Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Graham Crackers and Corn Flakes

Photo Credit:  Wikipedia
What do these two foods have in common?  If I had to guess I'd probably say they both have a crunch, are made made from grains, and are pretty bland.  I would say they are both pantry staples.  (I love a bowl of corn flakes in the morning).

I've been doing a lot of research for my next series of posts. I've been reading up on "insanity" and how it was typically handled around 1879. I found out that a relative, yet to be discussed, was diagnosed as "insane" when he died at the age of 37. He was an "inmate" at the time of his death in "Longview Lunatic Asylum" -- a well-known mental hospital here in Cincinnati that was closed permanently in 1993. He is buried in an unmarked grave in Spring Grove Cemetery and his Death Certificate also says that he was suffering from Bright's Disease -- a name used to describe kidney diseases in the 1870s.

So what do graham crackers and corn flakes have to do with any of this?  Through my research I discovered that doctors at the end of the 19th Century thought that one of the main causes of mental illness was masturbation or what they referred to as "self-abuse".  If you can believe it, during the time in question, 16% of the patients in Longview had their "insanity" attributed to masturbation.  Doctors went to great lengths to try to prevent patients from masturbating.

Note: Click on the image above for a link to the full 1881 report to the Governor and State Assembly of Ohio contained in Google Books.
According to Wikipedia, "The Graham cracker was originally marketed as "Dr. Graham's Honey Biskets" and was conceived of as a health food as part of the Graham Diet, a regimen to suppress what he considered unhealthy carnal urges, the source of many maladies according to Graham. Reverend Graham would often lecture about the adverse effects of masturbation or "self-abuse" as it was commonly called. One of his many theories was that one could curb one's sexual appetite by eating bland foods. Another man who held this belief was Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, the inventor of the Corn Flakes cereal."
I'll never be able to think about my bowl of corn flakes in quite the same way.  I don't even want to think about the bananas.


  1. OMG. not sure if I should say fascinating or funny or what! But, you are right, next time I eat a graham cracker or bowl of cereal it won't be the same. GULP! :-)

  2. Kathy,
    the whole treatment of mental illness in our ancestors' pasts is enough to make the blood run cold. So many totally normal human urges, from hetero-sex to homosexuality was demonized. We see a lot of these attitudes still with us, unfortunately. Thank you for your comments on my grandmother's post. Mental illness would visit our family as well through this very ancestor. Wonderful research. I guess every two year old boy I've ever met would be mentally ill!

  3. If they thought masturbation caused a person to become insane. I wonder what they thought caused epilepsi

  4. Wow Kathy! What an interesting post. I had no idea about this little history of Graham Crackers either! I'm going to have to remember this one!


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