Ellen Gould White

From New World Encyclopedia

James and Ellen White.

Ellen Gould White (née Harmon) (November 26, 1827 - July 16, 1915) was co-founder of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, prolific writer, lecturer, and counselor to the church, who possessed what Seventh-day Adventists have accepted as the prophetic gift described in the Bible as the Spirit of Prophecy.

A contemporary of Mary Baker Eddy (founder of Christian Science) and Joseph Smith, Jr. (founder of Mormonism), White's prophetic ministry was instrumental in founding the Sabbatarian Adventist movement that led to the rise of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

White's involvement with other Sabbatarian Adventist leaders, such as Joseph Bates and her husband, James White, created a nucleus of believers around which a core group of shared beliefs would emerge. Ellen White believed that Jesus Christ would return to this earth soon to claim his remnant people and take them to heaven.

Followers of Ellen G. White regard her as a modern-day prophet. She was a controversial figure within her own lifetime, and today there are those (primarily in "mainline" Christian churches) who continue to regard her as a heretic. Her teachings are based upon "visions" she received, the first coming soon after the Millerite Great Disappointment, when Jesus did not return as predicted. In the context of many other visionaries, she was known for her conviction and fervent faith.

With the sole exception of Agatha Christie, White is said to be the most translated female writer in the history of literature and the most translated American author of either gender. Her writings covered topics of theology, evangelism, education, health, and Christian lifestyle. She was a leader who emphasized education and health, advocated vegetarianism, and promoted the establishment of schools and medical centers. 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. Among her works is the popular Christian book, Steps to Christ.

Today, adherents to denominations originating from Ellen White's teachings number approximately fourteen million.

Early life, family, and religious experiences

Ellen Gould Harmon was born November 26, 1827, on the family farm north of the small town of Gorham, Maine, just west of the city of Portland. Her parents, Robert Harmon and Eunice Gould Harmon, both of British ancestry, were natives of New England. The Harmons had eight children, two sons and six daughters, of which Ellen and her twin sister, Elizabeth, were the youngest.

When Ellen was nine years old, her family moved to Portland. That same year, she suffered an injury that disfigured her face and kept her out of school for some time. Severely traumatized, she remained unconscious for three weeks. Later, she attended Portland's Westbrook Seminary and Female College, finishing in 1839. The following year, she experienced a religious conversion at a Methodist camp meeting that led to her baptism in that church in June 1842.

In 1840, at age 12, her family became involved with the Millerite movement, followers of William Miller. Through attending Miller's lectures, she felt that she was a guilty sinner, and was filled with terror about being eternally lost. She described herself as spending nights in tears and prayer, and being in this condition for several months. She was baptized by John Hobart in Casco Bay in Portland, Maine, and eagerly awaited for Jesus to come again. In her later years, she referred to this as the happiest time of her life. Her family's involvement with Millerism caused the eventual disfellowship of her entire family from the Methodist church they attended.[1]

William Miller was preaching the imminent return of Christ, predicted for October 22, 1844. When the Second Coming of Christ did not occur on that date, the occasion became known as the Great Disappointment because so many people abandoned the group when Jesus did not appear as predicted. The Great Disappointment is a point of ridicule of the Adventists.[2]

Ellen Harmon was among a number of Millerites who did not abandon millenarianism. They instead reinterpreted Miller's prophesied date to be the point at which a screening process began for gathering the names of all those who would be saved when the Second Coming actually did occur. Soon after, Ellen Harmon began reporting a long series of visions through which she became the bearer of messages designed to bolster the faith of discouraged Millerites.

On a trip to Orrington, Maine, in early 1845, Ellen met James White, a young Adventist preacher. He had heard of Ellen and her reputation as a devoted and active Christian among the Portland Adventists. The two married in the city of Portland, Maine, on August 30, 1846.

The Whites had four children, all sons: Henry Nichols, born August 26, 1847, James Edson born in July 1849, William Clarence, born in August 1854, and John Herbert was born Sept. 20, 1860; however, he lived only a few months. Henry died from pneumonia in 1863, at the age of 16.

Early ministry 1844-1860

It was shortly after the Great Disappointment in December 1844, that Ellen Harmon, at the age of 17, received her first vision. It was at a time when many Millerites were wavering in their faith.

On this particular day, Miss Harmon was with four other women in family worship at the home of a close friend in Portland. While the group was praying, she received her first vision, in which she saw a group of Adventists traveling together to the City of God. Reporting this to others at the prayer meeting, they believed that it was a message from God, who wanted to encourage them in the difficult days following the Great Disappointment. After experiencing several additional visions, Ellen believed it was her duty to share her visions with the scattered Adventist communities and set out with companions.

She described the vision experience as involving a bright light which would surround her. In these visions, she would be in the presence of Jesus or angels, who would show her events (historical and future) and places (on earth, in heaven, or other planets), or give her information. She described the end of her visions as involving a return to the darkness of the earth.

Soon after this time, James and Ellen White began to study Joseph Bates' advocation of the observance of the seventh-day (Saturday) Sabbath. Believing this was supported by scriptural evidence, they began to observe the Sabbath in the same manner in the autumn of 1846. On April 3, 1847, Ellen White experienced a vision in which she saw the law of God in the ark of the heavenly sanctuary with a halo of light encircling the fourth commandment. This vision brought confirmation to them of the correctness of their belief in Sabbath keeping, as well as a deeper conviction of the Sabbath’s significance.

On March 14, 1858, in Lovett's Grove, Ohio, White received a vision while attending a funeral service. In writing about the vision, she stated that she received practical instruction for church members, and more significantly, a cosmic sweep of the conflict "between Christ and His angels, and Satan and his angels." Ellen White would expand upon this great controversy theme which would eventually culminate in the Conflict of the Ages series.[3]

The transcriptions of White's visions generally contain theology, prophecy, or personal counsel to individuals or to Adventist leaders. One of the best examples of her personal counsels is found in a series of books entitled, Testimonies for the Church, that contain edited testimonies published for the general edification of the church. The spoken and written versions of her visions played a significant part in establishing and shaping the organizational structure of the emerging Sabbatarian Adventist Church. Her visions and writings continue to be used by church leaders in developing the church's ethical standards and policies, and for devotional reading.

Middle life 1861-1881

From 1861 to 1881, Ellen White's prophetic ministry became increasingly recognized among Sabbatarian Adventists. Her frequent articles in the Review and Herald and other church publications were a unifying influence to the fledgling church. She supported her husband in the church's need for formal organization. The result was the organization of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in 1863.

Health reform

The organization of the General Conference took place in May of 1863. The following month, while the Whites were visiting Otsego, Michigan, Mrs. White experienced a comprehensive vision, which was to have far-reaching implications. This vision covered the areas of health and preventive medicine. Included in the vision were the causes of disease, nutrition, child care, the care of the sick, remedial agencies, stimulants and narcotics, and even healthful attire. The vision stressed the responsibility of each individual in caring for the health of his or her own mind and body.

Soon after, a program of health education was inaugurated in the Seventh Day Adventist ranks. As an introductory step, six pamphlets entitled, Health; or, How to Live, were published in 1865, by James White, compiled from various authors. Mrs. White contributed an article to each of the pamphlets.

On Christmas Day 1865, Mrs. White received divine instruction to establish an institution to care for the sick, while teaching the patients the principles of healthful living. In obedience to this instruction, the Western Health Reform Institute, later known as the Battle Creek Sanatorium, was opened in September 1866.

Battle Creek College

Late summer and autumn of 1874 found the Whites again visiting Michigan to attend the General Conference session. They held services, wrote, and assisted with the Biblical Institute while there.

Battle Creek College, the first Seventh Day Adventist educational institution was created, and the dedication ceremony took place on January 4, 1875. Addressing a group who had gathered from a number of states, she related what she had seen in vision the previous afternoon.

This vision outlined a larger work that Seventh-day Adventists needed to accomplish. She spoke of seeing printing presses operating in other countries and a well-organized church structure throughout the world, though until that time such growth had not been considered.

The death of James White

James White's failing health led him and Ellen to spend the winter of 1878–1879 in Texas. These two years found him in inconsistent health, sometimes quite well and able to work, and other times bedridden.

Long years of hard work had taken their toll on his health and strength. He died following an acute illness of less than a week, diagnosed as malarial fever, in the Battle Creek Sanatorium on Sabbath afternoon, August 6, 1881. He was 60 years old.

The funeral services were held at Battle Creek Tabernacle a week later. Mrs. White stood at the side of her husband’s casket and redetermined herself to continue on in the mission that had been entrusted to her, despite the loss of her husband.

She soon returned to the West Coast, where she busily engaged in writing the fourth and last volume of The Spirit of Prophecy. This long-awaited volume detailed the story of conflict from the destruction of Jerusalem to the end of time. This 506-page volume, released in 1884, was well received. Soon, an illustrated edition geared to the general public was published, under the title, The Great Controversy Between Christ and Satan. Within a three-year period, 50,000 copies were printed and sold.

The later years 1882-1915

After 1882, Ellen White was assisted by a close circle of friends and associates who helped her in preparing her writings for publications. She also carried on an extensive correspondence with church leaders.


Following the second session of the European Missionary Council in mid-1884, Mrs. White and her son, W.C. White, went on a two year trip to the European missions. Though she was suffering from poor health, she spent from August 1885 to August 1887 on the European continent.

The duo stayed at the European church headquarters in Basel, Switzerland. From there they made repeated trips to Denmark, England, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, and Sweden. Mrs. White had particular interest in the Waldensian valleys in northern Italy. She had previously experienced visions relating to incidents in the Middle Ages and the time of the Protestant Reformation that had occurred in this area.

During this time, Mrs. White undertook the expansion of the recently issued "Spirit of Prophecy; The Great Controversy." The result was the enlarged book The Great Controversy Between Christ and Satan During the Christian Dispensation, first published in the spring of 1888. She developed the plan to turn this into a five-book series presenting the controversy throughout the period of world history.

Upon her return to the United States, she promoted E.J. Waggoner and A.T. Jones, young ministers, in preparation for a more Christocentric theology for the church. Church leaders resisted, and responded by encouraging her to visit Australia as a missionary, where she spent nine years.

Return to America

Ellen White returned to the United States in 1900. One of her first actions was to call for church re-organization during the pivotal 1901 General Conference Session.

During her later years, she wrote extensively for church publications and wrote her final books, including a new edition with historical revisions expounding the title, The Great Controversy (1911).

At the age of 81, Mrs. White was back in Washington again, attending and speaking at the General Conference session of 1909. After this meeting, she was able to visit her old home city of Portland, Maine. There, she again bore her testimony in the place where her work had begun 65 years earlier. During the five month 1909 journey, her last trip to the Eastern states, she spoke 72 times in 27 different places.

The final days

In her final years, Mrs. White decreased her travel. She continued, though, to write extensively and to give counsel to the church.

Ellen Gould White died on July 16, 1915, at the age of 87 years. She was laid to rest July 24, beside her husband in the Oak Hill Cemetery at Battle Creek. She had lived a public life for seven decades, often in obedience to her visions. During her lifetime she saw the movement grow from a handful of believers to a world-wide congregation with a membership of 136,879 at the time of her death.


The Seventh-day Adventist Church is generally split as to how to regard the writings of Ellen Gould White. Some devout Adventists believe that her writings are inspired and continue to have relevance for the church today. Others believe that her writings have devotional value only. The majority of Adventists fall somewhere within this continuum. Seventh-day Adventists began to discuss her writings at the 1919 Bible Conference, soon after her death. During the 1920s, the church adopted a Fundamentalist stance toward inspiration. However, during the 1940s and 1950s, church leaders such as Le Roy Edwin Froom and Roy Allan Anderson attempted to help evangelicals understand Seventh-day Adventists better; they engaged in an extended dialogue that resulted in the publication of "Questions on Doctrine" in 1956, that explained Adventists' beliefs in evangelical language. Some Adventists, such as Bert B. Beach, continue to try to raise the Adventist profile among evangelicals.

Ellen G. White's writings are considered divinely inspired, but not on a par with the Bible. Seventh-day Adventists believe that her writings are subject to the Bible's authority.

The Seventh Day Adventist Church is considered by a number of mainline churches to be a heretical sect, though it has gained respect and acceptance with time.

Ellen G. White Estate, Inc.

The Ellen G. White Estate, Inc., was formed as a result of Ellen G. White's will. It consisted of a small group of church leaders who formed a self-perpetuating board. The board continues to exist and manages a staff that includes a director, associates, and a small support staff at the main office located at the Seventh-day Adventist Church headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland. Branch Offices are located at Andrews University, Loma Linda University, and Oakwood College. There are many additional research centers located throughout the remaining divisions of the world church. The mission of the White Estate is to promote Ellen White's writings within the church. A secondary and related mission is to translate and make these writings available around the world. In 2000 the General Conference in world session expanded the mission of the White Estate to include a responsibility for promoting Adventist history for the world church.

Adventist historic sites

Several of Ellen G. White's homes are historic sites. The first home that she and her husband owned is now part of the Historic Adventist Village in Battle Creek, Michigan. Her other homes are privately owned with the exception of her home in Cooranbong, New South Wales, Australia, which she named "Sunnyside," and her last home in Saint Helena, California, which she named "Elmshaven." These latter two homes are owned by the Seventh-day Adventist Church and the "Elmshaven" home is also a National Historic Landmark.


No authoritative biography of Ellen G. White exists. The most extensive is the six-volume Ellen G. White: A Biography written by her grandson, Arthur L. White (1981-1985). The most authoritative work to-date is Ronald L. Number's analysis of Ellen G. White's health reform teachings in the context of other nineteenth-century health reformers, Ellen G. White: Prophetess of Health, rev. ed. (Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee, 1992). Thousands of articles and books have been written about various aspects of Ellen G. White's life and ministry. A large number of these can be found in the libraries at Loma Linda University and Andrews University—the two primary Seventh-day Adventist institutions with major research collections about Adventism.


  1. Merlin D. Burt, Ellen G. Harmon's Three Step Conversion Between 1836 and 1843 and the Harmon Family Methodist Experience (Andrews University, 1998).
  2. Gretchen Davidson, Truth and the Seventh Day Adventists. Retrieved February 5, 2008.
  3. Ellen White, Spiritual Gifts (1858), p. 266-272.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Noorbergen, Rene. Ellen G. White, Prophet of Destiny. New Canaan, Conn: Keats Pub, 1972. ISBN 087983014X
  • Numbers, Ronald L. Prophetess of Health a Study of Ellen G. White. New York: Harper & Row, 1976. ISBN 978-0060663254

External links

All links retrieved February 13, 2024.


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