J. M. Peebles

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James Martin Peebles

Dr. James Martin Peebles (March 23, 1822 – February 15, 1922) was an American physician and spiritualist who was associated with Theosophical Society Founders Helena Petrovna Blavatsky and Henry Steel Olcott. He toured the world five times lecturing to large audiences, and his impact on the literature and organizations of the Spiritualist Movement was immense.

"I am truly an eclectic not only in medicine, but in all things." – Dr. James M. Peebles

Personal life

James Martin Peebles, Jr. was born on March 23, 1822 in Whitingham, Vermont to James Martin Peebles and his wife Nancy Brown Peebles, who had about seven children.[1][2]

He early education was at Oxford Academy in Chenango County, New York, ending in 1843. On October 9, 1876 he was awarded a degree at Pennsylvania University of Medicine and Surgery and Philadelphia University.[3]

On May 23, 1852 he married Mary M. Conkey in Canton, New York.[4] Their three children died in infancy. Mary died April 11, 1909 and was buried in New Jersey.[5]

In his later years, Peebles divided his time between Battle Creek, where he still maintained a medical practice and Dr. Peebles Institute of Health, well into his 90s, and Los Angeles. He died in California of a heart valve failure on February 15, 1922, just 36 days before the century mark to which he aspired.[6]


Ministry and religious affiliations

Before the Civil War, Peebles was a preacher in the Universalist Church in Baltimore, Maryland. The 1860 U. S. Census shows him as a "Liberal Clergyman" in Battle Creek, Michigan, and in 1870 he was a clergyman in Hammonton, New Jersey.[7] At some point "he became an Episcopalian and later a Spiritualist and Theosophist."[8]


Dr. Peebles also dabbled in international diplomacy.

He was a member of the Indian Peace Commission which in 1868 settled Indian troubles in the Middle West, and in 1869 he was United States Consul at Trebizond, Turkey. Later he represented the American Arbitration League at the International Peach Conference in Paris [in 1919].[9]


The institution where Peebles studied medicine, , was later considered to be fraudulent.[10] However, He was also granted a Doctor of Philosophy degree from the Medical University of Chicago in 1882. For three years Dr. Peebles was a professor in the Eclectic Medical College of Cincinnati.[11]

Dr. Peebles had licenses to practice medicine in Pennsylvania, 1881; New Jersey, 1883; California, 1894, and Michigan, 1900.[12] He had a long-established practice in Battle Creek, Michigan, which had developed an international reputation as a center for alternative health care based on the work of Dr. John Harvey Kellogg and his Battle Creek Sanitarium, which operated from 1866-1943.

Although he was trained as an allopathic physician, Peebles was keenly interested in what would now be considered psychic healing or alternative medicine and in the role of diet in healing. The Peebles Institute of Health in Battle Creek sold an "epilepsy cure" of dubious value. He opposed vaccination, and the consumption of alcohol, coffee, meat, tea and tobacco. His own diet was ovo-lacto vegetarian. He was actively opposed to the use of vivisection in science.

Interest in Spiritualism


Lecture tours to England

In 1869 Dr. Peebles gave a series of lectures in the Cavendish Rooms, London.[13]

Lecture tours to Australia

Four lecture tours took him to Australia:

In the summer of 1872 Peebles made his first trip to Australia, being the first visiting speaker to deliver a series of lectures at the Temperance Hall and the Prince of Wales Theatre, and attracting large gatherings of up to 3,000 people...

In 1877 Peebles made a second trip to Australia and another in 1897.[14]

His fourth visit was in 1902, when he was already eighty years of age. According to his own account, he delivered a two months' course of lectures in Melbourne, working with William H. Terry and the Victorian Association of Spiritualists. Then he spoke in Sydney

four times during week upon reform subjects, and three times on each Sunday... in the evening for the Psychic Society. The hall of this society, seating nearly five hundred is altogether too small, and many are turned away every Sunday evening.[15]

He returned to Melbourne for more lectures; then proceeded to Tasmania and New Zealand, where his was "the first course of lectures upon the phenomena and philosophy of Spiritualism ever delivered in this lovely isle of the ocean."[16]

Dr. Peebles wrote of this journey, "Upon this steamer “Runic” with its nearly five hundred passengers, I lectured upon woman's suffrage, India’s magic, travels in Egypt, and talked Spiritualism with the parsons day after day."[17]

Theosophical Society involvement

Dr. Peebles is thought to have joined the Theosophical Society in 1878 or 1879, but the official Adyar membership records give the date of October 31, 1894.[18] It is not known how he initially came to know Madame Blavatsky and Colonel Olcott, but he would have been able to visit New York easily by rail from Hammonton, New Jersey, where he lived in the 1870s. He remained a member until 1905, but he was reinstated as a life member by A. P. Warrington in 1919.[19]

In 1873 he traveled to Ceylon, and witnessed the Panadura event in which the Venerable H. Sri Sumangala and Mohotiwatta Gunananda debated with Rev. D. da Silva and other Christian missionaries.[20] Peebles wrote a report of the event that was published in London in 1878. Knowing that Henry Steel Olcott and Helena Petrovna Blavatsky would be interested, he sent them a copy of the report. Reading of the debate led Colonel Olcott and Madame Blavatsky to write to Ceylon and eventually to establish strong relationships with the Buddhist community there. In this way, Dr. Peebles had a significant impact on the Buddhist Revival that followed in Ceylon

Madame Blavatsky became a bit aggravated with Dr. Peebles on the grounds that he used the term "Spiritualist" too broadly, and applied it to Buddhists and Dravida Brahmans who actually did not share the same Christian concepts of soul and afterlife underlying Western Spiritualism.[21][22]

In May of 1897, Henry Steel Olcott travelled with A. F. Knudsen and Dr. Peebles from Ceylon to Adyar. Peebles offered one hundred dollars to support a proposed new building for the Musaeus School for Buddhist girls that Colonel Olcott had founded in 1891.[23] Olcott's diary indicates how comfortable they were in each other's company:

When we were all sitting out in the moonlight on the terrace I got the hoary Pilgrim Peebles, to show the company how they used to dance and prance around at Spiritualistic séances when Indian "guides" controlled mediums. Those who have only known him as a combative sage and propagandist of Spiritualism would have surely shared our merriment at seeing him bouncing about in quasi-elephantine gambols more or less resembling the original...

On the 8th... in the afternoon the sixth anniversary of White Lotus Day was celebrated, speeches being made by Dr. Peebles, Mr. Knudsen, myself and others...

On the 9th – this may be another surprise for the friends of Dr. Peebles', he took from me, at his own request, the Five Precepts which make a man a Buddhist, and which, under a commission from Sumangala and the Kandyan High Priests, I am empowered to administer to such as wish to enter into Buddhism.[24]

Dr. Peebles continued to be of interest to Theosophists for many years. His books were advertised and reviewed in Theosophical journals. In 1921 it was reported in The Messenger that Dr. Peebles was then 99 years old:

Honorable mention is accorded to J. M. Peebles, 1927 Orchard Street, Los Angeles, who joined the American Section T.S. in 1878 or 1879.

Dr. Peebles is now 99 years old and still going.[25]

Other activities and organizations

As Dr. Peebles often said, his interests were eclectic. He organized or joined numerous societies and associations for science, art, health, philosophy and psychic research. These are some of his affiliations:[26][27]

  • Fellow of the Academy of Sciences, New Orleans
  • Fellow of the Anthropological Society, London.
  • Corresponding Member of the Psychological Society of Great Britain.
  • Corresponding Member of the Archaeology Society of India.
  • President of the California College of Sciences for four years
  • Founder in 1914 and president of the Peebles College of Science and Philosophy in Los Angeles.
  • Founder of the California Centenarian Club.
  • President of the California Humanitarian League.


Book cover, 1884.

Dr. Peebles was a prolific and popular writer on Spiritualism, health, and travel. He eventually established his own publishing companies in Battle Creek, Michigan, and in Los Angeles. The following bibliography is incomplete, but includes his major works.


The Union Index of Theosophical Periodicals lists 15 articles by or about Peebles. He contributed a great number of articles to virtually all the English-language Spiritualist and Free Thought journals, including Light, Harbinger of Light, Golden Gate, The Spiritual Review, The Progressive Thinker, The Spiritualist, The Lyceum Banner, The Occult (Detroit), Light of Truth, The Messenger (La Courriere), Reason, Power, and all the ones he edited. His articles have been reprinted posthumously in such titles as The Psychic Observer.

He edited several periodicals:

  • 1867 – editor of Universe, which was based in Chicago.
  • 1868-1871 – Western Editor of The Banner of Light, and briefly held the position of editor.
  • 1870-1872 – co-editor of The American Spiritualist.
  • 1898-1901 –; Temple of Health and Psychic Review.
  • 1910 – Associate Editor of Self-Culture, the journal of the Indian Academy of Science.

Buddhist-Christian Debate

This publication was of great importance to the Theosophical Society Founders, Helena Petrovna Blavatsky and Henry Steel Olcott.

  • Buddhism and Christianity Face to Face, or, an Oral Discussion between the Rev. Migettuwatte, a Buddhist Priest, and Rev. D. Silva, an English Clergyman: Held at Pantura, Ceylon. Boston: Colby and Rich, 1878. Available at Hathitrust and Google Books.

Health and medicine

  • How to Live a Century and Grow Old Gracefully. New York: M. L. Hollbrook Co., 1884. Available at Hathitrust and Internet Archive. 99 pages.
  • Vaccination a Curse and a Menace to Personal Liberty. 1900.


  • The spiritual harp: a collection of vocal music for the choir, congregation, and social circle. With J. O. Barrett and E. H. Bailey, musical editor. Boston, Banner of Light [c1868]. Many editions. Available at Hathitrust.
  • Seers of the Ages or Spiritualism Past & Present. Boston:W. White & Co., 1869. London: J. Burns, 1869. Available at Google Books.
  • The Year-Book of Spiritualism for 1871. With Hudson Tuttle. Boston: W. White and Company, 1871. An important synopsis of Spiritualist activity around the world. Subtitle: "presenting the status of spiritualism for the current year throughout the world; philosophical, scientific, and religious essays, review of its literature; history of American associations; state and local societies; progressive lyceums; lecturers; mediums; and other matters relating to the momentous subject."
  • Immortality and Our Employments Hereafter: With What a Hundred Spirits, Good and Evil, Say of Their Dwelling Places. Boston, Colby and Rich, 1880. Many other editions. Available at Hathitrust.
  • Celebration of the Fiftieth Anniversary of Spiritualism, at Its Birthplace. Battle Creek, Michigan: Drs. Peebles & Burroughs, 1898.
  • Seers of the Ages: Embracing Spiritualism, Past and Present: Doctrines Stated and Moral Tendencies Defined. Second edition - Boston: W. White and Co., 1869. 8th edition - Boston: Banner of Light Publishing Co., 1898. Several editions available at Hathitrust.
  • What is Spiritualism, Who Are These Spiritualists, and What Has Spiritualism Done for the World? Battle Creek, Mich.: Peebles Institute Print, 1903. Available at Hathitrust.
  • The Demonism of the Ages, Spirit Obsessions So Common in Spiritism, Oriental and Occidental Occultism. Battle Creek, Mich.: The Peebles Medical Institute [1904]. Avaiable at Hathitrust.
  • Spirit mates, their origin and destiny, sex-life, marriage, divorce. With Robert Peebles Sudall. Battle Creek (Mich.): Peebles' publishing company, [c1909]. Available at Hathitrust.
  • Proofs of Immortality; Its Naturalness, Its Possibilities, and Now-a-day Evidences. Los Angeles, Cal.: Peebles Publishing co., 1914. Available at Hathitrust.

Travel, religion, philosophy, and other topics

  • Jesus: Myth, Man, or God; or, The Popular Theology and the Positive Religion Contrasted. London, J. Burns, 1870. Available at Hathitrust.
  • Around the World: Or, Travels in Polynesia, China, India, Arabia, Egypt, Syria, and Other 'Heathen' Countries, Boston: Colby and Rich., 1875. Available at Google Books.
  • Three Journeys around the World, or, Travels in the Pacific Islands, New Zealand, Australia, Ceylon, India, Egypt and Other Oriental Countries. Boston: Banner of Light Publishing Co., 1898. Available at Hathitrust.
  • Nihilism, Socialism, Shakerism, Which?. Mt. Lebanon, N.Y.: s.n., 1890.

Additional resources

  • Barrett, J. O. A Biography of James M. Peebles. Boston: Wm. White & Co, 1872. 303 pages. Preface by Emma Hardinge. Several editions. Available at Hathitrust,.
  • Johnson, K. Paul. "Theosophy in the Bengal Renaissance." Imagining the East The Early Theosophical Society. Edited by Tim Rudbog and Erik Sand. Oxford University Press, 2020.
  • Greusel, John Hubert. Dr. James M. Peebles. Los Angeles, Cal., Peebles Publishing Co. [c1911]. Available at Hathitrust.
  • Pendleton, Lina. Three Principles of Angelic Wisdom, The Spiritual Psychology of the Grand Spirit Dr. Peebles. CA: Pendleton Artists, 2012.
  • Whipple, Edward. A Biography of James M. Peebles. Battle Creek, Mich. [c1901]. 592 pages. Available at Hathitrust.
  • "James Martin Peebles" in Wikipedia.


  1. U.S. Passport Applications, 1795-1925 for James M Peebles. March 17, 1897.
  2. California, Biographical Index Cards, 1781-1990.
  3. Annual Physician Directory, 1899, California, Occupational Licenses, Registers, and Directories, 1876-1969.
  4. California, Biographical Index Cards, 1781-1990.
  5. U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current.
  6. "Lives Only Days Short of Century" [obituary] Los Angeles Times (February 16, 1922), 21.
  7. 1860 and 1870 United States Federal Census.
  8. "Lives Only Days Short of Century" [obituary] Los Angeles Times (February 16, 1922), 21.
  9. "Lives Only Days Short of Century" [obituary] Los Angeles Times (February 16, 1922), 21.
  10. Arthur J. Cramp, "Nostrums and Quackery: Articles on the Nostrum Evil, Quackery and Allied Matters Affecting the Public Health," Volume 2 'Press of American Medical Association (1921), 148-150.
  11. "Lives Only Days Short of Century" [obituary] Los Angeles Times (February 16, 1922), 21.
  12. Directory of Deceased American Physicians, 1804-1929.
  13. James M. Peebles letter to Light (March 15, 1902), 129. Letter dated January 16, 1902.
  14. "Dr. James M. Peebles 1822 - 1922" Psypioneer 4.3 (March, 2008), 74-75.
  15. James M. Peebles letter to Light (March 15, 1902), 129. Letter dated January 16, 1902.
  16. "Dr. Peebles in Australia" Psypioneer 4.3 (March, 2008), 75-76.
  17. James M. Peebles letter to Light (March 15, 1902), 129. Letter dated January 16, 1902.
  18. Theosophical Society General Membership Register, 1875-1942 at http://tsmembers.org/. See book 1, entry 11864 (website file: 1D/60).
  19. Peebles, J. M. Membership Record Cards microfilm roll 6. Theosophical Society in America Archives. Exact date of original membership not given.
  20. Anagarika Dharmapala, "On the Eightfold Path: Memories of an Interpreter of Buddhism to the Present-Day World," Asia (September, 1927), 723.
  21. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, "Scrapbook, Vol. IV, pp. 169-72" H. P. Blavatsky Collected Writings, Volume I, page 290.
  22. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, "Scrapbook, Vol. IV, p. 83" H. P. Blavatsky Collected Writings, Volume I, page 264.
  23. "Ceylon Letter" Lucifer 20.118 (June, 1897), 342.
  24. Henry Steel Olcott, "Chapter XII Krakatoa Catastrophe" in Old Diary Leaves, Sixth Series, 1896-1898, pages 189-190.
  25. "Matters of General Interest: H. M.," The Messenger 9 no. 3 (August 1921), 70.
  26. Title page of Buddhism and Christianity Face to Face, 1878.
  27. "Lives Only Days Short of Century" [obituary] Los Angeles Times (February 16, 1922), 21.