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USA: 19th Century
Vegetarian festival in New York, 1853

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The Vegetarian

Letter from New York
[full text at

Daily Alta California, Wednesday Morning, October 5, 1853

The California Steamship Lines—Interesting Synopsis of Local Matters—The News, Foreign and Domestic.

New York, September, 4, 1853

The Northern Light of the Nicaragua Line, arrived on the 24th August with dates to the 1st, making, in connection with the Sierra Nevada, a flying trip, and giving us for the first time a round communication with your city within fifty days.

[ . . . ]

. . . A convocation, under the grandiloquent title of the "Whole World’s Temperance Convention," has been in session here for a few days past. There was a strong cross of "Women’s-rightsism" about it. Rev. Miss Antoinette L. Brown (as the Tribune regularly reports her) and "other such," figuring largely. They wound up yesterday with a Vegetarian Banquet, at Metropolitan Hall, luxuriating on such an enticing bill of fare as Graham bread, stewed squashes, wheaten grits, and pure cold water. Horace Greeley was chairman and grant carver, or, to be more in keeping with the materiel of the "carte," perhaps I should say Spooney-in-Chief. . .

- and a more friendly account of the same event:

Vegetarians in New York, circa 1853

By Karen Iacobbo
(this article first appeared in the VivaVine, from, Sep/Oct 1999)

It was a Saturday night in New York City, and more than 300 participants had gathered at Metropolitan Hall for a vegetarian festival; another 200 came to observe. The year was 1853. Held as part of a week of reform events, the festival was sponsored by the American Vegetarian Society. Probably the first national vegetarian organization in the United States, the AVS was organized by three of the giants of vegetarian advocacy in the 19th century: the Reverend William Metcalfe of the Bible-Christian Church, William Alcott, M.D., author of The Vegetable Diet, and Sylvester Graham, the most influential, who was the first to lecture widely on the topic, and the author of Lectures on the Science of Life.

In those days, vegetarianism was not separated from other causes meant to improve humanity. Vegetarian advocates like Bronson Alcott, William's cousin, believed diet reform to be as integral to the improvement of the human race as women's Greeleyequality, the abolition of slavery and the rejection of alcohol.

Present at the festival that day were women's rights leaders Lucy Stone, Emilia Bloomer and Susan B. Anthony. The host of the festival was Horace Greeley [right] of the New York Tribune, a newspaper noted for its coverage of reform movements.

Greeley said that New York needed a vegetarian hotel and restaurant to make it easy for people not to eat "fleshfoods." As James Caleb Jackson, M.D., lectured about diet and health, some hecklers from the group of spectators in the balcony attempted to quiet him with ridicule of vegetarianism but were unsuccessful.

Dr. Jackson, a vice president of the AVS from Dansville, New York, was a pioneer in "nature cure." At his luxurious health retreat, patients were helped back to health through relaxation; communing with nature; activities including poetry readings, classical music concerts and parlor games; physical exercise; "water cure" treatments; and a vegetarian diet if they chose.

As for the American Vegetarian Society, it waxed and waned but continued to exist in one form or another through the 1920s. [the AVS actually folded around 1860, and a new Vegetarian Society of America was formed in 1886, that being the one that ran until the 1920s - ed]