was not overly enthusiastic about making it an issue within the church body at large. When the issue was again raised in the late 1850s Ellen White wrote “If it is the duty of the church to abstain from swine’s flesh, God will discover it to more than two or three. He will teach his church their duty”
In 1863 James and Ellen White encountered a health crisis in their own family that helped pave the way for broader views regarding health reform. During that year a diphtheria epidemic swept through the entire nation and two of the White boys came down with the disease. Around this time James White came across an article detailing the use of hydrotherapy in relation to combating disease and the Whites decided to use hydrotherapy instead of medication to help their boys fight diphtheria. Both boys recovered and Ellen White later helped a neighbor’s child who had diphtheria overcome the disease using the same methods. After this James White printed the article he had read on Hydrotherapy in the Review. The article was written by Dr. James C. Jackson who ran the Dansville Health Institute.
Later in that same year the Whites left for Otsego Michigan to help R.J. Lawrence and Merritt Cornell with the tent meetings they were holding there. They spent the weekend with the Hilliard family and during family worship, on the evening of June 5th, while Ellen White was leading out in prayer she was given a vision regarding health reform. The vision lasted forty five minutes and gave her a broad and sweeping view of health reform.
She was shown that temperance encompassed far more than merely abstaining from alcohol. It included work habits and eating habits as well. She was also shown the importance of water in the cure and treatment of disease and the benefits of a vegetarian diet. Interestingly the health reform vision didn’t reveal a completely new or unique point of view. Much of what was revealed had already been discovered and put into practice by others. What it did do was endorse the use of natural remedies in the treatment of disease and the need for a balanced and holistic approach to health which included diet, exercise, fresh air, adequate rest, sunshine and water.
After the vision James and Ellen White became eager to share what had been revealed to them at Otsego as they traveled. Soon some of the more observant listeners pointed out the similarities between the principles she shared and those advocated by other practitioners prior to her receiving the vision. When asked if she had read any of the contemporary literature by clinicians on the subject she replied that she had not and that she did not intend to until she had written out the major themes that had been presented to her in vision. She was determined that no one should accuse her of her having “received her light upon the subject of health reform from physicians and not form the Lord”
Part of the Otsego vision has been focused on specific counsel given to James and Ellen White with regards to their work habits. They were instructed to cut down their working hours to avoid overwork. James was also counseled to not allow his mind to dwell on the negative aspects of working with his brethren in the church because such thoughts were having a detrimental effect on him physically. Soon the Whites began to implement much of the counsel they had been given. They dropped back to eating two meals a day and only consumed a whole food plant-based diet.
Then during the fall of 1863, Henry White contracted pneumonia and the local physician was called for. He dispensed the conventional medical treatment of the day but Henry didn’t survive. Willie then caught the bug and the grief-stricken parents decided to use natural remedies instead. Willie’s life hung by a thread and one night as the exhausted mother tried to catch a few hours of sleep she felt stifled and opened a door to let in some air. She then fell asleep and was shown in a dream that Willie would recover and that all he needed was fresh air just like she had needed before she fell asleep. Considering this to be a divine prompting Ellen White, followed the simple instructions and Willie made a full recovery.
A year later in 1864, a thirty-two-page chapter on Health Reform was added into the book Spiritual Gifts. Soon after this, the Whites visited Dansville to observe the kind of work that Dr. Jackson was doing there. While Ellen found that there were quite a few things they could learn from the work at the Dansville retreat she didn’t endorse all the methods that were used. After they got back from Dansville, Ellen White prepared a series of six pamphlets for publication each dealing with a specific topic. The broad title for the Pamphlets was How to Live and each individual pamphlet covered topics such as diet, hydrotherapy, the dangers of drugs, fresh air, proper clothing, and exercise. By this time both James and Ellen White had read material from other contemporary health reformers and included large portions of their work in these pamphlets. It was an opportunity to find common ground with those who didn’t share the same faith and to build bridges that could open avenues to share the gospel. Ellen White found many of the ideas that these reformers advocated to be very similar to what God had revealed to her.
Then on the 16th of August 1865, James White suffered a severe stroke that left him paralyzed. The stroke was a result of extreme stress, exhaustion, and overwork. It had been two years since God has cautioned James White to cut back on his working hours but this was something he had found difficult to implement. Ellen White tried several methods of treatment but there was little improvement. Finally, accompanied by the ailing John Loughborough and Uriah Smith, Ellen White took her husband to Dansville to be treated by Dr. Jackson. After spending three months in Dansville, Ellen moved James to the home of friends in Rochester. She was not able to agree with all of Dr. Jackson’s methods and felt that James would be better off in a different environment.
While they were in Rochester, during a Christmas night prayer meeting Ellen had another vision. This vision reproved Adventists for being so slow to incorporate the counsels regarding health that they had been given in the previous vision. She was also shown that the relationship between the gospel and the work of health reform was as close and as essential as the right arm was to the body. She was further instructed that the Adventists church needed to develop its own health institution to care for sick Adventists and to educate the church membership with regards to preventative medicine and lifestyle.
Meanwhile, James White’s recovery was slow and his wife continued to push him to remain active. At the General Conference Session on 1866, Ellen White urged the church body to take on board the counsel that she had received and to establish a Seventh-Day Adventist Health Institution that would not only cater for the sick but would also provide health education.
By the summer of 1866 a new monthly journal titled The Health Reformer was published and a month later the Western Health Reform Institute opened its doors. Dr. H.S. Lay, who had worked under Dr. Jackson in Danville played a significant role in both these ventures. He was assisted at the institute by Dr. Phoebe Lamson who had also worked at Dansville. The work began to blossom with patients pouring in from nine different states and Canada and soon there was talk of the need for rapid expansion.
Ellen White expressed her concerns about these plans, stating that she didn’t like the idea of too rapid a rate of expansion nor the idea of profiting from the illnesses of people. She also didn’t like the idea of some amusements that were provided at Dansville creeping into the Health Institute. By the autumn and winter of 1866, James White began to slip into depression because he was inactive and confined indoors. Ellen took him out to visit the churches in Northern Michigan in an open sleigh in mid-December in the middle of a snowstorm and the activity helped James White to beat the depression. In 1867 the Whites purchased a small farm in Greenville, Michigan and Ellen kept James occupied in the fresh air and sunshine so that by the end of the summer he was nearly back to his old dynamic self.
During the summer of 1867, the expansion of the Health Institute stopped abruptly due to the management choosing to take on board the counsel that had been given by Ellen White. They realized that the institution lacked the medical and business personnel it needed to run an establishment of 300 patients like Dr. Lay envisioned.
While Lay and his associates were self-trained physicians they had little or no professional medical education and James White was probably the closest thing the Adventist church had to an able administrator capable of running a large financial venture. Under Lay’s leadership, the Institute began to decline, mainly due to the fact that it began to accept more and more needy Adventist patients at half rates which led to a decline in income. This steady financial decline was only staved when men like James White and J.P Kellogg were added to the board of directors of the Institute.
In addition to good administration, James White began to see the need for properly trained medical staff, who were also energetic and driven. This was especially highlighted when Lay decided to leave the institute.
John Kellogg was the favorite candidate for the institute in James White’s eyes. When he was just twelve years old John had learned the printing business at the Review Office. While he worked there he had helped to set the type for the How to Live series of pamphlets which had converted him to the principles of Health Reform. In 1872 John Kellogg had decided to become a teacher and enrolled in the State Teacher’s College in Ypsilanti. But when his older brother Merritt decided to take a group of young Adventist boys to get medically trained at Dr. Trall’s Hygieo-Theraputic College, John decided to go with them. Among this group were Edson and Willie White.
The year he spent at Trall’s put John Kellogg on a path towards a career in Medicine. After Trall’s he spent a year studying medicine at the University of Michigan and then another year at Bellevue Hospital Medical School which at the time was perhaps the most advanced and prestigious medical school in the United States.
During this time he took on the role of editorial assistant for the Health Reformer and took over as editor in 1874. When he came back from Bellevue Dr. Kellogg was asked to join the staff at the Western Health Reform Institute. James White was eager to have John Kellogg take over as chief physician but John was not as enthusiastic at the prospect. In 1876 he went to the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia where he set up a health literature display and then spent time in Delaware writing. But it wasn’t long before James White tracked him down and asked him to lead the Health Institute for a second time. Reluctantly he agreed but only after stipulating that he would work there for a year. Interestingly he would work there for the next 67 years of his life, until his death.
On October 1, 1867, John Harvey Kellogg took over the Western Health Reform Institute and a few months later he changed the name of the institution to the Battle Creek Sanitarium. He also changed the name of the Health Reformer to Good Health and soon he had more than 20,000 subscribers. He also championed preventative medicine and taught classes at the Sanitarium as well. The Seventh-Day Adventist Health work was beginning to gain traction under the able leadership of John Harvey Kellogg.