Published in the 1830s, the Graham Journal of Health and Longevity was a vehicle for the ideas of New England dietary reformer and social puritan Sylvester Graham (1794-1851). Funded by Graham and his supporters, the journal’s articles emphasised healthy living, vegetarianism and the dangers of sexual excess and self-pleasure.
Evidence of the latter can be found in an ‘obituary’ for A. F. Kinney, a 35-year-old man who died near Boston the previous month. According to the report Mr Kinney had “enjoyed vigorous health” in his youth, reaching “the full size of manhood” by his 14th birthday. Then he discovered masturbation:
“In consequence of his rapid growth, excessive labour, errors in diet and that practice which is secretly sapping the constitutions of thousands of our youth… his robust frame shrunk under the action of disease. His spine and the bones of the chest became greatly distorted; his body was much deformed and his manly stature considerably diminished.”
Kinney’s onanistic hobby rendered him physically incapable of labouring on the family farm. As a consequence, he was forced to “turn his attention to study” and become a teacher of mathematics.
Kinney persevered with teaching for 15 years, despite ongoing poor health, until “he was attacked last August with his old complaint [masturbation], attended with more than the usual symptoms of constitutional derangement”. His health continued to deteriorate and he was forced to abandon teaching.
Kinney died in October 1839 at the Massachusetts home of Dr Alcott, an associate of Sylvester Graham. Genealogical records confirm Kinney’s existence and death, though the real medical reasons for his demise are unknown. As for Graham, he continued his campaign against unhealthy sexual urges, championing clean living, bland diets and the cracker that bears his name.