John Harvey Kellogg: His Lives and Obsessions

On March 30, 2019, at a meeting of the Michiana Adventist Forum, the Berrien Springs, Michigan, chapter of Adventist Forum, Dr. Ronald Numbers, retired history professor from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, gave a presentation entitled “John Harvey Kellogg: His Lives and Obsessions.” Numbers shared excerpts from his yet untitled forthcoming biography of Dr. Kellogg to be published by Harvard University Press.

Given the fact that two recent biographies of Kellogg already exist (Richard W. Schwarz, John Harvey Kellogg, M.D., Southern Publishing Association, 1970, 256 pp., and Brian C. Wilson, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg and the Religion of Biologic Living, Indiana University Press, 2014, 241 pp.), is there a need for another one? The answer is Yes because of new sources, a more balanced viewpoint, and a broader scope.

New Sources

Schwarz’s biography was primarily based on sources found at six archives: the Race Betterment Foundation, the Ellen G. White Estate, Battle Creek Sanitarium, Battle Creek Food Company, Loma Linda University, and the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor). Wilson examined manuscript collections at eleven different archives; furthermore, he footnotes 279 books and articles. Numbers did his research in two dozen archives and libraries, including the recently opened “Fraud Files” at the American Medical Association archives; therefore, we may expect that his book will be based on a broader, more detailed contextual foundation.

Balanced Viewpoint

As Chair of the History and Political Science Department at Andrews University and a life-long Seventh-day Adventist who believed in the divine inspiration of Ellen White, Schwarz’s biography defends Mrs. White’s visions and testimonies as the correct view of things in every case where she and Kellogg conflict. Wilson, a non-Adventist Christian and a professor in the Department of Comparative Religion at Western Michigan University, focuses on Kellogg’s changing religious views from Adventism to eugenics. As a scholar who does not believe in White’s divine inspiration, his coverage of Kellogg’s conflicts with Ellen White are even-handed and unbiased. As a former Adventist turned agnostic, Numbers’ forum presentation seemed to indicate that his forthcoming biography will probably present both antagonists’ viewpoints while largely favoring Kellogg’s view, especially on medical matters.

Broader Scope

In his shorter biography, Schwarz shared anecdotes and stories about Kellogg’s life (childhood, youth, marriage, and medical career), his stormy relationship with Ellen White, and his final break with the Adventist Church. By contrast, Wilson focuses primarily on Kellogg’s physiological and medical ideas and innovations, his theories regarding biologic living, his teachings in the book The Living Temple, and his efforts to promote eugenics through the Race Betterment Foundation. Kellogg’s break with Adventism is covered in one short chapter. Numbers’ book, which will be far more comprehensive than either Schwarz’s or Wilson’s, will describe in greater detail Kellogg’s childhood and youth, his prolific writing endeavors, his bizarre views on human sexuality and masturbation (from his book Plain Facts on Sex), his efforts to advance education, his activities in behalf of African Americans and Native Americans, whether The Living Temple was pantheistic or panentheistic, his evolutionary views later in life, and his relationship with various Adventists after he was disfellowshipped in 1907.

Based on Numbers’ forum presentation, readers of his book will also find previously unknown tidbits in its pages: that Kellogg sold 50,000-100,000 health almanacs every year; that he performed a hysterectomy on his fiancée Ella and that they slept in separate bedrooms after marriage; that he trained 75 African American nurses and doctors and adopted several black children; that he may have grafted some of his own skin onto Sojourner Truth’s diseased body; and that he flatly turned down president Frederick Griggs’ 1924 invitation to come to Emmanuel Missionary College to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Battle Creek College.

As he concluded his forum remarks, Numbers stated that medical professionals viewed Dr. John Harvey Kellogg toward the end of his life as an “influential but problematic member” of the medical fraternity. Within Seventh-day Adventism as well, a friend once described Kellogg as both “the kindest and the meanest man I ever knew.” For over a century and a half, Adventist scholars have struggled to understand this figure who, in many ways, represented the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of Adventism. It is to be hoped that Ron Numbers’ forthcoming book will shed much new light on the contributions and conflicts of the man who in the 19th century was one of the three most prominent physicians in the United States (in addition to the Mayo brothers).

Brian E. Strayer is Professor Emeritus of History at Andrews University. This paper was originally presented for the Michiana Adventist Forum on January 12, 2019, and is reprinted here with permission.

Image courtesy of / Public Domain

We invite you to join our community through conversation by commenting below. We ask that you engage in courteous and respectful discourse. You can view our full commenting policy by clicking here.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

It was a most interesting presentation with a number of tidbits on Dr. John Kellogg which were new information for me about this remarkable man. I was glad that I could be there to hear Professor Numbers and will look forward to his book.

1 Like

I met Dr Kellog when I was a preteenager. He was wheel Chair bound but still insisted that he would live to be 200. He was kind and invited several of us into his Gull Lake summer home. The rift between Kellog and the Whites was the model for Glacier View. However in the Kellog case both were wrong. it was about power not theology.


Man, you missed meeting EGW for only a little bit, uh? :roll_eyes: :innocent: :rofl:


Or perhaps he was one of the few persons who had seen the other side of the coin that is Adventism.


Kellogg lost the battle for “power” in the SDA church, as time passed he has become almost unknown to the world of Adventist. Even though Kellogg far outlived EGW by about 28 years. He was EGW’s greatest protagonist. Prophets trump visionaries. Do you recall what he died from?


Tom –
“Power not Theology”.
I don’t know if you were able to read John Harvey’s book, but Kim gave me the
site where his book on on-line – ALL 500+ pages.
It took me 3 days, but I read it. And I found NO PANTHEISM in it.
I did find PANENTHEISM in it but all that means is God has the ability to be
everywhere God wants to be at the same time. And part of that, as John
discussed, Christ in you, the Holy Spirit in you, God in you, the hope of
glory as Paul describes. And John used many comments from Paul to prove
his argument for God’s ability to be everywhere.
John was just TOO knowledgeable about the Bible, he was a great thinker,
was well read, and because of these, he FRIGHTENED the GC brethren,
and OTHERS. So they had to stop his book. AND, stop him by excommunication.
And so they did so, with the approval of the person at the TOP.
It would have made a wonderful companion book to Ministry of Healing coming out
in 1903. It had all the latest advances of knowledge of Anatomy and Physiology,
diet and foods, exercise, hydrotherapy [for 1900 information]. Of course his
discussion of diabetes was some what primitive, but Banting and Best had not
been around for their Insulin and diabetes treatments.
But even in 1970s, 1980s I could have used it for a High School text for my
health class.
Yes. He was blackballed, and accused of teaching something he was NOT teaching.


I don’t Know the cause of his death except old age. he was frail when I took his hand.

This source states J.H. Kellogg died of pneumonia at age 91.

1 Like

Mel – probably before the days of Penicillin.
There were also other medical modalities they didn’t have back then like
we do now in addition.
IV pumps, diuretics, respiratory treatments.
He might have lived to 100 had he had what we have now.
Pneumonia puts a lot of stress on the heart.
But if he was like Pritikin when he committed suicide, his
arteries were clean.


i’ve also heard it was pneumonia, but at 91, it could have been anything, really…

1 Like

Educate me @niteguy2: I heard about the fire when his book was about to be printed. Who started the fires which the council complained could not be quenched?

If you know your history of Battle Creek, it was Ellen White who predicted
mass destruction for the SDA community.
After that the headquarters moved to D.C.
Ellen predicted angels would start the fires.
The newspaper reports are used to confirm Ellen.
But again, we have to understand the primitive nature
of firefighting in that era.


So in essence you are saying the SDA leadership is scared of intelligent and freethinkers, and have a tradition of putting them down clandestinely? Like Kellogg then, and Des in the 90s, so who is next? Any soothsayer willing to throw bones?

You made me laugh Steve… :laughing:

1 Like

In Dearborn, MI, next to Detroit, there is a huge “park” developed by Henry
Ford. Has lots of original houses of famous people in the early U.S. and at
least one from England. Called Greenfield Village.
When I was a kid our school took a tour of it twice. [Went through Edison’s
actual lab.] Saw quite a number of 1890’s, 1900’s fire fighting equipment.
All horse drawn. Ford hadn’t manufactured any trucks yet.


Newspaper reports confirmed Ellen White saying that angels started the fire? Do you have any links to articles that say this? I looked on line at a couple of articles from that time, but no mention of angels or anything the least bit supernatural. The ones that I read were reporting basic facts of the fire, where they thought it started, etc.

No newspaper “stating angels” but a conflagration unable to be put out
by the fire department is what Ellen predicted.
The papers reported the fires were out of control no matter what was done.

Do you know where this prediction appeared? I’ve been looking, but I can’t find it. Thanks

No. It is since college [late teens] that I heard it discussed.

1 Like