The Ellen G. White Letters and Manuscripts: Volume 1


BUTLER, George Ide (1834-1918) and (first wife) Lentha Ames (1826-1901) and (second wife) Elizabeth Jane (1845-1927)

An administrator and evangelist, George I. Butler was born in Vermont. His grandfather, Ezra Pitt Butler, had been governor of Vermont, and his parents, Ezra Pitt and Sarah G. Butler, were pioneer Sabbatarian Adventists who had been active in William Miller's movement of the 1840s. George, on the other hand, had skeptical tendencies in his youth and was not converted until he was 22 years old. In 1859, while living in Iowa, he married Lentha Lockwood, who had taken part in the Millerite movement and had started to keep the Sabbath about 1846. 1EGWLM 801.2

Described in an obituary as having “splendid executive ability,” G. I. Butler was elected president of the Iowa Conference in 1865 before even being licensed as a minister. For the next 23 years, often concurrently, Butler served as president of various church entities: Iowa Conference (1865-1872, 1876-1877, 1879-1882, 1885-1886), Missouri Conference (1877-1882), General Conference (1871-1874, 1880-1888) and the Seventh-day Adventist Publishing Association (1881-1889). 1EGWLM 801.3

The last two years of Butler's General Conference presidency, 1886-1888, were times of personal crisis as he faced emerging teachings championed by A. T. Jones and E. J. Waggoner. Butler (and many with him) insisted that their interpretation of the “law” in Galatians 3:24 and their focus on righteousness through Christ gave aid to critics of the Sabbath and undermined traditional Adventist respect for the ten-commandment law. Using the leverage of his presidential office, Butler sought to oppose the “new” teachings and to enlist Ellen White's support. When her backing did not materialize and she openly supported Jones and Waggoner at the 1888 Minneapolis General Conference session, Butler, broken in health, promptly resigned his office. He spent the next 13 years in retirement running a fruit farm in Bowling Green, Florida, and nursing Lentha, who had become partially paralyzed following a stroke about 1891. Following her death in 1901, Butler was quickly coopted for the presidency of the Florida Conference (1901-1904) and the Southern Union Conference (1902-1907). His second marriage, in 1907, was to a widow, Elizabeth Jane Grainger (née Work), earlier a teacher at Healdsburg College and missionary to Japan, together with her husband, W. C. Grainger. 1EGWLM 801.4

“I never had more unbounded faith in the Testimonies than now,” Butler exclaimed in 1882. Earlier, in the mid-1870s, as president of the Iowa Conference, he had vigorously supported the visions against the attacks of the Marion Party. Even when Butler himself became the object of censure in a testimony, he was open to accept it. Thus, when in 1875 he received a testimony that he interpreted as a call for his resignation as General Conference president, Butler reacted with alacrity: “My mind was settled before the reading of the testimony was finished. I resigned at once.” The testimonies he received during the theological crises of 1886-1888, however, were a much more severe test for Butler. For a time, in 1888, Ellen White even classed him with those “who appear to be defenders of the Testimonies, but are their real assailants.” Finding himself unsupported and even opposed by Ellen White on the issues of the law in Galatians and the new focus on righteousness in Christ, Butler refused to budge. In response to an 1888 letter from Ellen White pointing out his part in the Galatians dispute, Butler retorted, “I have not, Sister White, been able to see the justice of your letter of April 5, 1887, and never expect to.” Not until five years later did Butler begin to admit that he may have been on the wrong side on some of those issues. For Lentha, it was an even longer struggle. “My poor wife,” Butler wrote in 1904, “never could get her feelings fully brought around until just a little while before her death.” Looking back over his life experiences in 1906, Butler remarked to J. H. Kellogg, “I have had Testimonies, I tell you, that shaved [me] to the very quick … and it takes a lot of study before you can really come to the point of cheerfully accepting them.” Unlike Kellogg, however, Butler retained his confidence in the testimonies of Ellen White, declaring in his old age, in 1907, “I do not suppose there is anyone who believes them any more strongly than I do.” 1EGWLM 802.1

See: Obituary: “George I. Butler,” Review, Aug. 8, 1918, p. 2; “George Ide Butler,” Review, Aug. 29, 1918, pp. 14-16; obituary: “Lentha Ames Butler,” Review, Dec. 3, 1901, p. 990; obituary: “Elizabeth Jane Butler,” Review, June 28, 1928, p. 22; G. I. Butler to Ellen G. White, June 28, 1882 and Oct. 1, 1888; G. I. Butler to James White, Mar. 29, 1875; G. I. Butler to “Uncle Stephen” [S. N. Haskell], Apr. 22, 1893; G. I. Butler to J. H. Kellogg, Mar. 7, 1906, as in Emmett K. Vande Vere, Rugged Heart, p. 126; G. I. Butler to F. E. Belden, June 20, 1907; Ellen G. White, Lt 18, 1888 (Dec. 11); E. G. White, Testimony for the Church, No. 25 (Battle Creek, Mich.: Steam Press of the Seventh-day Adventist Pub. Assn., 1875), p. 72 [special edition, original at Center for Adventist Research, Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Mich.]. For a general account of G. I. Butler's life, see Emmett K. Vande Vere, Rugged Heart: The Story of George I. Butler. 1EGWLM 802.2