Messenger of the Lord


Editorial Assistants

In order to keep up with the incessant demand for articles and books, Ellen White eventually developed an efficient organization of paid and unpaid editorial assistants. In the early years, James was her keen and ready helper in preparing material for publication. 10 MOL 109.9

The very idea of a prophet’s needing editorial “assistance” has come as a new thought to some in recent years. But those who were Ellen White’s contemporaries knew how necessary literary helpers were, considering the volume of writing to which she was committed. 11 MOL 109.10

Often those who are troubled by a prophet’s use of assistants have a faulty understanding of how God speaks to human beings. They believe that inspired persons, including Mrs. White, mechanically wrote out exactly what God had spoken or revealed word for word. 12 Some expect inerrancy from Ellen White, even as they do from the Bible writers. Mrs. White’s own understanding of how revelation/inspiration works will be discussed on page 421. MOL 109.11

Ellen White employed literary assistants for the same reasons that Biblical writers did. She recognized her own limitations of time and literary skills. In 1873, she wrote in her diary: “My mind is coming to strange conclusions. I am thinking I must lay aside my writing I have taken so much pleasure in, and see if I cannot become a scholar. I am not a grammarian. I will try, if the Lord will help me, at forty-five years old to become a scholar in the science. God will help me. I believe He will.” 13 MOL 109.12

She was often interrupted while writing and this left tangled copy. Commenting on this need for editorial assistance, she wrote: “Doing as much writing as I do, it is not surprising if there are many sentences left unfinished.” 14 MOL 110.1

In a letter to G. A. Irwin, General Conference president, Willie White noted that his mother sought literary assistance because she recognized the varying quality in her writings: “Sometimes when Mother’s mind is rested, and free, the thoughts are presented in language that is not only clear and strong, but beautiful and correct; and at times when she is weary and oppressed with heavy burdens of anxiety, or when the subject is difficult to portray, there are repetitions and ungrammatical sentences.” MOL 110.2

He further described the guidelines that his mother set for her literary assistants: “Mother’s copyists are entrusted with the work of correcting grammatical errors, of eliminating unnecessary repetitions, and of grouping paragraphs and sections in their best order.... Mother’s workers of experience, such as Sisters Davis, Burnham, Bolton, Peck, and Hare, who are very familiar with her writings, are authorized to take a sentence, paragraph, or section from one manuscript and incorporate it with another manuscript where the same thought was expressed but not so clearly. But none of Mother’s workers are authorized to add to the manuscripts by introducing thoughts of their own.” 15 MOL 110.3

By 1881 Willie served as the editorial coordinator for his mother’s literary assistants. 16 Because Ellen White was either traveling or writing new material most of the time, she chose not to be involved in editorial details. She knew that she would review all documents before they would be published unless she gave, on occasion, specific permission to a periodical editor to abridge to fit space. The record shows that they made few changes. MOL 110.4

A “hierarchy of responsibility” developed. For example, for minor editorial work, Marian Davis was authorized to decide matters herself; larger questions were to be submitted to W. C. White. Ellen White would make the final decisions as to editorial changes after both William and Marian had done their work. 17 MOL 110.5

Marian Davis had occasions to describe her work as she saw it: “I have tried to begin both chapters and paragraphs with short sentences, and indeed to simplify wherever possible, to drop out every needless word, and to make the work, as I have said, more compact and vigorous.” 18 MOL 110.6

The publishers hoped to keep Ellen White on their schedule, which was not easy during her heavy duties in Australia. Marian wrote to Willie: “Sister White is constantly harassed with the thought that the manuscript should be sent to the printers at once.... Sister White seems inclined to write, and I have no doubt she will bring out many precious things. I hope it will be possible to get them into the book. There is one thing, however, that not even the most competent editor could do—that is prepare a manuscript before it is written.” 19 MOL 110.7

At times Ellen White reached out beyond her immediate helpers for assistance. She explained this procedure to W. H. Littlejohn in 1894: “I have all my publications closely examined. I desire that nothing shall appear in print without careful investigation. Of course I would not want men who have not a Christian experience or are lacking in ability to appreciate literary merit to be placed as judges of what is essential to come before the people, as pure provender thoroughly winnowed from the chaff. I laid out all my manuscript on Patriarchs and Prophets and on [Spirit of Prophecy] Vol. IV before the book committee for examination and criticism. I also placed these manuscripts in the hands of some of our ministers for examination. The more criticism of them the better for the work.” 20 MOL 110.8

When she wrote of medical matters, her office helpers asked medical specialists to review the manuscripts with care: “I wish that in all your reading you would note those places where the thought is expressed in a way to be especially criticized by medical men and kindly give us the benefit of your knowledge as to how to express the same thought in a more accurate way.” 21 MOL 111.1

Regardless of wherever she received editorial help, Ellen White read everything in final form: “I find under my door in the morning several copied articles from Sister Peck, Maggie Hare, and Minnie Hawkins. All must be read critically by me .... Every article I prepare to be edited by my workers, I always have to read myself before it is sent for publication.” 22 MOL 111.2