The Ellen G. White Letters and Manuscripts: Volume 1


WHITE, James Springer (1821-1881) and Ellen Gould (1827-1915)

Cofounder of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, together with Ellen Gould White, his wife, and Joseph Bates. Born in Palmyra, Maine, James White preached for the Millerite Adventists in the early 1840s. In 1846 he married Ellen Harmon, and soon thereafter the Whites became Sabbatarians. They had four sons, of whom James Edson White and William Clarence White survived into adulthood. 1EGWLM 906.4

James White was recognized especially for his leadership qualities, pioneering publishing work, and business acumen. He established two publishing houses (Review and Herald, Pacific Press) and founded the major papers of the new movement, Present Truth (1849), Second Advent Review and Sabbath Herald (1850), Youth's Instructor (1852), and Signs of the Times (1874), being editor of all of them at various times. When subsequently the Seventh-day Adventist Publishing Association was organized in 1861, White served as its president until his death in 1881, except for a period of ill health (1865-1868). For a total of 10 years during the 1860s and 1870s, James White served as General Conference president and was prominent in the establishment of Battle Creek College in 1874. 1EGWLM 906.5

The Whites’ marriage was an unusual one in that both filled major leadership roles in the emerging church. Modern scholarship has not supported the contention of D. M. Canright, early critic of Seventh-day Adventism, that James dominated the marriage. However, the last years of their marriage were complicated by the effects of several strokes that James suffered, beginning in 1865. Although he was repeatedly able to recover mentally from the strokes and continue to provide effective church leadership, on the emotional level James at times became depressed, irritable, and hypercritical, something that negatively impacted his relationship with coworkers as well as with Ellen. “I can but dread … James's changeable moods, his strong feelings, his censures,” Ellen confided to her close friend Lucinda Hall in 1876. 1EGWLM 907.1

Through the years Ellen made heroic efforts to help her husband regain his physical and emotional health, but during the last five or six years of James's life his moods became so difficult that at times this prompted her to respond in ways that led her later to apologize for anything she had said that caused him grief or distress. His negative moods also made it difficult for Ellen to write in peace or to meet speaking appointments, and at times she agonized over whether or not it was her duty to work apart from James for a period to carry out her felt duties to the church. Ellen's absences from James in 1874 (two months), 1876 (two months), 1878 (three to four months) and 1880 (five months) were at least in part because of such concerns. Throughout these difficult years, however, the underlying affection between Ellen and James is clearly evident from their correspondence. 1EGWLM 907.2

See: Obituary: “Fallen at His Post,” Review, Aug. 9, 1881, pp. 104, 105; obituary: “The Life and Labors of Mrs. Ellen G. White,” Review, July 29, 1915, pp. 3-5; Dudley Marvin Canright, Life of Mrs. E. G. White, pp. 63-79; Ronald D. Graybill, “The Power of Prophecy,” pp. 24, 10, 11, 25; Ellen G. White, Lt 64, 1876 (May 10). For general biographies of James White, see Virgil Robinson, James White, and Gerald Wheeler, James White: Innovator and Overcomer. Useful biographical information is also found in Andrew Gordon Mustard, James White and SDA Organization, and the first three volumes of Arthur L. White's biography of Ellen G. White: Ellen G. White: The Early Years; Ellen G. White: The Progressive Years, esp. pp. 424-445; and Ellen G. White: The Lonely Years. 1EGWLM 907.3