Ellen G. White® Estate
Sharing the Vision
by Arthur L. White
Who was Ellen G. White, and why do millions consider her writings of special value and significance?
There are many books available for purchase online about the Life and Work of Ellen G. White.
In brief, 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.
Ellen, with 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.
During her 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.
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
White’s pen setting forth prophetic views of the future
of the church and sounding notes of warning and counsel.
1851 marked the appearance of Mrs. White’s 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 Youth’s
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.
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 God’s 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.
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 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,
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
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
Christ’s 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
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. White’s 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.
White’s presence at the denominational headquarters helped
establish confidence in the decision to move east.
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
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. White’s life were devoted
to the book Prophets and Kings.
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.
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.
EGW Writings books are available for purchase online on the Life and Work of Ellen G. White from AdventistBookCenter.com Website.
Thought for the Day
In this age of boasted enlightenment, the Christian church is confronted with a world lying in midnight darkness. - TM 457