History & Heritage

Founding of Bastyr

Bastyr University was founded in 1978 during a difficult political climate for natural medicine. National College of Naturopathic Medicine (NCNM) had closed its Seattle branch, and Washington state legislators were threatening to eliminate naturopathic licensing since no new graduates were applying for licensure.

Bastyr University has played a bigger role within medicine than any other non-allopathic institution, bringing scientific legitimacy to natural medicine.

- James Wharton, PhD, professor of medical history and ethics, University of Washington School of Medicine

This challenge was met by three NCNM graduates, Drs. Les Griffith, William A. Mitchell, Jr. and Joseph E. Pizzorno, Jr. These naturopathic physicians saw an opportunity to create a new naturopathic school in Seattle that would not only protect licensure in Washington, but also create a resurgence for the naturopathic field by building the school on a science-based foundation.

"We decided to make it absolutely the best institution of learning we possibly could even imagine: the Harvard of naturopathic medicine, if you will," said Dr. Mitchell. "It was built on the best visions of what a really high-quality naturopathic institution could be."

Humble Beginnings

Bastyr University founders Joe Pizzorno, Les Griffith, Bill Mitchell and Sheila Quinn standing on stage together The three men met around a kitchen table to create the school of their dreams with a startup sum of $200, a gift from a grateful patient. "We dreamed of what the perfect naturopathic institution would look like — what it would need, what its focus would be," said Dr. Griffith. "We had already decided on the basic foundation — science-based and accredited."

When it came to naming the school, there was no argument: They unanimously agreed to name it John Bastyr College of Naturopathic Medicine, after their beloved instructor Dr. John Bastyr. Dr. Bastyr was an early champion of science-based natural medicine and a renowned Seattle-area naturopathic physician and midwife.

Their next decision — one of their smartest, they said — was hiring Sheila Quinn, a medical administrator at the University of Washington. Quinn served as the school's administrator for more than 10 years. As the fourth and final co-founder, she contributed to an endeavor that succeeded beyond their wildest hopes. "The belief was so strong it overcame all the obstacles," said Dr. Griffith.

Achieving Accreditation

"In many ways I consider this University to be blessed," said Dr. Pizzorno, who served as president for the first 22 years. Helping hands appeared to assist the founders in securing classroom space, accreditation, allies and advocates. By 1989, the co-founders had achieved their initial goals: accreditation (becoming the first naturopathic school to be accredited); international recognition as the leading institution of science-based natural medicine; publication of the widely acclaimed Textbook of Natural Medicine; the development of a core of highly skilled faculty; and strong community respect for the medicine.

Dr. Pizzorno summarized Bastyr's achievements: "We have demonstrated that science-based natural medicine is achievable and successful in helping people. By doing it right, Bastyr has been a catalyst for the resurgence of public interest in natural medicine. So many of our graduates are actively treating people, writing good books and lecturing. We have made the world realize that natural medicine offers great value."

About Dr. John Bastyr

Black and white mug shot of Dr. John Bastyr laughingIn 1978, Drs. Les Griffith, William A. Mitchell, Jr., and Joseph E. Pizzorno, Jr., along with Sheila Quinn, decided to found a college. When the time came to name the college, the four unanimously proposed to name it after their beloved teacher and noted naturopathic physician Dr. John Bastyr.

Dr. Bastyr provoked his students with his 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. Pizzorno was similarly influenced after he asked Dr. Bastyr if some negative court decisions would adversely affect the future of the discipline. "The truth of our medicine will always win out," Dr. Bastyr answered. "The truth of what we are doing will always survive."

Early Years

John Bastyr was born in 1912 in New Prague, Minnesota. The seeds of his life work blending the scientific with the natural world were planted early by his parents: His father was trained as a pharmacist and worked as a drug company representative, while his mother was interested in healthy living, nutrition, gardening, medicinal herbs and hydrotherapy.

In 1928, the family moved to Seattle, Washington, where John Bastyr 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. Soon after, he completed a residency at Seattle's Grace Hospital and in 1936 was granted his naturopathic diploma.

A Thriving Practice

For the next 50 years, Dr. Bastyr helped generations of families in the Seattle area through his busy private practice. Working well into his 80s, he believed it was a physician's duty to serve patients regardless of their ability to pay or travel. To that end, he charged low fees, kept his office open extended hours and made late-night house calls free of charge. This legacy of compassion continues through the low-income assistance programs at Bastyr Center for Natural Health.

Dr. Bastyr encouraged patients to take responsibility for their own health and be active in seeking wellness, following the philosophy that the patient, not the doctor, does the curing. Known to "listen with his heart," he made it possible for his patients to open up so that he could detect the real cause of an illness.

He relied heavily on physical 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 that fostered wellness. A renowned naturopathic obstetrician, he provided comprehensive pre-and post-natal care to women and their children and managed hundreds of home births.

Dr. Bastyr was a pioneer and promoter of 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.

Dr. Bastyr's Commitment to Education

In addition to running a full-time practice, Dr. Bastyr played an instrumental role in the development of National College of Naturopathic Medicine (NCNM). Between 1956 and 1979, he served as a professor, board member, executive director and, eventually, president of the college. Dr. Bastyr worked at both the Portland, Oregon, campus and, for a time, the institution’s branch campus in Seattle.

Dr. Bastyr also lobbied the 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. By then the university named for him was well along its journey of growth, and he was assured that the principles he believed in would continue to be taught.


Dr. Bastyr talked about his personal life in a candid 1989 interview. Read about the surprising parts of his life.

Dr. Joseph Pizzorno

Posed profile of Joseph E. Pizzorno Jr., ND, founding president emeritus of Bastyr University.Joseph E. Pizzorno Jr., ND, served as Bastyr University's founding president for its first 22 years (1978-2000).

A licensed physician, educator, researcher and expert spokesperson, Dr. Pizzorno is one of the world's leading authorities on science-based natural medicine. Under his pioneering leadership, Bastyr became the first fully accredited, multidisciplinary university of natural medicine and the first school of its kind to receive research funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Serving the Public

With a commitment to advocating for a wider acceptance of natural medicine, Dr. Pizzorno has held a variety of public posts and served on conventional medical boards, including:

  • Advisory Panel on the Safety and Efficacy of Dietary Supplements for the U.S. Congress in 1993.
  • Ad hoc advisory committee member for the NIH Office of Dietary Supplements in 1996.
  • Seattle/King County Board of Health
  • White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy (appointed by President Bill Clinton in 2000)
  • Medicare Coverage Advisory Committee (appointed by President George H.W. Bush's administration in 2003).

Works and Writings

Since 2001, Dr. Pizzorno has had his own company, Salugenecists Inc., which develops science-based, artificial intelligence-aided advice systems that provide personalized health promotion and self-care guidance.

Dr. Pizzorno has written and co-authored numerous books and publications, including A Textbook of Natural Medicine, Encyclopedia of Healing Foods, Total Wellness, and Natural Medicine for the Prevention and Treatment of Cancer. He is the founding executive editor of Integrative Medicine: A Clinician's Journal and is on the editorial board of Alternative Medicine magazine and Alternative Therapies magazine, among others.

When he is not writing and editing, serving on boards and running Salugenecists Inc., Dr. Pizzorno travels worldwide, lecturing and promoting science-based natural medicine and collaborative health care.

Awards and Honors

  • 2000: Recognized as one of the four most influential leaders in alternative health care by Alternative Healthcare Management.
  • 2000: Named "Humanitarian of The Year" by the Cancer Treatment Centers of America.
  • 2001: Recognized as one of the leading health educators in the past 30 years by Natural Health magazine.
  • 2002: Awarded "Naturopathic Physician of the Year" by the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians.
  • 2002: Awarded "Founder's Award for Pioneering Complementary and Alternative Medicine" by the National Foundation for Alternative Medicine.
  • 2003: Named "Pioneer in Holistic Medicine" by the American Holistic Medical Association.
  • 2006: Recognized as the most illustrious graduate of the National College of Naturopathic Medicine at its 50th anniversary.

Milestones in Bastyr University's History




  • Bastyr opens a Teaching Greenhouse as a "living classroom," providing education and resources for both Bastyr students and the general public. 
  • Harlan Patterson becomes fifth president of Bastyr.


  • Bastyr joins the World Naturopathic Federation (WNF) as founding member. 









  • Bastyr Center for Natural Health receives LEED certification by the U.S. Green Building Council for sustainable building materials and practices.
  • The National Wildlife Federation recognizes the University as an exemplary and committed school in its 2008 National Report Card on Sustainability in Higher Education.  
  • Bastyr University launches a comprehensive, campus-wide composting initiative.
  • Establishment of the Bastyr Integrative Oncology Research Clinic through a grant from Cleavage Creek Cellars, producers of world-class wines and contributor of 10 percent of gross sales to fight breast cancer.
  • Four Elements Garden is established at the eastern edge of the Bastyr Medicinal Herb Garden. The garden is a tribute to the medicine of ancient Greece and represents a classification system for herbs that encompasses the four elements of air, earth, fire and water.


  • Bastyr University receives $2 million anonymous donation, the largest in the school's history to date.
  • Doctor of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (DAOM) program receives professional accreditation, making Bastyr the first academic institution in the United States with a both regionally and professionally accredited DAOM program.
  • Co-founder William A. Mitchell, Jr., ND, passes away at age 59.
  • First-ever conference on "The State of Science of Botanical Authentication" is held at Bastyr.
  • Transportation initiative begins to reduce the University's environmental footprint.


  • Bastyr Center for Natural Health relocates to the Fremont/Wallingford neighborhood of Seattle.
  • Bastyr partners with HerbDay Coalition, celebrates first annual national HerbDay.


  • Daniel K. Church, PhD, becomes third president of Bastyr.
  • Bastyr purchases its 51-acre Kenmore campus from the Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle.




  • University receives its first million-dollar individual gift from Stephen Bing of Los Angeles. The funds are used to build a state-of-the-art whole-food teaching kitchen.
  • Naturopathic medicine residency program at Bastyr Center for Natural Health is certified by Council on Naturopathic Medical Education (CNME).
  • Bastyr hosts the first annual "CAM Camp," a four-week program providing an introductory natural medicine education to allopathic medical students.
  • Bastyr awarded a five-year collaborative grant from NIH/NCCAM to prepare scientists to conduct CAM research.
  • With Bastyr's leadership, American Association of Naturopathic Medical Colleges (AANMC) established.


  • Bachelor of Science with a Major in Herbal Sciences program is established.
  • Bastyr establishes "sister-school" agreement with Shanghai University of Traditional Medicine in China.
  • Bastyr begins using “earth tubs” to compost the University’s food waste for use in the medicinal herb garden.


  • Bachelor of Science with a Major in Exercise Science and Wellness program is established.
  • Thomas T. and Elizabeth C. Tierney Basic Sciences Research Laboratory opens, becoming the first research laboratory established at a natural health arts and sciences university.
  • Bastyr University Natural Health Clinic changes name to Bastyr Center for Natural Health to reflect breadth of services offered.


  • Jane Guiltinan, ND ('86), dean of clinical affairs, is appointed to the board of Harborview Medical Center, becoming the first ND to serve on a public hospital board in the U.S.



  • Bastyr University Cancer Research Center is founded.


  • Bastyr is awarded contract to locate and run King County Natural Medicine Clinic, the nation's first government-run natural medicine clinic.
  • University relocates to 51-acre campus in Kenmore, Washington.


  • University receives Ryan White federal funds, enabling the teaching clinic to provide free natural health care to low-income patients living with HIV/AIDS.
  • Death of John Bartholomew Bastyr, DC, ND, renowned Seattle physician after whom Bastyr University is named.


  • School name is changed to Bastyr University to acknowledge expansion into multidisciplinary institution. The teaching clinic is renamed Bastyr University Natural Health Clinic.
  • Accreditation status is granted to AOM program by National Commission for Schools and Colleges of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.
  • Bastyr is awarded a grant by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Alternative Medicine, becoming the first natural medicine institution to receive an NIH grant.
  • "Sister-school" agreement is established with Chengdu University of Traditional Medicine in China.
  • Certificate in Chinese Herbal Medicine program is established.


  • University’s Didactic Program in Dietetics is approved by the American Dietetics Association.
  • Washington State Insurance Commissioner Deborah Senn invites Bastyr University to help create models for better inclusion of complementary medicine in the state health care plan.


  • University’s teaching clinic relocates to Seattle’s Wallingford district.


  • Master of Science in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (MSAOM) is established.
  • Bastyr College is granted accreditation by Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges (NASC) (retroactive to September 1988).


  • Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine program is accredited by Council on Naturopathic Medical Education (CNME).





  • Graduation for Bastyr’s first Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine class (the first graduates from a four-year U.S. naturopathic college in more than 20 years) is held at St. Thomas Center in Kenmore, Washington.
  • Certificate in Naturopathic Midwifery is established.



  • John Bastyr College of Naturopathic Medicine is founded by Les Griffith, ND; William A. Mitchell, Jr., ND; Joseph E. Pizzorno, Jr., ND; and Sheila Quinn.

Historical Photos


Dr. John Bastyr

Dr. John Bastyr, shown during a visit to the college that bears his name. Photo: Mark Frey


Dr. John Bastyr's medical bag

Dr. John Bastyr's medical bag and natural remedies.


The former McDonald Elementary School in the Wallingford neighborhood, home of Bastyr in the 1980s.

Students gather outside the Seattle home of Bastyr in the 1980s.


Early Bastyr students take part in a class.

Early Bastyr students meet for a class during the 1980s.


Joseph E. Pizzorno, Jr.

Joseph E. Pizzorno, Jr. was Bastyr's first president.


A banner for Bastyr College name change.

A new banner was unveiled in 1984 for the college's name change.


Bastyr students work in a lab activity.

Students work together during early lab classes.


Bastyr University founders mark the purchase of the Kenmore campus in 2005.


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