Charles Finney and Health Reform

Charles Finney was not only a revivalist, but also a reformer in many things, including admitting African American students to Oberlin and health. The following paragraphs on health reform come from E. A. Sutherland's volume, Studies in Christian Education.

"THE FOUNDERS OF OBERLIN, moved by the spirit of reform said,  'That we may have time and health for the Lord's service, we will eat only plain and wholesome food, renouncing all bad habits, and especially the smoking and chewing of tobacco, unless it is necessary as a medicine, and deny ourselves all the strong and unnecessary drinks, even tea and coffee, as far as practicable, and everything expensive that is simply calculated to gratify appetite.'—Delavan Leonard, The Story of Oberlin, (Chicago, IL: Pilgrim Press, 1898), p. 86).

In 1832, Mr. Sylvester Graham, the inventor of graham flour, "began to call men to repent of the sins of the table. According to this classical authority, vegetables and fruit should constitute the substance of every meal, and should be eaten as nearly as may be in their natural state. Bread should be made of unbolted wheat flour (that being the natural condition), though rye and Indian are allowable if unbolted, likewise rice and sago, if plainly cooked. Good cream may be used instead of butter, though milk and honey are somewhat better. Flesh meat and fish in all forms had better be banished from the table. No fat or gravies are to be tasted, nor any liquid foods like soup and broth. Pastry is an abomination, and cakes in which any fat or butter has been used. Bread should be at least twelve hours from the oven, and twenty-four hours are better. And as for condiments, pepper, mustard, oil, vinegar, etc., and stimulants like tea and coffee, they are to be by all means eschewed as deadly foes to health." (Leonard, pp. 218- 219).

Professors Shipherd and Finney of Oberlin both confessed to being restored to health through the Graham diet reform. "The Oberlin pulpit became aggressively Grahamite. The boarding department of the school was placed in charge of a disciple of Graham. "Tea and coffee were not introduced into the college boarding hall until 1842-possibly a little later... Many of the families discarded tea and coffee, and a few adopted the vegetarian diet." Concerning the vegetarian diet, we read, "For two or three years longer the students were furnished at the hall with 'Graham fare.' They were not restricted to this. A table was still set for those who preferred a different diet."—James H. Fairchild, Oberlin: The Colony and the College, (Oberlin, OH: E. J. Goodrich, 1883), p. 83.

However, health reform was resisted by one of the professors and eventually was laid aside, as noted in the following:

"Professor J. P. Cowles never looked with favor upon such dietetic vagaries; he did not scruple to ridicule and otherwise oppose them, and as he himself states, furnished pepper boxes, and kept the tables supplied with pepper for months, although eventually the prudential committee took them away." The influence of this teacher with some others who were opposed to President Finney's position on pepper and other condiments, tea, coffee, flesh foods, etc., and who failed to realize this health reform as an entering wedge, is thus stated, "Under the pressure of this panic, they rushed with precipitous and confused haste back to their flesh pots; and here, under the exhilarating influence of fresh infusions of the Chinese shrub, the Mocha bean, with the riotous eating of swine's flesh, and drinking the broth of abominable things, they succeeded in arresting a necessary renovating work." (Leonard, 422-424).

Taken from E. A. Sutherland's Studies in Christian Education.