Ellen White and Vegetarianism

Chapter 1—Three Typical Charges

One hundred years ago ex-Adventist preacher, Dudley M. Canright, wrote that Mrs. White “forbade the eating of meat, ...yet secretly she herself ate meat more or less most of her life.” 1 He also is reported to have claimed that he saw James and Ellen White eat ham right in the dining room of their own home. EWV 5.1

In 1914 Frances (“Fannie”) Bolton, a former “on-again, off-again” literary assistant of Ellen White, wrote of two incidents which purported to show Ellen White’s inconsistency with respect to meat eating. In the first example Fannie and others were traveling by train with Ellen White to California. Fannie stated; EWV 5.2

“That at the railway depot Sr. White was not with her party, so Eld. [George B.] Starr [a member of the party] hunted around till he found her behind a screen in the restaurant very gratified in eating big white raw oysters with vinegar, pepper and salt. I was overwhelmed with this inconsistency and dumb with horror. Elder Starr hurried me out and made all sorts of excuses and justifications of Sr. White’s action; yet I kept thinking in my heart, ‘What does it mean? What has God said? How does she dare eat these abominations?’” 2

The second example occurred on the same trip to California. Fannie continues: EWV 5.3

W. C. White came into the train with a great thick piece of bloody beef-steak spread out on a brown paper and he bore it through the tourist car on his two hands. Sarah McEnterfer who is now with Sr. White as her attendant, cooked it on a small oil stove and everyone ate of it except myself and Marian Davis. 3

Can these shocking charges be explained? EWV 6.1

In the case of Canright, the matter is resolved quite simply. By his own admission, Canright “first met” James White “and embraced the Sabbath from his preaching” in 1859. 4 He claimed to have been a guest in the White home, and it is altogether possible that he saw pork on their table in the earliest years of their friendship, for Ellen did not receive her first vision contraindicating the eating of meat in general and pork in particular until June 6, 1863—four full years after Canright and the Whites first became acquainted! EWV 6.2

What about the Fannie Bolton accusations? EWV 6.3

When W. C. White learned of the 1914 letter of Fannie Bolton, he secured a copy of it and sent it to Elder Starr for comment. Starr replied: EWV 6.4

I can only say that I regard it as the most absurdly, untruthful lot of rubbish that I have ever seen or read regarding our dear Sister White.

The event simply never occurred. I never saw your mother eat oysters or meat of any kind either in a restaurant or at her own table. Fannie Bolton’s statement ...is a lie of the first order. I never had such an experience and it is too absurd for anyone who ever knew your mother to believe....

I think this entire letter was written by Fannie Bolton in one of her most insane moments. [Fannie spent thirteen months as a mental patient in the Kalamazoo State Hospital 1911-1912 and another three and a half months in the same institution in 1924-25; she died in 1926] ....

When we visited Florida in 1928, Mrs. Starr and I were told that at a camp meeting, Fannie Bolton made a public statement that she had lied about Sr. White, and that she repented of it. 5

So much for the oysters story. As for the “bloody beefsteak” episode, W. C. White gives us the details of what happened: EWV 7.1

There were about 35 of us going from Battle Creek to Oakland in 1884 in two skeleton sleeping cars....

As we approached to the border line between Nevada and California it was found that our provisions were running low. Some of us were able to make good meals out of the dried things that were left in our lunch boxes, but Sister White’s appetite failed.

We were in a country where fresh fruit was very expensive and so one morning at a station where our train had stopped for half an hour, I went out and purchased two or three pounds of beefsteak and this was cooked by Sister McEnterfer on an alcohol stove, and most of the members that composed Sister White’s party partook of it. 6

At this point W. C. White provides a very helpful and illuminating sidelight into his mother’s dietary practices, as well as the White family at large: EWV 7.2

When I bought the beefsteak, I reasoned that freshly killed ox from this cattle country, would probably be a healthy animal and that the risk of acquiring disease would be very small. This was eight or nine years before Sister White decided at the time of the Melbourne camp-meeting [1894] to be a teetotaler as regards the eating of flesh foods....

You will find in Sister White’s writings several instances where she says flesh meats do not appear on our table, and this was true. During a number of years when on rare occasions a little meat was used, [it] was considered to be an emergency. 7

The distinction between the eating of meat as a regular article of the dietary and its occasional emergency use, mentioned here by W. C. White, is one to which we will have occasion to return later on. EWV 7.3

The credibility of a witness is a legitimate and relevant consideration in any evidentiary hearing, including this one. It may be worth noting that both D. M. Canright 8 and Fannie Bolton 9 were known by their contemporaries for instability of character and personality. Both had an “in-and-out, in-and-out” experience in denominational employment before finally remaining out. EWV 7.4