Ellen G. White and Her Critics


Chapter 12—The Reform Dress

Charge: “Shortly before the Civil War of 1861-65 a few women wore and advocated a reform dress cut short—about half-way to the knees. With this they wore a sort of loose pants on the limbs below the dress. Some Advent sisters favored it as convenient and healthful; but Mrs. White condemned it, with good reason, as follows: EGWC 136.1

“‘God would not have His people adopt the so-called reform dress. It is immodest apparel, wholly unfitted for the modest, humble followers of Christ.’ (‘Testimonies for the Church’ 1:421, 422 [actually only 421] ...) EGWC 136.2

“That was God’s mind at that date. EGWC 136.3

“Again she says: ‘If women would wear their dresses so as to clear the filth of the streets an inch or two, ... such a dress would be in accordance with our faith’ (page 424).... EGWC 136.4

“Once more she says: EGWC 136.5

“Christians should not take pains to make themselves a gazingstock by dressing differently from the world (p. 458).... EGWC 136.6

“This was in 1863, and was clear and emphatic. But one year later, September, 1864, Elder and Mrs. White spent three weeks at Dr. Jackson’s Health Home.” They were “captivated” with his health reform views. “Miss Austin, one of the physicians there, wore a ‘Reform Dress’ with pants below the dress made like men’s pants. Slightly modified, it was the same dress Mrs. White had condemned only a year before.... Immediately she adopted it herself, and began to write revelations and testimonies to the sisters, saying God now wanted them to wear it. It will be seen that after her visit with Miss Austin ‘the Lord’ changed His mind on the dress question, for she says: EGWC 136.7

“God would now have his people adopt the Reform Dress ... (p. 525).... EGWC 136.8

“She gives the exact length of the dress. She says: ‘I would say that nine inches as nearly accords with my view of the matter as I am able to express in inches’ (p. 521).” EGWC 136.9

Before she met Miss Austin she said “an inch or two” but now “nine inches.” “That was the way Miss Austin wore hers.” EGWC 136.10

“Mrs. White had patterns of the dress,” which she took everywhere she went. She sold them “for one dollar each! She thus pocketed quite a nice sum of easy money.” EGWC 136.11

Mrs. White gave strong testimonies on the importance of this dress. “But at length she saw it was a mistake and a failure.” So she “quietly laid it off.” When asked about it “she simply refused to give any” explanations. “The fact was, she had been misled by Miss Austin, and dared not own it.” EGWC 136.12

In 1875 she wrote, blaming “the sisters for abandoning” the dress and spoke of “another less objectionable style.... (‘Testimonies,’ Vol. IV, p. 640).” EGWC 137.1

Adventist sisters who wore the Reform Dress were the object of ridicule everywhere. EGWC 137.2

Here is the dress reform charge in all its fullness. Later critics have added a frill or a trimming but nothing substantial to the lines. After reading it, the reader is supposed to conclude that: (1) the fashions of the day were becoming, modest, and entirely satisfactory; (2) Mrs. White took hold of a weird notion of some fanatical dress reformers because she was easily influenced; (3) in doing so she reversed counsel she had given only a short while before, and (4) then she compounded her spiritual folly by abandoning the reform and recommending something else. EGWC 137.3