Maine: An Encyclopedia

White, Ellen Gould Harmon

Selected Works . . .

A Sketch of the Christian Experience and Views of Ellen G. White (1851)

The Great Controversy between Christ and Satan during the Christian Dispensation (1858)

The Spirit of Prophecy, Vol. 1 (1870)

Life Sketches. Ancestry, Early Life, Christian Experience, and Extensive Labors of Elder James White, and his wife Mrs. Ellen G. White (1880)

Patriarchs and Prophets, or, The Great Conflict between Good and Evil: as Illustrated in the Lives of Holy Men of Old (c. 1890)

The Acts of the Apostles in the Proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (1911)

(1827-1915) was the co-founder of the Seventh Day Adventist Church. With her twin sister Elizabeth, Ellen was born on November 26, 1827, to Robert and Eunice Harmon. The family, including eight children, lived on a small farm near the Gorham. A few years after the birth of the twins, Robert Harmon gave up farming, and, with his family, moved to Portland.

During her childhood, White assisted about the home and helped her father in the manufacture of hats. At the age of nine, while returning home from school, she was severely injured in the face by a stone thrown by a classmate. Her formal education ended abruptly, and it appeared that she could not live long.

When she finally revived, her face was disfigured and she never regained good health, but that event has been used to explain the beginning of her trances and visions that led to her large following as a founder of the Seventh Day Adventist Church.

In the year 1840, White attended a Methodist camp meeting at Buxton, 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.

Ellen and her family had been devout Methodists until 1842 when they were expelled from the church for listening to the message of Adventist William Miller who predicted Christ’s return to earth in 1843. Obviously this did not happen, but in 1844 she was in a small women’s prayer group when she fell into a trance and reported that she had a vision of the Advent people “far above the dark world” on their pilgrimage to the City of God. This first vision was followed by thousands more during her lifetime.

Although she was frail and often could not speak audibly, she started spreading her message to whomever wished to hear it. At age 17, now a devout Seventh Day Adventist, she reportedly had a vision that was accepted by others as inspired by God. According to a brief biography

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.*

When she was 18 years old in 1845, she traveled around spreading the word of Christ’s return but this time without an exact date. She began advocating for the seventh-day (Saturday) Sabbath. On August 30, 1846 she married a man who also suffered from poor health, James Springer White of Orrington, an Adventist preacher. Both worked tirelessly preaching and writing. Of their four children, two survived and worked with their parents to spread the word.

By 1860 with their headquarters in Battle Creek, Michigan, the Adventist movement was well established . They incorporated a publishing house and selected Seventh Day Adventist as the official name for their church forming a General Conference in 1863.

Still, many decisions about church activities were strongly influenced by White and her visions. Not only did she have a large influence over this growing religion, but she was also an advocate for good health, due to the poor health of her and family. In 1863, Ellen White reported a vision of the relationship “of physical health to spirituality, of the importance of following right principles in diet and in the care of the body, and of the benefits of nature’s remedies–clean air, sunshine, exercise, and pure water.”

She helped establish the Western Health Reform Institute in Battle Creek in 1866 which became the Battle Creek Sanitarium, a prototype for Adventist institutions throughout the world. Over the years, the Adventist Church has founded many hospitals, including Parkview Hospital in Brunswick.

Ellen White believed that education should be child centered and not subject centered. The church founded Battle Creek College in 1874 with her husband as president and opened other Seventh-Day Adventist schools using her educational ideas. Before the Civil War, she was opposed to slavery and encouraged others to help out in the Underground Railroad.

She attracted crowds of thousands to hear her speeches. After her husband died in 1881, she continued to write, revising her Testimonies for the Church until it reached nine volumes. Under her influence, and that of her husband, the Advent movement grew from a very small number to nearly 140,000 at the time of her death.

White traveled all over the world to spread the word and was active for the church until her death on July 16, 1915 at age 87. Four thousand people attended her funeral in Battle Creek where she is buried in the Oak Hill Cemetery beside her husband.

Additional resources

*Arthur L. White. Ellen G. White: A Brief Biography. Ellen G. White Estate, Inc., Silver Spring, Maryland. Internet site. 2002.

Goen, C.C. “Ellen Gould Harmon White” in Notable American Women. Cambridge. Harvard University Press. 1971, vol. 1, pp. 585-588.

Jordan, Anne Devereaux. The Seventh-Day Adventists : A History. New York. Hippocrene Books. 1988

Numbers, Ronald L. Prophetess of Health: A Study of Ellen G. White. New York. Harper & Row. 1976.

With substantial material contributed by Amanda Edmondson, Topsham, Maine, 2008.

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