G. White®: A Brief Biography
Arthur L. White
was Ellen G. White, and why do millions consider her writings
of special value and significance?
many books available for purchase
online about the Life and Work of Ellen G. White.
she was a woman of remarkable spiritual gifts who lived most of
her life during the nineteenth century (1827-1915), yet through
her writings she is still making a revolutionary impact on millions
of people around the world. During her lifetime she wrote
more than 5,000 periodical articles and 40 books; but today, including
compilations from her 50,000 pages of manuscript, more than 100
titles are available in English. She is the most translated woman
writer in the entire history of literature, and the most translated
American author of either gender. Her writings cover a broad range
of subjects, including religion, education, social relationships,
evangelism, prophecy, publishing, nutrition, and management. Her
life-changing masterpiece on successful Christian living, Steps
to Christ, has been published in more than 140 languages. Seventh-day
Adventists believe that Mrs. White was more than a gifted writer;
they believe she was appointed by God as a special messenger to
draw the world's attention to the Holy Scriptures and help prepare
people for Christ's second advent. From the time she was 17 years
old until she died 70 years later, God gave her approximately
2,000 visions and dreams. The visions varied in length from less
than a minute to nearly four hours. The knowledge and counsel
received through these revelations she wrote out to be shared
with others. Thus her special writings are accepted by Seventh-day
Adventists as inspired, and their exceptional quality is recognized
even by casual readers. As stated in Seventh-day Adventists
Believe . . . , The writings of Ellen White are not
a substitute for Scripture. They cannot be placed on the same
level. The Holy Scriptures stand alone, the unique standard by
which her and all other writings must be judged and to which they
must be subject (Seventh-day Adventists Believe . . .
, Ministerial Association, General Conference of Seventh-day
Adventists, Washington D.C., 1988, p. 227). Yet, as Ellen
White herself noted, The fact that God has revealed His
will to men through His Word, has not rendered needless the continued
presence and guiding of the Holy Spirit. On the contrary, the
Spirit was promised by our Saviour to open the Word to His servants,
to illuminate and apply its teachings (The Great Controversy,
p. vii). The following is a more detailed account of the
life and work of this remarkable woman who, meeting all the tests
of a true prophet as set forth in the Holy Scriptures, helped
found the Seventh-day Adventist church.
her twin sister Elizabeth, was born November 26, 1827, to Robert
and Eunice Harmon. With eight children in the family, home was
an interesting and busy place. The family lived on a small farm
near the village of Gorham, Maine, in the northeastern part
of the United States. However, a few years after the birth of
the twins, Robert Harmon gave up farming, and, with his family,
moved into the city of Portland, about twelve miles east.
childhood Ellen assisted about the home and helped her father
in the manufacture of hats. At the age of nine, while returning
home from school one afternoon, she was severely injured in
the face by a stone thrown by a classmate. For three weeks she
was unconscious, and in the years that followed she suffered
greatly as a result of the serious injury to her nose. Ellen's
formal education ended abruptly, and it seemed to all that the
formerly promising little girl could not live long. In
the year 1840, Ellen, with her parents, attended a Methodist
camp meeting at Buxton, Maine, and there, at the age of 12,
she gave her heart to God. On June 26, 1842, at her request
she was baptized by immersion in Casco Bay, Portland. That same
day she was received as a member of the Methodist Church.
1840 and 1842 Ellen, with other members of the family, attended
Adventist meetings in Portland, accepted the views presented
by William Miller and his associates, and confidently looked
for Christ's imminent return. Ellen was an earnest missionary
worker, seeking to win her youthful friends and doing her part
in heralding the Advent message.
keenness of the Great Disappointment that Jesus did not return
to earth on October 22, 1844 was not lessened by Ellen's youth,
and she, with others, studied the Bible and prayed earnestly
for light and guidance in the succeeding days of perplexity.
When many were wavering or were abandoning their Adventist experience,
Ellen Harmon, one morning late in December, joined four other
women in family worship at the home of a fellow believer in
South Portland. Heaven seemed near to the praying group, and
as the power of God rested on Ellen she witnessed in vision
the travels of the Advent people to the city of God. (Early
Writings, pp. 13-20.) As the 17-year-old girl reluctantly
and tremblingly related this vision to the Adventist group in
Portland, they accepted it as light from God. In response to
a later vision, Ellen traveled with friends and relatives from
place to place to relate to the scattered companies of Adventists
that which had been revealed to her in the first and in succeeding
revelations. Those were not easy days for the Adventists
who had been disappointed. Not only did they meet scoffing and
ridicule from the world at large, but among themselves they
were not united, and fanaticism of every sort arose in their
ranks. But God, through revelation, opened up to Ellen Harmon
the outcome of some of these fanatical moves, and she was charged
with the responsibility of reproving wrong and pointing out
error. This work she found difficult to perform.
of James White and Ellen Harmon
a trip to Orrington, Maine, Ellen met a young Adventist preacher,
James White, then 23 years of age. As their labors occasionally
brought the two together, there sprang up an affection that
led to their being united in marriage late in August, 1846.
During the first
few weeks following their marriage, James and Ellen gave earnest
study to a 46-page tract published by Joseph Bates, in New Bedford,
Massachusetts. The tract, entitled Seventh-day Sabbath,
set forth the Biblical evidence for the sacredness of the seventh
day. Convinced that the views set forth were scriptural, they
began to keep Saturday as the Sabbath. Some six months later,
on April 3, 1847, Ellen White was shown in vision the law of
God in the heavenly sanctuary, with a halo of light around the
fourth commandment. This view brought a clearer understanding
of the importance of the Sabbath doctrine, and confirmed the
confidence of the Adventists in it. (Early Writings,
pp. 32-35.) The early days of James and Ellen White's married
life were filled with poverty and sometimes distress. Workers
in the Advent movement had no one but themselves to depend upon
for financial support, so James White divided his time between
preaching and earning a living in the forest, on the railroad,
or in the hayfield. A son, Henry, was born to the Whites
on August 26, 1847. His presence brought joy and comfort to
the young mother, but Ellen White soon found she must leave
her child with trusted friends and continue her work in traveling
and bearing the messages God had entrusted to her. The next
few years she wrote extensively, traveled widely to visit the
scattered flock, and attended conferences.
at Rocky Hill, Connecticut, in the summer of 1849, James White
began publication of The Present Truth, an eight-page
semimonthly paper. The later numbers carried articles from Ellen
Whites pen setting forth prophetic views of the future
of the church and sounding notes of warning and counsel.
1851 marked the appearance of Mrs. Whites first book,
a paper-covered work of 64 pages entitled, A Sketch of the
Christian Experience and Views of Ellen G. White. This early
document and its Supplement (1854) are now found on pages
11-127 of the book Early Writings. The days of the
beginning of the Review and Herald in 1850 and the Youths
Instructor in 1852, the securing of a hand press, then the
publishing of the papers in Rochester, New York, during the
years 1852-1855, were strenuous and trying. Money was scarce.
Sickness and bereavement played their part in bringing distress
and discouragement. But there were brighter days ahead, and
when in 1855 the Advent believers in Michigan invited the Whites
to Battle Creek and promised to build a little printing house,
the tide seemed to turn for the better.
Move to Battle Creek
1855, the Review and Herald Publishing Association, with the
hand press and other printing equipment, was moved from rented
quarters in Rochester, New York, to the newly erected building
in Battle Creek, Michigan, so liberally provided by the Advent
few days after Elder and Mrs. White, and those associated with
them in the publishing work, arrived at Battle Creek, a conference
was held to consider plans for spreading the Advent message.
At the close of this general meeting a number of matters of
importance to the church at large were revealed to Ellen White.
These she wrote out and read to the Battle Creek church. The
church members recognized that this message would benefit all
the groups of believers, so they voted that it should be published.
In due time there came from the re-established press a 16-page
tract bearing the title, Testimony for the Church (Testimonies,
vol. 1, pp. 113-126), the first of a series of writings that
in 55 years totaled nearly 5,000 pages, as published in the
nine volumes of Testimonies for the Church. The
record of the next few years shows Elder and Mrs. White establishing
the publishing work and church organization, and traveling here
and there by train, wagon, and sleigh. It is a record of suffering
from severe cold on long trips through sparsely settled country,
and of Gods special protection from many dangers. It is
a record with discouraging features as attacks were directed
against the work, and also one of great encouragement as the
power of God brought victory into the lives of the Sabbathkeepers
and success to the work of those who were leading out in advancing
the Advent cause.
Great Controversy Vision
At an Ohio
funeral service held on a Sunday afternoon in March, 1858, in
the Lovett's Grove (now Bowling Green) public school, a vision
of the ages-long conflict between Christ and His angels and
Satan and his angels was given to Mrs. White. Two days later
Satan attempted to take her life, that she might not present
to others what had been revealed to her. Sustained, however,
by God in doing the work entrusted to her, she wrote out a description
of the scenes that had been presented to her, and the 219-page
book Spiritual Gifts, volume 1, The Great Controversy
Between Christ and His Angels and Satan and His Angels,
was published in the summer of 1858. The volume was well received
and highly prized because of its clear picture of the contending
forces in the great conflict, touching high points of the struggle
but dealing more fully with the closing scenes of this earth's
history. (See Early Writings, pp. 133-295.
The Home in Battle Creek
diaries for the late 1850s reveal that not all her time was
devoted to writing and public work. Household duties, friendly
contacts with neighbors, especially those in need, claimed her
attention, and occasionally she helped to fold and stitch papers
and pamphlets when there was a rush of work at the Review office.
the fall of 1860 the White family numbered six, with four boys
ranging from a few weeks to 13 years of age. The youngest child,
Herbert, however, lived only a few months, his death bringing
the first break in the family circle. The culminating efforts
to establish church and conference organizations, with the demands
for much writing, traveling, and personal labor, occupied the
early years of the 1860s. The climax was reached in the organization
of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in May,
Health Reform Vision
weeks after this, James and Ellen White visited Otsego, Michigan,
over the weekend, to encourage the evangelistic workers there.
As the group bowed in prayer at the beginning of the Sabbath,
Ellen White was given a vision of the relation of physical health
to spirituality, of the importance of following right principles
in diet and in the care of the body, and of the benefits of
nature's remedies--clean air, sunshine, exercise, and pure water.
to this vision, little thought or time had been given to health
matters, and several of the overtaxed ministers had been forced
to become inactive because of sickness. This revelation on June
6, 1863, impressed upon the leaders in the newly organized church
the importance of health reform. In the months that followed,
as the health message was seen to be a part of the message of
Seventh-day Adventists, a health educational program was inaugurated.
An introductory step in this effort was the publishing of six
pamphlets of 64 pages each, entitled, Health, or How to Live,
compiled by James and Ellen White. An article from Mrs. White
was included in each of the pamphlets. The importance of
health reform was greatly impressed upon the early leaders of
the church through the untimely death of Henry White at the
age of 16, the severe illness of Elder James White, which forced
him to cease work for three years, and through the sufferings
of several other ministers. Early in 1866, responding to
the instruction given to Ellen White on Christmas Day, 1865
(Testimonies for the Church, vol. 1, p. 489), that Seventh-day
Adventists should establish a health institute for the care
of the sick and the imparting of health instruction, plans were
laid for the Western Health Reform Institute, which opened in
September, 1866. While the Whites were in and out of Battle
Creek from 1865 to 1868, Elder White's poor physical condition
led them to move to a small farm near Greenville, Michigan.
Away from the pressing duties of church headquarters, Ellen
White had opportunity to write, and she undertook the presentation
of the conflict story as it had been shown to her more fully
in further revelations. In 1870, The Spirit of Prophecy,
volume 1, was published, carrying the story from the fall of
Lucifer in heaven to Solomon's time. Work with this series was
broken off, and it was seven years before the next volume was
success of Seventh-day Adventist camp meetings held in Wisconsin
and Michigan in the late 1860s led to broader plans for such
endeavors in succeeding years. James White took an active part
not only in laying plans for these meetings but also in attending
as many as his pressing administrative duties and failing health
would permit. The long periods of overwork during the struggling
beginning days of the church, the taxing strain of editorial
duties, together with responsibilities as president of the General
Conference and chairman of several institutional boards, took
their toll on his health. Ellen White accompanied her husband
on his journeys, doing her full share of preaching and personal
work, and, as time permitted, pushed forward with her writing.
winter of 1872-1873 found the pair in California in the interests
of strengthening church projects on the Pacific Coast. This
was the first of several extended western sojourns during the
next seven years. An important vision was given to Ellen White
on April 1, 1874, while in the West, at which time there was
opened up to her the marvelous way in which the denomination's
work was to broaden and develop not only in the western States
but overseas. A few weeks later, tent meetings were opened in
Oakland, California, and in connection with this public effort
Elder White began the magazine Signs of the Times.
the fall of 1874 the Whites were back in Michigan, assisting
with the Biblical Institute, leading out in Sabbath services,
and taking a prominent part in the dedication of Battle Creek
College on January 4, 1875. As Ellen White stood before the
group who had gathered from a number of states to dedicate this,
the denomination's first educational institution, she related
what had been shown to her the day before in a vision. The picture
she presented of the international work that must be accomplished
by Seventh-day Adventists impressed the assembled workers and
believers with the importance and need of the college. Among
other things, she told of having been shown printing presses
operating in other lands, and a well-organized work developing
in vast world territories that Seventh-day Adventists up to
that time had never thought of entering.
the next few years much of Mrs. White's time was occupied in
writing that part of the conflict story dealing with the life
of Christ and the work of the apostles. This appeared in volumes
2 and 3 of The Spirit of Prophecy, in 1877 and 1878.
Elder White was busily engaged in establishing the Pacific Press
in Oakland, California, and in rasing money to enlarge the Battle
Creek Sanitarium and to build the Tabernacle in Battle Creek.
the Whites visited the new health institution near St. Helena,
California, early in 1878, Ellen White exclaimed that she had
seen those buildings and surroundings in the vision shown her
of the broadening work on the West Coast. This was the third
Pacific Coast enterprise she had seen in the 1874 vision, the
others being the Signs of the Times and the Pacific Press. During
the camp meeting season of the late 1870s, Ellen White addressed
many large audiences, the largest being the Sunday afternoon
congregation at Groveland, Massachusetts, late in August, 1877,
at which time 20,000 people heard her speak on the broad aspect
of Christian temperance. Her travels and labors during this
period took her east and west and into the Pacific Northwest.
She wrote incessantly, attended General Conference sessions,
filled speaking appointments at camp meetings and in churches,
appeared before temperance groups, and even filled appointments
in town squares and state prisons. Elder White's failing
health led to a trip into Texas for the winter of 1878-1879.
It was here that Arthur Daniells, who in later years served
as president of the General Conference, and his wife, Mary,
joined the White family, the youthful Arthur as Elder White's
companion and nurse, and Mary as cook and housekeeper.
of James White
were periods during the next two years when Elder White was
in reasonable health and able to continue with his work. But
his long years of mental and physical overwork had diminished
his life forces, and he died in Battle Creek on August 6, 1881.
Standing at the side of her husband's casket at the funeral
service, Ellen White pledged herself to press on in the work
that had been entrusted to her.
Soon Ellen White
was again on the Pacific Coast, feeling keenly the loss of her
companion, but earnestly engaged in writing the fourth and last
volume of the Spirit of Prophecy series. The conflict
story from the destruction of Jerusalem to the close of time
was presented in this long-awaited volume. When it came from
the press in 1884, the book was well received. An illustrated
edition for house-to-house sale was published, carrying the
title The Great Controversy Between Christ and His Angels
and Satan and His Angels, and within three years 50,000
copies were sold.
White Visits Europe
some time the General Conference had been asking Mrs. White
and her son, W. C. White, to visit the European missions. As
she prepared for the journey, it seemed to those close to her
that her physical condition would make the trip impossible.
Obedient, however, to what seemed duty, she embarked on the
journey, was given the necessary health, and spent the time
from the fall of 1885 to the summer of 1887 in the European
Basel, Switzerland, then the headquarters of the church's European
work, Mrs. White made trips to England, Germany, France, Italy,
Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. Of particular interest to her were
two trips to the Waldensian valleys in Italy, where she visited
places she had seen in vision in connection with the Dark Ages
and the Reformation. Both in Basel, Switzerland, and Christiana
(now Oslo), Norway, Ellen White recognized the printing presses
as those shown her in the vision of January 3, 1875, when she
saw many presses operating in lands outside North America. The
counsel given by Ellen White to European church workers meant
much in the establishment of right policies and plans.
Great Controversy and Patriarchs and Prophets
The Spirit of Prophecy, volume 4, was called for in the
European languages, Ellen White felt she must write out more
fully the controversy scenes involving places in Europe. The
result was the book known today as The Great Controversy,
first published in 1888.
in the United States, Ellen White made her home at Healdsburg,
California, but attended the General Conference session of 1888
in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In the following months she traveled
and preached, seeking to unify the church on the doctrine of
righteousness by faith. During this same period she worked on
Patriarchs and Prophets, which appeared in the year 1890.
the General Conference session of 1891, Mrs. White was presented
with an urgent call to visit Australia to give counsel and assist
in church work in that pioneer region. Responding to this appeal,
she reached Australia in December, 1891, accompanied by her
son, Elder W. C. White, and several of her assistants. Her presence
in Australia was much appreciated by the new believers, and
her messages of counsel regarding the developing work contributed
much to firmly establishing denominational interests in this
southern continent. Here again, on her visit to the church's
publishing house, Mrs. White recognized printing presses as
among those shown her in vision in January, 1875.
long after her arrival Ellen White saw clearly the urgent need
for an institution of learning in Australia, that Seventh-day
Adventist youth might be educated in a Christian environment,
and thus workers be trained for service at home and in the island
fields. In response to her many strong appeals, a Bible school
was opened in the city of Melbourne, Australia, in 1892. The
school operated in rented quarters for two years, but during
this time earnest written and oral appeals from Mrs. White pointed
out that God's plan called for the school to be located in a
God clearly indicated His approval of the property, the Avondale
Estate was secured. Then, to give encouragement to those in
this pioneer enterprise, Mrs. White purchased a good-sized lot
nearby and made her home near the new school. This school, God
indicated, was to be a pattern of what Adventist educational
work should be.
that the developing work in Australia might be properly administered,
in 1894 the territory was organized into a union conference,
the first union conference in Seventh-day Adventist history.
One who had a part in the administrative work in the newly organized
union conference was Elder A. G. Daniells, who, with his wife,
had been sent to New Zealand in 1886 as a missionary. His association
with Mrs. White, and his adherence to her counsels as he met
the growing administrative problems of the field, helped to
prepare him for the greater work entrusted to him when, after
the General Conference session of 1901, he was chosen president
of the General Conference.
soon as the educational work was well begun at Avondale, appeals
were made for establishing a medical missionary program. To
this Ellen White not only gave strong moral support but contributed
liberally of her limited means to help make a sanitarium possible.
In fact, almost every church built and every line of endeavor
inaugurated during the nine years of Mrs. Whites residence
in Australia benefited from her financial encouragement.
to her many interests in the local work of this pioneer field,
Mrs. White found time to write thousands of pages of timely
counsel that crossed the seas and guided denominational leaders.
She also furnished articles weekly for the Review, Signs,
and Instructor. This heavy program greatly delayed her
book work, and it was not until 1898 that The Desire of Ages
was brought to completion and made its appearance. Thoughts
from the Mount of Blessing preceded it by two years, and
Christs Object Lessons and Testimonies for the
Church, volume 6, followed in 1900.
1891 Ellen White appealed to church leaders to begin educational
and evangelistic work on behalf of the Black race in America's
South. Three years later, one of her sons, James Edson White,
built a Mississippi River steamboat and used it for about a
decade as a floating mission for Blacks in Mississippi and Tennessee.
In 1895 and 1896 she wrote articles in the "Review and Herald"
continuing to urge that efforts be made for Blacks in the South,
and from time to time she sent messages of counsel and encouragement
to workers in that field. She gave strong support to the establishment
of Oakwood College, in Huntsville, Alabama, which was founded
for the purpose of educating young African-Americans. In 1904
she gave a speech to its students and teachers, declaring, "It
was God's purpose that the school should be placed here." Throughout
the remaining years of her life, she maintained a deep interest
and concern for the church work among Blacks in the southern
to the United States
day in 1900 Ellen White surprised her family and associate workers
by telling them that divine instruction had come to her in the
night that she must return to America. From the standpoint of
the work in Australia it seemed a most inopportune time for
her leave, but One whose eye watches His church enterprise as
a whole and looks into the future, knew well the need of her
presence in the United States during the crisis that would fill
the early years of the new century.
Making her home at Elmshaven, a few miles from the
rural town of St. Helena in northern California, Ellen White spent
the 15 remaining years of her life in book preparation, writing,
personal labor, and travel. No sooner was she well settled at
St. Helena than she received a call to attend the General Conference
session of 1901 in Battle Creek, Michigan.
this important meeting she boldly called for a reorganization
of the work of the Seventh-day Adventist General Conference,
that the expanding interests of the church might be fully provided
for. The delegates responded to her call, developing and implementing
a plan of reorganization, opening the way for the wide distribution
of the growing responsibilities which, up to that time, only
a few men had carried. They adopted the plan of union conferences
to be intermediate organizations between the General Conference
and local conferences, and arranged for General Conference departments.
These steps opened the way for great expansion and development
of the work of the denomination.
later the offices of the General Conference and the work of
the Review and Herald Publishing Association were moved from
Battle Creek, and in harmony with Mrs. Whites counsel
that they should be near the East Coast, they were established
at Takoma Park, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D. C. At this
juncture Mrs. White left her California home and moved to Takoma
Park. For about five months she carried on her work there. Mrs.
Whites presence at the denominational headquarters helped
establish confidence in the decision to move east.
in 1905 The Ministry of Healing, a book dealing with
the healing of body, mind, and soul, came from the press.
Education had been published in 1903, and two volumes of
the Testimonies for the Church, volumes 7 and 8, were
issued in 1902 and 1904, respectively
stay in Washington, Mrs. White encouraged church workers in
southern California to secure property for a sanitarium in Loma
Linda, and she called for the opening of medical missionary
educational work on the Pacific Coast. During the next few years
Ellen White frequently interrupted her book work for trips to
Loma Linda to encourage the workers there, and to the Paradise
Valley Sanitarium near San Diego, which she had helped to establish
age of 81 Mrs. White traveled again to Washington, attending the
General Conference session in 1909. At the conference she spoke
a number of times in a clear, firm voice. After this meeting,
in fulfillment of a long-felt desire in her heart, she visited
her old home city of Portland, Maine. There she again bore her
testimony in that historic place where her work had had its beginning
65 years earlier. This was her last trip to the eastern states,
and it made a lasting and vivid impression on the many Seventh-day
Adventists who heard her speak or who met her at the General Conference
that her remaining days were few, when Ellen White returned
to Elmshaven she intensified her efforts to bring out a number
of books presenting essential instruction to the church. Testimonies
for the Church, volume 9, was published in 1909. In 1911
The Acts of the Apostles appeared. In 1913 Counsels
to Parents and Teachers was issued, and in 1914 the manuscript
for Gospel Workers was finished and sent to the press.
The closing active months of Mrs. Whites life were devoted
to the book Prophets and Kings.
On the morning
of February 13, 1915, as Ellen White was entering her comfortable
study room at Elmshaven, she tripped and fell, and was unable
to rise. Help was summoned, and it soon became clear that the
accident was serious. An X-ray examination disclosed a break in
the left hip, and for five months Mrs. White was confined to her
bed or wheelchair.
words to friends and relatives during the closing weeks of her
life indicated a feeling of cheerfulness, a sense of having
faithfully performed the work God had entrusted to her, and
confidence that the cause of truth would finally triumph.
The life of Ellen
White ended July 16, 1915, at the age of 87 years. She was laid
to rest at the side of her husband in Oak Hill Cemetery, Battle
White lived to see the Advent movement grow from a handful of
believers to a world-wide membership of 136,879 that, by 2000,
had exceeded 11 million.
available for purchase
online on the Life and Work of Ellen G. White.
Silver Spring, Maryland
Revised August, 2000
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