An Eccentric Scottish X-Ray Quack Cooked Up Cincinnati’s First Vegetarian Restaurant

The restaurant and health food store peddled such delicacies as lardless graham and oatmeal crackers, granola, porkless baked beans, and something billed as “the flesh builder.”

There is hardly a restaurant today that does not offer some sort of vegetarian option. Although for many years vegetarians were considered weird cranks at best and suspicious radicals at worst, Cincinnati jumped into vegetarianism fairly early. Cincinnati’s first totally vegetarian restaurant opened in 1906, and thereby hangs a tale.

Just as Cincinnati’s first vegetarian restaurant opened in 1906, the Cincinnati Post ran this cartoon, reflecting the public attitudes toward meatless diets at the time.

From Cincinnati Post 29 June 1906 Image extracted from microfilm by Greg Hand

The proprietor, one Donald D. McDougall, definitely spent his long life listening to the beat of a different drum. McDougall was born in Canada in 1860 and made his way to the Battle Creek, Michigan, sanitarium managed by John Harvey Kellogg—he of Kellogg’s corn flakes fame. Kellogg’s sanitarium operated on principles derived from the teachings of the Seventh Day Adventist church, emphasizing wholesale reform of the diet toward low-fat, low-protein vegetarian foods heavy on whole grains, fiber and nuts. Kellogg also prescribed frequent enemas.

Based on his stay at Battle Creek, McDougall announced, despite a total absence of actual medical training, that he was now a physician. He practiced for a couple of years in Connersville, Indiana, where no one seems to have asked to see his diploma. By 1887, McDougall was in Cincinnati, where he established the city’s first Seventh Day Adventist church while earning his living as a carpenter and sometime masseur.

Despite prior claims that he was a doctor, McDougall actually enrolled in medical school in Cincinnati. In doing so, he matriculated at the most notorious institution of outrageous quackery in the United States—the American Free Church and Health College, known as Hygeia—founded by a deliriously strange conman named John Bunyan Campbell. With not a single day of education in any of the medical sciences, Campbell announced his discovery of “vitapathic” principles that could cure any disease, usually involving electricity and colored lights. Otto Juettner, a bona-fide physician and pioneering historian of Cincinnati medicine, was appalled at Campbell’s hokum. In an article in the Lancet medical journal, published in 1896, Juettner wrote:

“[Campbell] is the corporeal realization of vitapathic wisdom and the oracle of health. He is the inventor, perpetuator and perpetrator of a most daring and gigantic bunko game, played under the guise of science, in the name of religion and with the sanction of the great State of Ohio.”

After just three months of study at Campbell’s quack factory, McDougall hung out his shingle as a legitimate doctor, specializing in electric baths, massages and, curiously, X-rays. Not only did McDougall practice medicine, he taught it as well. Campbell’s vitapathic college operated as a sort of pyramid scheme, in which alumni got recruited to teach the next incoming class. McDougall was now Professor of Masso-Therapy and Electro-Therapy.

Although he later declared himself a doctor as well as a restaurateur, Donald McDougall debuted in Cincinnati as a masseur, offering a bewildering variety of baths.

“A Directory of the Physicians, Dentists and Druggists of Cincinnati, Covington, Newport, Dayton, Bellevue, and Ludlow” [6th issue, 1893] Digitized by the Public Library of Cincinnati & Hamilton County

For someone who lectured against the dangers of food and diet, McDougall spent the rest of his medical career promoting X-rays by exposing hundreds of people to radiation without any shielding or protection. In 1896, for an event staged to raise funds for Campbell’s vitapathic hospital, McDougall X-rayed anything and anyone. According to the Cincinnati Commercial Tribune [16 December 1896]:

“Dr. D.D. McDougall . . . demonstrated the power of the rays by allowing every one present to examine the bones of their arms or by placing any small objects inside of a book of several hundred pages.”

McDougall set up his medical office in the Cincinnati Athletic Club where his skills as a masseur were no doubt welcome. His wife, the former Emma Smith, joined him so they could advertise massage therapy for both women and men. In 1906, the McDougalls opened Cincinnati’s first vegetarian restaurant next-door to the athletic Club at 121 Shillito Place in partnership with another Adventist, Scott McPherson of Norwood. McDougall told the Cincinnati Post [1 December 1906]:

“Americans are such great meat-eaters that they are selfish and disagreeable, especially among the rich and they have little thought of raising children. When we become vegetarians, we will have nobler purposes. There will be less of the brute in us and consequently fewer criminal acts.”

McDougall claimed that the word, “vegetarian,” does not derive from vegetables but instead from the Latin “homo vegetus,” which he claimed translates as a strong, robust and thoroughly heathy man. Most Latin dictionaries disagree.

In addition to serving vegetarian meals optimized to provide set amounts of proteins, carbohydrates, fats and calories, the Vegetarian Restaurant also sold pre-packaged foods created in the laboratories of the Battle Creek sanitarium. Among the retail stock were lardless graham and oatmeal crackers, granola, zweibach, porkless baked beans, nut butter, bromose, malted nuts, toasted corn flakes and something called Peptol, billed as “the flesh builder.”

McDougall claimed that 500 former patients of his who had converted to the Battle Creek Sanitarium diet could not find nutritious vegetarian food in Cincinnati. Despite the built-in clientele, it does not appear that the Vegetarian Restaurant and Health Food Store survived much more than a year. McDougall moved his home and his “physio-therapy” practice to Clifton.

It would be more than 20 years until Cincinnati’s second vegetarian restaurant opened. In 1929, Harry Berman recruited Harry Morgan, another Battle Creek graduate, to run the kitchen at a short-lived meatless diner at 6 E. Ninth St.

As for Dr. McDougall, in addition to his pioneering efforts on behalf of vegetarianism and Seventh Day Adventism, he was also among the founders and early officers of the Caledonian Society, an association for Cincinnatians of Scots descent.

Ironically, for someone who operated unshielded X-ray equipment for more than three decades, it was an X-ray that killed Donald McDougall. He fell at his home in 1934 and went to the hospital for an X-ray of his injured shoulder. While being examined, he suffered a fatal heart attack at age 75. He is buried in Connersville, Indiana.

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