Since Bastyr’s founding in 1978, the general public, the government and the conventional medical field have increasingly recognized complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) as an important form of health care, and research funding for CAM has dramatically increased. Bastyr has been at the forefront of these developments, exemplified by continuing leadership, groundbreaking books authored by faculty and alumni, key appointments to prestigious local and national health care boards, and an ever-expanding offering of classes for the general public.
When the time came for the four founders – Drs. Joseph Pizzorno, Jr., Bill Mitchell and Les Griffith, and Sheila Quinn – to name the college, there was no argument. They unanimously proposed to name it after their beloved teacher, Dr. John Bastyr.
Dr. Bastyr was the type of teacher who mystified his students with his powerfully healing presence and persuasive arguments for natural medicine. Co-founder Dr. Griffith had intended to become a medical doctor, but changed his mind after getting to know Dr. Bastyr. Dr. Bastyr also influenced co-founder Dr. Pizzorno, who was told, after asking if some negative court decisions would adversely affect the future of the discipline, “The truth of our medicine will always win out. The truth of what we are doing will always survive.”
Dr. Bastyr was born in New Prague, Minnesota in 1912. His father, trained as a pharmacist, worked as a drug company representative. His mother was interested in healthy living, diet, gardening, medicinal herbs and hydrotherapy. He respected his parents’ values so much, the blending of the scientific with the natural world became the foundation of his life work.
In 1928, John Bastyr’s family moved to Seattle, where he worked at one of the many drug stores his father owned. While working at the soda fountain, he started to study the basics of botanical and homeopathic pharmacy. In 1929, he graduated from high school, and in 1931 he earned a Doctor of Chiropractic Degree at the Seattle College of Chiropractic. After that, he had a residency at Seattle’s Grace Hospital and in 1936 earned his Doctor of Naturopathy degree. He set up a private practice, where he helped many generations of families in the Seattle area for over 50 years.
His practice was very busy. He worked long hours to accommodate all of his patients and charged low fees. His philosophy rested on the idea that the patient, not the doctor, does the curing. He encouraged patients to take responsibility for their own health and be active in seeking wellness. He was known to “listen with his heart,” which made it possible for his patients to open up so that he could detect the real cause of an illness. He relied heavily on manipulation and believed that the laying of hands made cures more effective. By doing this, he developed a healing rapport with his patients, encouraging an atmosphere of trust which fostered wellness. A renown naturopathic obstetrician, he also managed thousands of home births.
Dr. Bastyr was seen as a pioneer and promoter in the field of natural medicine, even during times when naturopathy was drawing fire from the allopathic community. His commitment to science-based natural medicine, stemming from his roots in pharmacy, continued throughout his career as he spent a great amount of energy researching medical literature and applying the latest findings to naturopathic principles. He also spent time verifying his results with laboratory studies.
In 1956 he and several colleagues established the National College of Natural Medicine in Seattle. The college moved to Portland in 1978, the same year Bastyr University was founded in Seattle, Washington. Dr. Bastyr also spent time lobbying continually at Washington State Legislature for the recognition of natural medicine. He served two terms on the Naturopathic Advisory Committee for the Washington State Department of Health and was an honorary member until his death in 1995.
He did live to see the school that was inspired by his example and was assured that the principles he believed in would continue to be taught. Bastyr University continues to grow today. The school offers degrees in naturopathic medicine, acupuncture and Oriental medicine, as well as a variety of natural health sciences programs. Read about Bastyr University today. Or learn more about the history of natural medicine.
Photograph of John Bastyr by Mark Frey.