Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

White, Ellen Gould (1827–1915)

by Gary Krause

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Ellen Gould White (1827-1915), Seventh-day Adventist prophet and author, was born on 26 November 1827 near Gorham, Maine, United States of America. She and her twin sister Elizabeth were the youngest of eight children of Robert Harmon, hatmaker, and his wife Eunice, née Gould. An accident at the age of 9 ended Ellen's formal education. In 1843 the Harmons were deprived of fellowship in the Methodist Church because of their sympathies with the Millerite movement and its adventist views. Next year Ellen began experiencing what she claimed were visions. On 30 August 1846 at Portland, Maine, she married Pastor James Springer White (d.1881), a minister of the Christian Connection and an Adventist adherent. Ellen played a key role in forming the Seventh-Day Adventist Church in the 1860s and in developing its evangelistic outreach, working for the movement in the U.S.A. and in Europe in 1885-88.

Invited to visit Australia by the Church's foreign mission board, she arrived in Sydney on 8 December 1891 with one of her four sons and a staff of four women. By this time Mrs White was generally regarded by Seventh-Day Adventists as possessing the prophetic gift and was firmly established as one of the Church's most influential members. Only 5 ft 2 ins (158 cm) tall, she had strong features, compelling eyes and dark hair, severely parted in the middle. Her son William Clarence (1854-1937), a Seventh-Day Adventist minister, acted as her editorial assistant and publishing manager. He travelled extensively throughout the eastern states of Australia and in New Zealand, speaking at Church meetings. William played a major role in establishing health-food manufacture in Australia. In 1894 he was appointed head of the Australasian Union Conference which he had helped to develop, but three years later was released to assist with his mother's literary work.

Moving to Melbourne, Ellen was based there until August 1894, in Sydney until December 1895, and at Cooranbong, New South Wales, until her return to America in 1900. Despite severe attacks of rheumatism, she travelled throughout Tasmania, Victoria, South Australia, New South Wales, Queensland and New Zealand, attending Church meetings and giving public lectures to audiences sometimes numbering thousands. Her topics ranged from health reform and temperance to biblical interpretation and prophecy. Adventist Church leaders in Australia and abroad often sought her counsel.

A prolific writer, she sent hundreds of letters and regular contributions to Adventist Church papers in the U.S.A. and Australia. While in Australia White completed Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing (Battle Creek, U.S.A., 1896), The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, U.S.A., 1898), Christ's Object Lessons (Battle Creek, U.S.A., 1900), a devotional work and the sixth of a nine-volume series, Testimonies for the Church, in which she outlined her theory of education. She regarded Avondale College, Cooranbong, as a model which exemplified her ideas on the need for educating the whole person—mentally, socially, physically and spiritually. Fascinated by the conflict between good and evil, and its reflection in history, White was inspired to write a series of books that are referred to as 'The Conflict of the Ages' series. More than ninety of her books are now in print and some 60,000 pages of her unpublished typescript are held at the research centre named after her at Avondale College.

Through her emphasis on the combination of religion, health and education, White played a formative role in the Church's identity, although her authority as a prophet within the Church was to become the subject of controversy in the 1970s. Her influence had led directly to the organization of Adventist day schools in Australia, and to the establishment of Avondale College and the Sydney Sanitarium (later the Sydney Adventist Hospital) at Wahroonga. She had also guided the development of the Church's administrative structure in Australia and encouraged the manufacture of health foods by the Adventist-owned Sanitarium Health Food Co.

Back in the U.S.A., she worked in the southern States and influenced the establishment of her Church's centre in Washington, D.C.; in 1909 she helped to found the College of Medical Evangelists at Loma Linda, California. Survived by two sons, Ellen White died on 16 July 1915 at St Helena, California, and was buried beside her husband in Oak Hill cemetery, Battle Creek, Michigan.

Select Bibliography

  • Seventh-Day Adventist Encyclopedia, vol 10 (Washington DC, US, 1976)
  • A. L. White, Ellen G. White, vol 4 (Washington DC, US, 1983)
  • A. J. Ferch (ed), Symposium on Adventist History in the South Pacific 1885-1918 (Syd, 1986)
  • M. F. Krause, The Seventh-Day Adventist Church in Australia 1885-1900 (M.A. thesis, University of Sydney, 1968)
  • A. N. Patrick, Ellen Gould White and the Australian Women, 1891-1900 (M.Litt. thesis, University of New England, 1984)
  • E. G. White letters, 1847-1914 and manuscripts, 1845-1914 and W. C. White letters, 1891-1907 (Ellen G. White SDA Research Centre, Avondale College, Cooranbong, New South Wales).

Citation details

Gary Krause, 'White, Ellen Gould (1827–1915)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/white-ellen-gould-9071/text15989, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 25 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2017