Chapter 8

As Others Knew Her

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Commitment to Duty
Strenuous Schedules
Back-to-Back Camp Meetings
Mindful of Personal Example
Courage and Perseverance
Courage When Standing Alone
One of Her Kindest Letters
Study Questions

“Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality. . . . If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men” (Rom. 12:9-13; 18).

Did Ellen White practice what she preached? Yes. Others knew her as a well-rounded, exceptional Christian leader. Though subject to human weaknesses, she was respected as one who practiced the forward-looking, all-embracing, ever-expanding insights that were constantly being revealed to her.


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She learned how to endure and triumph over financial hardships. Her prudent habits are well known.

The Whites began housekeeping in poverty. In 1848 they left the Howland family, in Topsham, Maine, where they had lived in the upstairs rooms, to attend a conference of Sabbath keeping Adventists in Rocky Hill, Connecticut, the first of many conferences to come. How did they plan to pay their way? James had earned ten dollars for cutting wood; half was spent on preparing the young family of three for the trip, and the other half was for transportation to Boston and the Otis Nichols home. Although they had not said a word about their financial circumstances, Mrs. Mary Nichols gave them five dollars. After they bought their train tickets to Middletown, Connecticut, they had 50 cents to spare. They had to face similar economic challenges many times in the years that followed.1

Midwinter 1851 the Whites were invited to speak at a conference in Waterbury, Vermont. They had already lent Charlie, their faithful horse, and carriage to S. W. Rhodes and J. N. Andrews so these two preachers could meet appointments in Canada and northern Vermont. Along the way the Whites met a poor believer whom they encouraged to attend the conference. To make it possible, they gave him their train fare to help buy a horse—so that all three could ride in a sleigh together. Soon they met another believer and gave him five dollars to pay his fare on the train. The Whites continued in an open sleigh without blanket or buffalo robe in Vermont cold. Ellen wrote: “We suffered much.”2

In the summer of 1852 the publishing office was established in Rochester, New York. All the printing equipment plus the meager household furniture was sent west from Maine on borrowed money. The Whites set up the publishing house in their own home—not only the printing equipment but living quarters for all the workers. No one except the non-Adventist press foreman received wages beyond a small allowance for clothing and other expenses that “were deemed absolutely necessary.”3

James brought home six old chairs, no two alike. He soon added four more, each without seating. Ellen made the seats. Potatoes and butter cost too much; their first meals were served on a board placed upon two flour barrels. Ellen noted: “We are willing to endure privations if the work of God can be advanced.”4

Home circumstances did improve as the years went by. Both James and Ellen White were specialists in making do, or doing without. However, James knew that many times Ellen would sacrifice too much. In 1874, he wrote to son William who was with his mother in Battle Creek: “I was very glad to learn that you were with your mother. Take the tenderest care of your dear mother. And if she wishes to attend the eastern camp meetings, please go with her. Get a tent that will suit you; get everything good in the shape of satchels, blankets, portable chair for Mother, and do not consent to her economical ideas, leading you to pinch along.”5

Ellen White taught by example in Europe. After landing at Calais, France, she and her traveling companions discovered that a sleeping compartment on the train to Basel would cost $11 apiece. Ever frugal, they decided to make do in the seats. She commented: “A bed was made for me between the seats on the top of the satchels and telescope boxes. I rested some, but slept little. . . . We were not sorry to have the night pass.”6

From Dansville, New York, in 1865, Mrs. White wrote to her children regarding clothing for Edson: “If a man tailor makes these coats they must cost too much for making. If you can obtain a good woman tailor whom you can trust, engage her to make both coats, if she does not ask too much.”7

“Down under” in 1894, Ellen White was now 66. Australia was having economic struggles, with even worse times to come. And Mrs. White was tired for many reasons. While in Melbourne she wrote: “I am tired, tired all the time, and must ere long get a restful place in the country. . . . I want this year to write and to exercise prudently out of doors in the open air.”

Later she wrote: “I am getting to be very tired of moving. It worries me out, settling and unsettling, gathering manuscripts and scattering them, to be gathered up again.”

Soon she moved to a Sydney suburb. “We find there are many ways we can spend money and many ways we can save money. We have a skeleton wardrobe of two upright standards, and crosspieces nailed to these, and a shelf put on the top. A very simple cheap lace over blue or red cheap cambric is fastened to the top and back of the shelf. This back is neatly arranged, lifted up and fastened securely to the posts of the head of the bedstead.” Most of the rest of the furniture was bought at auctions.8

On a trip from Melbourne to Geelong, forty miles southwest, the party took the slow boat for eighteen pence round-trip each ($1.92), rather than the train for eight shillings each (40 cents). Writing later, Mrs. White wrote: “A penny saved is as good as a penny earned.”9


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Ellen White was frugal because she wanted to contribute as much as she could to hard-pressed people as well as to the growing needs of the young Seventh-day Adventist Church.10

“Sharing” seems to have been her middle name. Her sharing of her home with co-workers and traveling ministers, many times not knowing how many would appear at meal time, reveals a prevailing generous spirit. After inspiring and challenging others to build churches, publishing houses, health facilities, and schools, she would lead the way with substantial donations, often loans from others that she managed to repay—with interest. In 1888 at an Oakland, California, gathering, she may have raised astonished eyebrows when she noted that she and her husband, out of frugal savings and wise investments, had contributed $30,000 “in the cause of God.”11

In a sermon delivered at the 1891 General Conference session, after James had been dead for ten years, she wrote: “For years we received no wages, except barely enough to furnish us with the plainest food and clothing. We were glad to wear second-hand clothes, and sometimes we had hardly food enough to sustain our strength. Everything else was put into the work.”12

Her unselfishness with her time and scant resources became a model for all. John O. Corliss (1845-1923), who lived in the White home for several years prior to his baptism in 1868,13 wrote of his close connection with Mrs. White through the years: “She was most careful to carry out in her own course the things she taught to others. For instance, she frequently dwelt in her public talks upon the duty of caring for widows and orphans, citing her hearers to Isaiah 58:7-10, and she exemplified her exhortations by taking the needy to her own home for shelter, food, and raiment. I well remember her having at one time, as members of her family, a boy and a girl and a widow and her two daughters. I have, moreover, known her to distribute to poor people hundreds of dollars’ worth of new clothes, which she bought for that purpose.”14

One cannot review the history of the Adventist Church in Australia without noting that Ellen White was generous, to a fault. In 1892 Australia was sinking into an economic depression. Adventist believers were fewer than 1,000. Yet Mrs. White’s constant motto was “Advance,” which, at first, meant a school near Melbourne. Funds were nonexistent, but she decided to use $1,000 from the royalty of foreign books sold in America, funds that were already committed elsewhere.15

While funds were being raised in Parramatta for the first church building owned by Seventh-day Adventists in continental Australia, a gift of $45 from California was sent to Ellen White. Her friends wanted her to have a comfortable chair during her painful illness. But she promptly put it into the Parramatta building fund, explaining to her thoughtful friends that she wished them to feel that they too had something invested in Australia.16

Ellen White remained at the center of the Adventist world in Australia, not only for encouragement but also for raising funds. A letter to Dr. J. H. Kellogg in 1896 provides a glimpse of the ongoing, year by year, struggle in Australia: “I have to stand as a bank to uphold, borrow, and advance money. I turn and twist every way to do the work. Others will take hold and do something when they see that I have faith to lead out and donate. Here are all our workers that must be paid. I am heavily in debt in this country to those in other countries. Eighteen hundred dollars from one person; this money has been used up. Five hundred dollars from one in Africa, which is a loan and has been applied in different ways that demanded means to forward the work. I moved by faith.”17

In 1899 G. A. Irwin, General Conference president, invited Mrs. White to return to America and attend the next session of the General Conference at South Lancaster, Massachusetts. She replied: “I was 71 years old the twenty-sixth of November. But this is not the reason I plead for not attending your conference. . . . We have advanced slowly, planting the standard of truth in every place possible. But the dearth of means has been a serious hindrance. . . . We dare not show one particle of unbelief. We advance just as far as we can see, and then go far ahead of sight, moving by faith. . . .

“We strip ourselves of everything we can possibly spare in the line of money, for the openings are so many and the necessities so great. We have hired [borrowed] money until I have been compelled to say, I cannot donate more. My workers are the best, most faithful and devoted girls I ever expect to find. In order to advance the work I have donated the wages that should have been paid them. When the last call was made, my name was not on the list for the first time. . . . There is nothing for me to do but to remain here until the work is placed on a solid foundation.”18

As the last decade of the nineteenth century closed, the denomination was heavily in debt largely because of ignoring the counsel of Ellen White. Although she made her position very clear to church leaders as to the reasons for avoiding the huge debts, she did not criticize and complain. Instead, she had a plan. She proposed to give her royalties on Christ’s Object Lessons (a book soon to be published in 1900) to help clear the debts on denominational schools. With the cooperation of church members throughout North America, that gift yielded more than $300,000.

When church funds were low in 1906, she donated royalties from her book The Ministry of Healing (sold in the eastern United States) for construction of the Washington Sanitarium (now Washington Adventist Hospital) in Takoma Park, Maryland.19 All of the royalties from Ministry of Healing went to relieve the indebtedness of the church’s medical institutions.

From 1914 to 1918 L. H. Christian was president of the Lake Union Conference, comprising Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan. He was impressed by the many older Adventists in these states who treasured their memories of James and Ellen White. They reported how kind and helpful the Whites were to the poor at a time when early settlers often lacked food and shelter. The men liked to recall the compelling leadership of James and how he would say to his wife, “Ellen, talk is cheap; but the thing that counts is what you and I can give. It is good to sympathize with these folk, but the result of our sympathy is determined by how deep we dig into our pocketbooks.”

In his book, The Fruitage of Spiritual Gifts, Christian reported: “What she writes in such books as Ministry of Healing and many of the Testimonies concerning our duty to the needy and sick was exemplified most beautifully in her own life. This chapter would become much too long if I should recount all the things that these old acquaintances said of Sister White. I never heard one of them find fault with her in any way.”20

Commitment to Duty

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Many noble virtues characterized Ellen White’s remarkable life, but commitment to duty seems to tower over all others. Wherever we look in her long life, commitment to her divine assignment carried the highest priority.

When only 22, with a young child, she wrote this letter on February 10, 1850: “We should have written you before but we have no certain abiding place, but have traveled in rain, snow, and blow with the child from place to place. I could not get time to answer any letters and it took all James’s time to write for the paper and get out the hymn book. We do not have many idle moments.”21

At Battle Creek in 1865, Ellen White was feeling the coldness even of her friends. Being a faithful messenger for God is always difficult, but living close to those who received the personal testimonies made life even more difficult. God had given her a special vision of the wilted vine that received special support; it represented the strength she should expect from God as she continued to do her duty: “From this time I was settled as to my duty and never more free in bearing my testimony to the people.”22

How did she understand her duty? In 1873 James White was suffering the consequences of several strokes when the work in Battle Creek required his steady administrative vision. Wife Ellen, knowing that immediate decisions were needed, called the leading workers together for prayer. In her July 5 diary entry, she wrote: “My husband had an ill turn. We had a season of prayer in our chamber. We called the brethren together and had a season of prayer for more clear understanding of duty. I felt that it was my duty to go to the Iowa camp meeting. We had two praying seasons. We finally decided to go on the morning train.”

At the Iowa campground, which was near their Washington, Iowa, hideaway home, James spoke four times and Ellen five times. They both were refreshed, yet further drained. The four far-west camp meetings were expecting them. What to do now?

They went out into the orchard and prayed. In her account of this experience, Mrs. White continued: “We feel very anxious to know our duty. We do not want to make any wrong move. We need sanctified judgment and heavenly wisdom to move in the counsel of God. We cry unto God for light and grace. We must have help from God or we perish. Our earnest cry is for the direction of God’s Holy Spirit. We dare not move in any direction without clear light.”23

At South Lancaster, Massachusetts, in 1889, topics of immense importance needed to be addressed, especially in understanding how men and women become right and remain right with God. In a report to the Review and Herald, she wrote: “It is the privilege of everyone to say, ‘I will carry out my Captain’s orders to the very letter, feeling or no feeling. I will not wait for a happy sensation, for a mysterious impulse.’ I will say, ‘What are my orders? What is the line of my duty? What says the Master to me? Is the line of communication open between God and my soul? What is my position before God?’ Just as soon as we come into right relations to God, we shall understand our duty and do it; and we shall not think the good things we do entitle us to salvation.”24

In most situations prophets learn their duty as every other child of God must. Even Jesus learned His duty “when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear” (Heb. 5:7, 8).

Decisions made in the line of duty are often endorsed in ways that are convincing. In the humid July heat in Battle Creek, 1881, Ellen White felt the need to spend some time in Colorado where she could write under better conditions. But the needs of Battle Creek, especially of the youth, overwhelmed her, and she decided to remain there. Uriah Smith wrote of this incident: “On making this decision, she felt at once a marked return of bodily and mental vigor, giving good evidence that this determination was in the line of duty.”25

Some of her last words to an assembled General Conference session (1913) summed up her own life of commitment to duty: “When the Lord sets His hand to prepare the way before His ministers, it is their duty to follow where He directs. He will never forsake or leave in uncertainty those who follow His leadings with full purpose of heart.”26

Strenuous Schedules

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Her taxing schedules were arduous even for strong men. We have already noted her exhausting travel arrangements under terrible weather conditions. In those early years, Ellen and James White would stay up past midnight, reading proof sheets and folding papers, then face each new day’s unending duties.27

For an example of her church duties that lapped over Ellen White like shingles on a roof, we can point to June 23, 1854. Now seven months pregnant, she and James returned to their Rochester home from a busy seven-week journey through Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin. The trip included many speaking appointments, counseling with evangelists regarding better methods, traveling nights by train, and a train wreck that involved a premonition to change cars (their first car was “much broken”).

But they returned in time for a four-day conference in their home, representatives coming from western New York, Pennsylvania, and Canada. Ellen White sighed, “We returned . . . much worn, desiring rest. . . . Without rest we were obliged to engage in the meeting.”28

Throughout her vigorous schedule of speaking, traveling, and writing continually, Ellen White supervised a busy home schedule. As we noted earlier (p. 75) she generally had more boarders than her immediate family. A diary entry for January 28, 1868, written at their Greenville, Michigan, home, is typical: “Brother [J. O.] Corliss (a young convert) helped me to prepare breakfast. Everything we touched was frozen. All things in our cellar were frozen. We prepared frozen turnips and potatoes. After prayer, Brother Corliss went into the woods near Thomas Wilson’s to get wood. James, accompanied by Brother [J. N.] Andrews, went to Orleans, expecting to return to dinner.

“I baked eight pans of gems, swept rooms, washed dishes, helped Willie [age 13] put snow in boiler, which requires many tubsful. We have no well water or cistern. Arranged my clothes press [closet]. Felt weary; rested a few minutes. Got dinner for Willie and me. Just as we got through, my husband and Brother Andrews drove up. Had had no dinner. I started cooking again. Soon got them something to eat. Nearly all day has thus been spent—not a line written. I feel sad about this. Am exceedingly weary. My head is tired.”29

While their new Battle Creek home was being constructed in late 1868, the Whites were meeting appointments in the eastern states. James shared with readers of the Review and Herald the relief he felt after returning home on December 30, 1868: “We found a convenient and pleasant house built at Battle Creek for us, and partly furnished with goods moved from our [Greenville] home in Montcalm County. This place seems like home. Here we find rest in several senses of the word. We had become tired of meetings, tired of traveling, tired of speaking, tired of visiting, and tired of the business cares incident to an absence from home, living, as it were, in our trunks nearly one-third of the year. Here we find quiet for the present.” Later in the article he noted that sixty letters awaited them, all to be opened and answered!30

Back-to-Back Camp Meetings

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Camp meetings seemed to be pressed together, almost seamlessly, for James and Ellen White. For instance, the Kansas camp meeting, late May, 1876, where Ellen was to meet James. She was coming from the west coast, all the while busy writing the first volume on the life of Christ. Her train, instead of arriving on Friday after six days of endurance, was delayed. She arrived on the campgrounds early Sabbath morning, after a twenty-mile, farm-wagon trip over rough roads. James wrote in the Signs of the Times: “Weary, of course, short of sleep, and trembling with nervous headache, she takes the speaker’s stand at half past ten and is wonderfully sustained in her effort.”

Ellen White spoke several times in the evening meetings and on Tuesday morning was up at 4 o’clock for a “precious social parting meeting.”31

By July 4 the Whites had spoken many times at six camp meetings! Before going on to the Ohio camp meeting, they dashed home to Battle Creek to catch their breath. Ellen wrote to William and Mary (married early that year) describing the Fourth of July celebration: “Some things were really interesting and some ridiculous, but I cannot write. I have kept on the strain so long I am now finding my level and I am not very intelligent. We cannot, Father, Mary [Clough], or myself, do anything now. We are debilitated and run down like an old clock.”32

A few days later they headed east for the next series of camp meetings. At Norwalk, Ohio, 2,500 people; at Groveland, Massachusetts, an estimated 20,000 (the largest audience Ellen White addressed). Writing to William during this tour, she commented like a mother: “Your father and your mother are worked down. I am looking old and poor [sic] for the very reason that there is no rest for us. We work hard. Your father does the work of three men at all these meetings. I never saw a man work so energetically, so constantly, as your father. God does give him more than mortal energy. If there is any place that is hard, your father takes it.”33

This 1876 program was not unusual. Typical also was the preaching schedule in 1880. James was not well; overwork had led to several strokes. Growing old gracefully was his wish, but easier said than done. Circumstances seemed to awaken harsh, insensitive thoughts and words. The old warrior charged on, wishing that others would carry the load more efficiently.

While Ellen White was meeting west coast camp meeting appointments, she received a telegram from James that urged her to join him in meeting the calls “from Maine to Dakota, and from Michigan to Kentucky.” In spite of her heavy writing program, she and Lucinda Hall took the “slow train” east on July 26. The “slow train” cost less but it took nine days! They arrived in Battle Creek at noon Wednesday. At 8:00 P.M. she and James caught the train for a two-hour trip to Jackson. After spending the night with friends, they left the next day for Alma, arriving just before dark, just in time for her to speak at the evening meeting.

From Alma they spent the next two months traveling week by week to camp meetings. These included Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont, New York, Ohio, Indiana, and the national camp meeting at Battle Creek, Michigan, October 2 and 9. At most of them they stayed three to five days, but always Sabbath and Sunday. All this, not in automobiles over paved highways, but on those early trains and other tiresome conveyances—a feat that would weary the hardiest traveler today riding in the most comfortable cars or buses.34

Throughout these busy years Ellen White was supplying the Review and Herald and Signs of the Times with scores of articles annually. The writing of volume 4 of the Spirit of Prophecy, (The Great Controversy Between Christ and Satan) though slowed down by her many speaking appointments, was always on her mind.

Early in 1884, however, she determined to finish this pressing manuscript: “I am writing every day. Mean to get my book finished next month, and can scarcely write a letter, I am so intent on this matter.”35

Writing to Harriet Smith, Uriah’s wife, she penned this personal touch: “As I write upon my book I feel intensely moved. I want to get it out as soon as possible, for our people need it so much. I shall complete it next month if the Lord gives me health as He has done. I have been unable to sleep nights, thinking of the important things to take place. Three hours’ sleep, and sometimes five, is the most I get. My mind is stirred so deeply I cannot rest. Write, write, write, I feel that I must, and not delay.”

Before she could finish, she met three camp meeting appointments. During the final few weeks, she wrote to William to bring her “another good fountain pen.”36

Only profound dedication to duty and divinely provided energy, year after year, can explain seventy years of amazing accomplishments under the most strenuous conditions.37

Mindful of Personal Example

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While in Europe (1885) someone gave a gold watch to Ellen White. However, it became a topic for conversation; so, rather than be misunderstood or become a stumbling block, she sold it.38

Courage and Perseverance

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God can give messages to a person but prophets must have courage and perseverance to fulfill their assignments. Think of this 17-year-old girl, frail and emaciated, poor and gravely ill, but faced with a divine call to speak for God. The idea appeared preposterous to most of her adult contemporaries! In the years to come, she fulfilled well the role of a mother and wife, yet, above all else, she threw herself into the path of duty, often far in advance of even her closest friends. No wonder she wrote: “I coveted death as a release from the responsibilities that were crowding upon me.”39 Only a person with courage and perseverance could have plunged into such a life assignment—and succeeded.

Ellen White’s care for her husband, James, with his nervous exhaustion during 1866/1867 is astounding. Taking her worn-out, 45-year-old husband to northern Michigan in mid-winter seemed foolhardy to all, even to their physician and to James’s father and mother who now lived in Battle Creek. They all felt that she at nearly 39 was sacrificing her life, that for the sake of her children and the cause of God she should let nature take its course. They all believed that James would never recover.40

But courage and perseverance moved her to respond: “As long as life is left in him and me, I will [sic] make every exertion for him. That brain, that noble, masterly mind, shall not be left in ruins. God will care for him, for me, for my children. . . . You will yet see us standing side by side in the sacred desk, speaking the words of truth unto eternal life.”41

Ellen White’s awesome strategy and effort to restore health of mind and body to her husband have become a model for many thousands since. Courage, perseverance, and undying love won the day and James returned to lead out in perhaps his greatest achievements for the growing church. Throughout this extraordinary period as her husband’s nurse, confidante, physical therapist, and dietitian, Mrs. White kept up a heavy schedule of speaking appointments and writing. On this courageous woman in northern Michigan the future of the Seventh-day Adventist Church (as we now know it) rested.

But at the same time, swirling, unfounded charges were being circulated in Battle Creek, allegations that would have smothered almost anyone else. The Whites, especially Ellen, courageously faced them all down. In so doing, she and James earned deep respect and gratitude from most of those involved.42 Very few public persons have had to endure slander as often as James and Ellen White.

More than once, charges were made that the Whites unduly profited from their many business dealings. How quickly forgotten was their unparalleled channeling of funds to new projects, ranging from church buildings, health institutions, and publishing houses, to the newest educational institution! For much of her ministry, Ellen White did not receive a salary. For many years, the Whites covered their own travel expenses. They bore all the costs for household helpers who assisted in caring for their many boarders and visitors. In addition, they paid editorial assistants from personal funds.43

Frequent references have already been made to the physical challenges that Ellen White faced almost continually throughout her life. One example of her courage under trying conditions occurred in Basel, Switzerland, on June 15, 1886 as she prepared to leave for Sweden. She was painfully struggling with pleurisy. In a Review and Herald article she commented: “Every breath was painful. It seemed impossible for me to travel, especially at night. To take a sleeping car, for one night only, would involve an extra expense of ten or twelve dollars, and this was out of the question. Yet it was necessary for us to leave Basel that night in order to reach Orebro [Sweden] before the Sabbath.” But leave they did in a coach seat, arriving in Sweden Friday morning.

This kind of courage and perseverance demonstrated the truth of her words written several months earlier: “I can, when I have to, do most anything.”44

An interesting example of Ellen White’s perseverance occurred when her son Willie was twenty months old. Young Willie was playing with a “boat” in the kitchen near a large pail of mop water. His caretaker left the room momentarily to get wood for the fire. When she returned she saw only one little foot sticking out of the dirty water. She pulled the child out of the pail, then screamed to his mother that her son had drowned.

James was called for, as well as a physician. But Ellen was busy rolling Willie on the grass, forcing the water from his body. A neighbor urged James: “Take that dead baby out of that woman’s hands.”

“No,” he replied, “it is her child, and no one shall take it away from her.” Twenty minutes went by. Then Ellen White saw a flick of the eyelid and a little pucker in his lips. Soon he was in his crib, wrapped with heated cloths. The mother did not give up. Years later, she said of Willie that God had shown her that he was born to be her helper after her husband died. And so he was.45

Courage When Standing Alone

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In 1881 James White was in rapid decline. More than four strokes had left him physically and emotionally weak, and overwork depleted what strength he had left. Mrs. White wrote on January 6 that she was perplexed as to how to help her husband: “Father has been in such a state of mind I feared he would lose his reason. But he is concluding to lay off the burdens of office matters and go to writing. I hope he will do so. . . . I am at times in such perplexity and distress of mind I covet retirement or death, but then I gather courage again.”46

But her real test of strength came from a surprising development. By May, she was so criticized in Battle Creek that even her closest friends grew cool toward her. The criticism? Her word could not be trusted because she was manipulated by others! How could this be? Soon she became aware of the tension between her husband and Dr. Kellogg.

In his dark moments of depression and paranoia, James was using her writings to undermine the president and secretary of the General Conference (G. I. Butler and S. N. Haskell, respectively). From another direction, J. H. Kellogg was attacking James White and James was retaliating. How were all these unpleasant assaults carried out? By each quoting the words of Ellen White to substantiate their allegations against one another—and by charging that the “quotes” used by their opponents were not valid words “from the Lord”! Each man was trying to destroy the influence of the others, but the real damage was being done to Ellen White.

On June 14 she wrote to Willie and Mary at the Pacific Press in Oakland, California: “This lack of harmony is killing me. I have to keep my own counsel and have confidence in no one [in Battle Creek] . . . . Now, Willie, I have written freely and confidentially. I hope the Lord will preserve you well balanced. I hope you will not go to extremes in anything . . . and be molded by no one’s influence except it be the Spirit of God.”47

By Sabbath, July 16, Ellen White, with courage and candor, was ready to clear the air. She asked for her husband and Dr. Kellogg to meet with her privately. She read to them “a large number of pages.” The following Tuesday evening she called together the denominational leaders in Battle Creek and read to them the same pages she had read to James and Dr. Kellogg.

The results were most positive. Her next letter to Willie and Mary was cheerful, illuminating, and helpful to others who have experienced similar circumstances: “Why do men always carry things to extremes? They cannot stop when they have gone far enough, but they will, if the course of one is questioned, not feel content till they crush him. . . .

“The very men who would condemn him [James White] for sharpness in words and for dictating and being overbearing are tenfold more so when they dare to be, than he has ever been. . . . I have felt crushed and heartbroken for months, but I have laid my burden on my Saviour and I shall no longer be like a bruised reed. In the strength of Jesus I assert my freedom . . . .”

The letter continued, noting that her deepest concern was that the in-fighting among key leaders would cast a shadow over the validity of her prophetic ministry: I had been in continual fear that my husband’s mistakes and errors would be classed with the testimonies of the Spirit of God and my influence greatly injured. If I bore a plain testimony against existing wrongs they would say, ‘She is molded by her husband’s views and feelings.’ If I reproved my husband he would feel I was severe and others had prejudiced me against him.”

Then she summed up her appraisal of these two meetings: “I was crippled [in spirit], but I should be so no longer. I should act perfectly free. They might think of me as they pleased. I would give them reproof, warning, or encouragement as the Lord should give me. The burden of their questioning and doubts should no longer grieve me and close my lips. I should do my duty in the fear of God and if they would be tempted [by doubts about “influence”] I should not be responsible for this. I would cut my way through in the fear of God.”48

Uriah Smith, a co-worker of James White for thirty years, summed up the remarkable occasion with an upbeat report: “Oh, that all might be enabled to heed the good words of counsel and admonition! Then would the spirit of religion revive in all our hearts, and the cause of Christ would flourish in our midst.”49

Only those who are confident of their life mission and transparent enough for all contemporaries to trust their motives could face dilemmas as courageously as Ellen White did in Battle Creek, July 1881.


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Mary and John Loughborough were close friends of the Whites, both families fully committed to the Adventist assignment. Both had lost a child in the early 1860s. The two young mothers often exchanged thoughts and feelings. In June 1861, Mary (in her twenties) had written Ellen (now 33), asking her opinion regarding the latest fashion—wearing hoops. After sharing her counsel, Ellen used the opportunity to say something not easy to say: “Dear Mary, let your influence tell for God. You must take a position to exert an influence over others to bring them up in spirituality. . . .

“And Mary, suffer me a little upon this point. I wish in all sisterly and motherly kindness to kindly warn you upon another point: I have often noticed before others a manner you have in speaking to John in rather a dictating manner, the tone of your voice sounding impatient. Mary, others notice this and have spoken of it to me. It hurts your influence. . . .

“I have said more perhaps upon this point than necessary. Please watch this point. I am not reproving you, remember, but merely cautioning you. Never talk to John as though he were a little boy. You reverence him, and others will take an elevated position, Mary, and you will elevate others.

“Seek to be spiritually minded. We are doing work for eternity. Mary, be an example. We love you as one of our children, and I wish so much that you and John may prosper. . . . Please write me, Mary, fully. Tell me all your joys, trials, disappointments, et cetera. In much love, Ellen G. White.”50

We observe a beautiful example of Mrs. White’s enduring tactfulness while she was caring for her husband in northern Michigan in 1866/1867. James was in deep depression following serious nervous exhaustion due to overwork. He felt he had no future. Ellen, contrary to the opinions of all others including physicians, believed that trust in God, exercise, and a proper diet would offer her husband his best chance to recover. Each day they took a long walk until the first heavy snow came. James used the snowflakes as an excuse to stop walking!

Not for long. Ellen went to Brother Root, with whom they were staying, and asked to borrow a spare pair of boots. Then she trudged a quarter of a mile in the deep snow. Returning, she asked her husband to take their usual walk. He replied that no one could walk in that weather.

“Oh, yes, you can,” Ellen replied. “Surely you can step in my tracks.”

James, a man who had great respect for women, saw her tracks—and that morning “he took his usual walk.”51

Ellen White perceived that her husband also needed to exercise his brain. But he did not want to speak to anyone outside of the home. So she worked out a tactful plan. When a visitor would come with troubling questions, she would quickly invite him in before James could excuse himself. Then she would say, “Husband, here is a brother who has come to ask a question, and as you can answer it much better than I can, I have brought him to you.”

James remained in the room long enough to answer the question. Such ploys kept him exercising his mind and he slowly improved. When special spiritual leadership was required in Wright, Michigan, the Whites’ local church, Ellen provided much counsel, but “she was careful to see that her husband led out.”52

Later in 1867, the White family moved to their Greenville, Michigan, farm, again to help James recover his health. In preparing their garden, Mrs. White asked young Willie to buy three hoes and three rakes. James objected to his rake and hoe, but she took hers and began to work, blistering her hands. Reluctantly James followed, going through the motions. But soon he was harnessing the horses and buying house materials. He reported that he was beginning to sleep well at night and to awaken each morning refreshed. The faithful wife’s planning, perseverance, and tact were working, though slowly.

When July came, the hay was ready for cutting. James arranged with the neighbors to cut the hay and expected them to return later to stack it for winter. But his wife had a better plan. She went to these same neighbors and told them to excuse themselves, which they resisted at first.

When James’s call for help went out, all the neighbors excused themselves as being too busy. James was very disappointed, but Ellen, with typical cheerfulness, suggested that she and Willie would rake the hay and pitch it on the wagon if James would load it and drive the horses. But how would the stack be built?

The neighbors were astonished to see that little five-foot-two woman stamping the hay and building the stack while her husband pitched hay from the wagon.

What was happening to James? He reported to Review readers: “I have worked from six to twelve hours each day, and have enjoyed blessed sleep from six to nine hours each night. . . . My work has been haying, plowing, grading about the house, hoeing, and putting down carpets.”53 Ellen’s tact and courageous, resolute spirit prodded James into recovering his health.


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Many were the occasions when Ellen White showed her deep interest in young people. For example, she met a new Adventist family at the Oregon camp meeting in late June, 1878. Their teen-age daughter, Edith Donaldson, was eager for a Christian education at Battle Creek College. Mrs. White promptly suggested that Edith return with her to California and then on to Michigan. In a letter to her husband James, she manifested her kind heart. Describing Edith as a “girl of rare promise,” she wrote: “I want her to board at our house and receive all the attention she needs.”54

Ellen White received many letters from those who were suffering from disease or were mourning the death of loved ones. When the General Conference sent J. N. Andrews to Europe as the denomination’s first official missionary, they sent a man who had already lost his wife and two infant children to disease. He left America with Mary, his 12-year-old daughter, and Charles, age 17. Four years later, in 1878, Mary died of tuberculosis. Coupled with his wife’s early death and now Mary, Andrews felt that he was holding on to God “with a numb hand.”55

One of Her Kindest Letters

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Ellen White wrote to her long-time friend one of her kindest letters, which included the following words: “We have drunk at the same cup of sorrow, but it was mingled with joy and rest and peace in Jesus. [Ellen had lost two sons to disease.] . . . The cloud of mercy is hovering over your head even in the darkest hour. God’s benefits to us are numerous as the drops of rain falling from the clouds upon the parched earth. . . . The mercy of God is over you.

“Mary, dear precious child, is at rest. She was the companion of your sorrows and disappointed hopes. She will no more have grief or want or distress. Through faith’s discerning eye you may anticipate, amid your sorrows and griefs and perplexities, your Mary with her mother and other members of your family answering the call of the Life-giver and coming forth from their prison house triumphing over death and the grave. . . . You with them erelong, if faithful, will be walking in the streets of the New Jerusalem. . . . Could your eyes be opened, you would see your heavenly Father bending over you in love; and could you hear His voice it would be in tones of compassion to you who are prostrate with suffering and affliction. Stand fast in His strength; there is rest for you.”56

Dr. John Harvey Kellogg grew up like a son to Ellen White. The Whites assisted him financially in his medical training and strongly supported him in developing the health work in Battle Creek.57 But in 1904 Dr. Kellogg had charted a course that could potentially divide the church. In a message to be given at the Lake Union constituency meeting in late May, Ellen White spoke of her sympathy for her old friend but that “unless he changes his course, and takes an entirely different course, he will be lost to the cause of God. . . . I have lain awake night after night, studying how I could help Dr. Kellogg. . . . I have spent nearly whole nights in prayer for him.”

She would do her best to stand in the breach between Dr. Kellogg and church leaders. She wrote to Elders [A. G.] Daniells and [W. W.] Prescott, informing them that through a vision she knew that “now is our time to save Dr. Kellogg.”

She pressed her point, born out of a kind heart: “Not one of us is above temptation. There is a work that Dr. Kellogg is educated to perform as no other man in our ranks can perform. . . . We are to draw with all our power, not making accusations, not prescribing what he must do, but letting him see that we are not willing that any should perish.” Then she asked, “Is it not worth the trial?”58

Matters did not develop as Ellen White had hoped. Prospects of unity were bleak. Yet she wrote to Elder Daniells: “If we can do him [Kellogg] good in any way, let us show that we do not want to hurt him, but to help him. Let us avoid everything that would provoke retaliation. Let us give no occasion for contention.”59

Earlier, during the dark days of the Civil War, Adventists were feeling their way along regarding noncombatancy. Though the various State governments, as well as the Federal, had granted recognition to Seventh-day Adventists as noncombatants, the issue was far from clear among field commanders, as well as among many young Adventists.

Enoch Hayes, who had joined the army, was disfellowshipped from the “membership of the Battle Creek church, by a unanimous vote of the church, March 4, 1865.” When Ellen White heard of this action she responded with that touch of kindness that characterized her ministry. She expressed her conviction that the young man should not be disfellowshipped for following his conscience and answering the call of his country. The result: The action was rescinded and the young man remained a member in “good and regular standing.” Kindness overruled.60


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1. James cut hay in the summer of 1848 and earned $40, part of the money going to clothing and the rest for travel to meet speaking appointments—Bio., vol. 1, p. 140.

2. Ibid., p. 205.

3. Virgil Robinson, James White (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1976), pp. 81-87; W. C. White, “Sketches and Memories of James and Ellen G. White, XXIV—Settling in Battle Creek,” Review and Herald, Aug. 22, 1935.

4. Bio., vol. 1, p. 230.

5. Ibid., vol. 2, pp. 439, 440.

6. Ibid., vol. 3, p. 293. At the Minneapolis Conference, 1888, the officers had rented two elegant rooms, richly furnished. Ellen White demurred and found another room in the boardinghouse, plainly furnished.—Ibid., p. 390.

7. Manuscript Releases, vol. 10, p. 27 (Hereafter, MR).

8. Bio., vol. 4, pp. 138-140.

9. Ibid., p. 343.

10. Emmett K. VandeVere, “Years of Expansion, 1865-1885,” in Land, Adventism in America, p. 67.

11. Manuscript 3, 1888, cited in Arthur White, Ellen G. White, Messenger to the Remnant, Ellen G. White Publications, 1956, p. 123.

12. General Conference Bulletin, March 20, 1891, p. 184.

13. SDAE, vol. 10, 1996, p. 410.

14. Review and Herald, August 30, 1923. See also Ibid., July 26, 1906, for Ellen White’s account of her ministry to orphans and others in her home.

15. Bio., vol. 4, p. 44.

16. Ibid., p. 69.

17. Ibid., p. 266.

18. Ibid., p. 371.

19. Schwarz, Light Bearers, p. 311.

20. Christian, Fruitage of Spiritual Gifts, p. 49.

21. Letter 4, 1850, MR, vol. 1, p. 31.

22. For background on this experience and how Ellen White related to her specific duty in delivering divine messages, see Testimonies, vol. 1, pp. 583-585.

23. Bio., vol. 2, pp. 383, 384.

24. Ibid., vol. 3, pp. 425, 426.

25. Ibid., p. 164.

26. Ibid., vol. 6, p. 389.

27. Ibid., vol. 1, p. 205.

28. Ibid., pp. 295, 301.

29. Ibid., vol. 2, pp. 225, 226.

30. Ibid., p. 252.

31. Ibid., vol. 3, pp. 36, 37.

32. Ibid., p. 42.

33. Ibid., p. 44.

34. Ibid., pp. 142, 143. See also p. 104.

35. Ibid., p. 241.

36. Ibid., p. 242.

37. Ellen White’s two years in Europe seemed to surpass even her North American schedule for prodigious activity in writing, speaking, and traveling, often under most severe conditions. See Delafield, Ellen G. White in Europe.

38. Historical Sketches, p. 123.

39. Life Sketches, p. 70.

40. See pp. 89, 90.

41. Bio., vol. 2, pp. 157, 159.

42. Ibid., pp. 160-170.

43. See Ibid., pp. 277-284 for how these allegations were handled in Battle Creek in 1870.

44. Ibid., vol. 3, pp. 344, 345.

45. Ibid., vol. 1, p. 337.

46. Letter 1a, 1881.

47. Letter 5a, 1881.

48. Letter 8a, 1881.

49. Review and Herald, July 19, 1881.

50. Bio., vol. 1, pp. 468, 469.

51. Ibid., vol. 2, p. 161.

52. Ibid., pp. 162, 165.

53. Ibid., pp. 188, 189.

54. Bio., vol. 3, pp. 88, 89.

55. Maxwell, Tell It to the World, pp. 171-173.

56. In Heavenly Places, p. 272.

57. Richard W. Schwarz, John Harvey Kellogg, M. D. (Nashville, TN: Southern Publishing Association, 1970), p. 30.

58. Bio., vol. 5, pp. 331-333.

59. Ibid., p. 339.

60. George R. Knight, “1862-1865: Adventists at War,” Adventist Review, April 4, 1991.

Study Questions

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1. How do you account for the remarkable confidence that strong-minded men had so early in the ministry of Ellen White?

2. How would you respond to the suggestion that Ellen White did not live what she advocated?

3. Review the events that prompted Ellen White’s remarkable generosity and frugality.

4. What examples would you give that illustrate Ellen White’s courage and perseverance?

5. How did Ellen White use courage and common sense in rehabilitating her husband James in the winter of 1866-1867?

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