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Ellen G. White A Brief Biographical Sketch

Ellen G. Harmon and her twin sister were born November 26, 1827, at Gorham, near Portland, Maine, in northern New England. When nine years of age, Ellen was involved in an accident in which a stone was thrown by a thoughtless classmate. The severe face injury nearly cost her life and left her much weakened. Soon it was evident that she was physically unable to continue her schooling. 1TT 13.1

At the age of eleven, while attending a Methodist camp meeting with her parents, Robert and Eunice Harmon, Ellen gave her heart to God. Shortly thereafter she was baptized by immersion in the sea and was received as a member of the Methodist Church. With other members of her family she attended the Adventist meetings in Portland, which began in 1840. She accepted fully the views of the nearness of the second advent of Christ presented by William Miller and his associates, and confidently looked for the Saviour's imminent return. 1TT 13.2

The keenness of the great disappointment of October 22, 1844, was not lessened by Ellen's youth. She, with others, in the succeeding days of perplexity, sought God earnestly for light and guidance. One morning in December, 1844, while praying with four women, the power of God rested upon her. At first she was lost to earthly things; then in a figurative revelation she witnessed the travels of the Advent people to the city of God. She was also shown the reward of the faithful. With trembling, the seventeen-year-old girl related this and succeeding visions to her fellow believers in Portland. Then, as opportunity afforded, she recounted them to companies of Adventists in Maine and near-by states. 1TT 13.3

In August, 1846, Ellen Harmon was united in marriage with James White, a youthful Adventist minister. Through the next thirty-five years Mrs. White's life was closely linked with that of her husband in strenuous gospel work until his death, August 6, 1881. They traveled extensively in the United States, preaching and writing, planting and building, organizing and administering. Time and test have proved how broad and firm were the foundations they laid, and how wisely and well they built. They led out among Sabbathkeeping Adventists in inaugurating the publishing work in 1849 and 1850, and in developing church organization with a sound system of church finance in the late fifties. This was culminated by the organization of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in 1863. The middle sixties marked the beginnings of our medical work, and the great educational work of the denomination had its inception in the early seventies. The plan of holding annual camp meetings was developed in 1868, and in 1874 Seventh-day Adventists sent their first missionary abroad from the United States. 1TT 14.1

Leading in all of these advancements, as well as in the full development and operation of these lines of endeavor, were the messages of counsel, instruction, and encouragement which came to the church in oral discourse and from the tireless pen of Ellen G. White. At first the communications to the church reached the members by individual letters, or through articles in Present Truth. Then in 1851 Mrs. White issued her first book, a sixty-four-page work entitled, A Sketch of the Christian Experience and Views of Ellen G. White. Beginning with 1855 a series of numbered pamphlets was published, each bearing the title of Testimony for the Church. These made available messages of instruction and correction which, from time to time, God chose to send to bless, reprove, and guide His people. To meet the continued demand for this instruction, it was republished in 1885 in four bound books, and with the addition of other volumes, which appeared from 1889 to 1909, constitutes a set of nine volumes of Testimonies for the Church. 1TT 14.2

Though much of their time was spent in travel and public labor, Elder and Mrs. White resided in the Eastern states until 1855. For the next seventeen years they made their home in the State of Michigan. From 1872 to the time of Elder White's death in 1881, they resided largely in California. Although never too strong, Mrs. White through middle life enjoyed good health. 1TT 15.1

Four children were born to the Whites. The eldest boy, Henry, lived to the age of sixteen, the youngest boy, Herbert, died at the age of three months. The two middle boys, Edson and William, lived to maturity and each engaged actively in the work of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination. 1TT 15.2

In response to the request of the General Conference, Mrs. White went to Europe in the summer of 1885. There she spent two years in strengthening the newly developed work on the Continent. Making her home at Basel, Swizerland, she traveled extensively through Southern, Central, and Northern Europe, attending the general gatherings of the church and meeting with believers in their congregations. Four years were then spent in the United States. In 1891, in response to the call of the General Conference, she sailed to Australia. There she resided for nine years and aided in pioneering and developing the work, especially in educational and medical lines, in the great Australasian field. Mrs. White returned to the United States in 1900 and made her home on the West Coast at St. Helena, California, until her death in 1915. 1TT 15.3

During her entire lifetime of service Mrs. White's influence was felt throughout the ranks of Seventh-day Adventists. She visited churches, took part in the General Conference sessions, and, when possible, the camp meetings. Often such labor took her from one camp meeting to another through an entire season, when she addressed the church members and large gatherings of the general public. 1TT 15.4

For several decades articles from her pen appeared regularly in the journals of the denomination. These weekly, inspired messages exerted a quiet but large molding influence. From time to time her books came from the press to be eagerly read and reread. The task of setting before the church and the world the instruction and the information which had been imparted to her through vision was a lifetime work. The visions continued all through her life's experience. Early among these, in 1858, was the comprehensive basic vision of The Great Controversy. Within six months of the revelation, the matter was ready for the public in the form of the little book Spiritual Gifts, volume 1, “The Great Controversy Between Christ and His Angels and Satan and His Angels” (Early Writings, part 3). In many succeeding visions the great controversy account was opened up in greater detail, and Mrs. White rewrote it, first in the seventies and eighties in the four volumes of the Spirit of Prophecy and later in the volumes of the Conflict of the Ages Series—Patriarchs and Prophets, Prophets and Kings, The Desire of Ages, Acts of the Apostles, and The Great Controversy. Other works from Mrs. White's pen which have exerted a wide, molding influence are The Ministry of Healing, Christ's Object Lessons, Education, Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, and half a score of volumes devoted to special lines of counsel, as Gospel Workers, Colporteur Evangelist, Counsels to Parents, Teachers, and Students, etc. The well-known work Steps to Christ has been read by millions in sixty languages. 1TT 16.1

In 1909 Mrs. White, at the age of eighty-one, attended the General Conference session held in Washington, D. C. This was her last transcontinental journey. The succeeding five years were devoted to the preparing of articles for the denominational journals and to the publication of her books. Near the close of her life she declared: “Whether or not my life is spared, my writings will constantly speak, and their work will go forward as long as time shall last.”—Writing and Sending Out of the Testimonies for the Church, pages 12, 13. 1TT 16.2

Although Mrs. White remained active in literary work until early 1915, she did not, during the last three years of her life, labor under the great burden of writing which had characterized her work through the long years of her life. With undaunted courage and in full confidence in her Redeemer, she fell asleep at her own home, July 16, 1915, and was laid to rest by the side of her husband and children at the Oak Hill Cemetery in Battle Creek, Michigan. 1TT 17.1

Seventh-day Adventists understood, and today understand, Mrs. White's ministry as the “messenger of the Lord” to be in fulfillment of the prophecy of (Revelation 12:17 and 19:10), that the remnant church “which keep the commandments of God” was to “have the testimony of Jesus”—“the spirit of prophecy.” They see in her work the gift of prophecy of which Paul speaks in (Ephesians 4:9-13) placed with other gifts in the church “for the perfecting of the saints” and “the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith.” 1TT 17.2

The revelations given to her through her long life were in harmony with God's appointed means declared to Israel: “If there be a prophet among you, I the Lord will make Myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream.” Numbers 12:6. In character her work was much like that of the leader of Israel of old, of whom it is recorded in (Hosea 12:13): “By a prophet the Lord brought Israel out of Egypt, and by a prophet was he preserved.” 1TT 17.3

Mrs. White was known by her neighbors and friends as an earnest, godly, Christian woman. For an appraisal of her life and work as it was known by those about her, we turn to the American Biographical History and find its editor in 1878 stating: 1TT 17.4

“Mrs. White is a woman of singularly well-balanced mental organization. Benevolence, spirituality, conscientiousness, and ideality are the predominating traits. Her personal qualities are such as to win for her the warmest friendship of all with whom she comes in contact, and to inspire them with the utmost confidence in her sincerity. ... Notwithstanding her many years of public labor, she has retained all the simplicity and honesty which characterized her early life. 1TT 17.5

“As a speaker, Mrs. White is one of the most successful of the few ladies who have become noteworthy as lecturers, in this country, during the last twenty years. Constant use has so strengthened her vocal organs as to give her voice rare depth and power. Her clearness and strength of articulation are so great that, when speaking in the open air, she has frequently been distinctly heard at the distance of a mile. Her language, though simple, is always forcible and elegant. When inspired with her subject, she is often marvelously eloquent, holding the largest audiences spellbound for hours without a sign of impatience or weariness. 1TT 18.1

“The subject matter of her discourses is always of a practical character, bearing chiefly on fireside duties, the religious education of children, temperance, and kindred topics. On revival occasions she is always the most effective speaker. She has frequently spoken to immense audiences, in the large cities, on her favorite themes, and has always been received with great favor. On one occasion, in Massachusetts, twenty thousand persons listened to her, with close attention, for more than an hour. 1TT 18.2

“Mrs. White is the author of numerous works which have had a wide circulation. Her writings are characterized by the same simplicity and practical nature which are conspicuous in her speaking. They enter into the home life of the family circle in a manner which rivets the attention of the candid reader, and cannot fail to instruct in the solemn duties of practical life.”—American Biographical History of Eminent and Self-Made Men of the State of Michigan (Third Congressional District), page 108. 1TT 18.3

By her fellow workers, the church, and the members of her family, Mrs. White was esteemed and honored as a devoted mother and as an earnest, generous, tireless religious worker. She never held official church office. Never did she ask others to look to her, nor did she ever use her gift to build herself financially or in popularity. Her life and all that she had was dedicated to the cause of God. 1TT 18.4

On her death the editor of a popular weekly magazine closed his comments on her fruitful life with these words: “She was absolutely honest in her belief in her revelations. Her life was worthy of them. She showed no spiritual pride, and she sought no filthy lucre. She lived the life and did the work of a worthy prophetess.”—The Independent, August 23, 1915. 1TT 19.1

For a more detailed account of Mrs. White's life and work the reader is directed to The Christian Experience and Teachings of Ellen G. White. 1TT 19.2

The Trustees of the Ellen G. White Publications.