Ellen White’s Benevolent Millennialism
Kaitlyn O’Hagan CUNY Macaulay Honors College at Hunter College Honors Thesis May 1, 2013
This thesis would not have been completed without the tremendous mentoring and guidance of my advisors: Professor Bernadette McCauley of Hunter College and Professor Lee Quinby of Macaulay Honors College. Any flaws in the final work are, of course, my own. I would also like to thank Laura Vance of Warren Wilson College for sending me her unpublished chapter, “Not a Hand Should Be Bound, Not a Soul Discouraged: Ellen White on Women’s Roles,” from a forthcoming publication on Ellen White.
O’Hagan Introduction “Women can be instruments of righteousness.”1
An instrument of righteousness is an apt way to characterize Ellen White in her own words. White described herself as a messenger of God: “The Lord ordained me as His messenger,” she often wrote. 2 However, her followers called her visions prophecies, and her legacy is as prophetess and one of the founders of in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which currently has over 17 million baptized followers worldwide.3 Between 1844 and approximately 1880, the formative years of Seventh-day Adventism, White empowered herself to this position of leadership. She was able to do so through a synergy of two preeminent ideologies: millennialism and benevolence, or what can be called benevolent millennialism, which then came to characterize the Seventh-day Adventist church she co-founded and led.4 Two majors points emerge in the existing literature on White.5 First, that the religiosity of the period, especially the strong strains of millennialism, allowed her to take on a leadership position that would have normally been closed to her. Millennialism in particular allowed expanded roles for women, but historians and theologians have long noted the heavy involvement of women in new prophetic movements and more broadly, women’s overwhelming
1 Ellen G. White, “Setting Forth the Importance of Missionary Work,” The Review and Herald, January 2, 1879, https://egwwritings.org/. 2 Ellen G. White, “An Appeal to Our Churches Throughout the United States,” The Review and Herald, May 18, 1911, https://egwwritings.org/. 3 General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research, “Seventh-day Adventist World Church Statistics,” 4 January 2012, http://www.adventist.org/world-church/facts-and-figures/index.html. 4 Some scholars prefer the term millenarian to millennial. Millennialism and millenarianism are for the most part interchangeable, though the latter sometimes connotes a higher degree of fanaticism. For this reason, and for convenience, I have chosen to use the term millennialism. 5 The scholarly literature on White and the Seventh-day Adventist religion dates mostly from the 1970s and 1980s, when there was a call for a broad interdisciplinary approach to the study of millennial traditions, an expansion of Religious Studies throughout the United States, and the development of Women’s Studies and American Studies.
presence in and influence on nineteenth century American religious life. Second, White used her position of leadership in the Seventh-day Adventist Church to engage in the work of benevolence, especially health reform, as did many other religious women in nineteenth century America. Two of the leading scholars on White and the Seventh-day Adventist Church have explored these approaches to White. Historian Jonathan Butler’s extensive writings on White and the Seventh-day Adventist Church focuses on the social influences that shaped White, her prophecy and Adventism as a whole, and reflect increasing attention to the role of millennialism. In contrast, Ronald Numbers’ Prophetess of Health, still the most comprehensive and authoritative book on White despite having been written over thirty years ago, looks at White through the specific lens of health reform. 6 There is no comprehensive biography of White that weaves together these leading approaches. This paper draws on and intertwines the analysis done by Butler, Numbers, and other scholars, and is informed by feminist theorizing on female agency, which is important for explaining “how women have acted autonomously in the past despite constricting social sanctions.” 7 White was not simply a passive subject formed by the restrictive discursive structures of her environment. As feminist scholar Louis McNay writes, extrapolating agency “introduces a more active dimension into an understanding of subject formation,” without disallowing the influences of larger cultural forces. 8 Such forces were also actively executed by White herself. White’s extensive writing in particular provides a record of her self-interpretation,
6 Ronald L. Numbers, Prophetess of Health, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008 ), Kindle edition. 7 Lois McNay, “Agency, Anticipation and Indeterminacy in Feminist Theory,” Feminist Theory 4 (2003): 141, doi: 10.1177/14647001030042003. 8 McNay, 147.
as her publications include not only transcriptions of her visions, but autobiographical information.9 White is one of America’s most prolific female authors, having written over eighty printed volumes, as well as contributing regularly to Adventist periodicals; these writings are the major primary source in this analysis.10 White’s benevolent millennialism developed gradually over the early years of Seventhday Adventism, as the original focus of the Church and White’s prophecy was on the imminent Advent. However, as this sense of imminence lessened and White’s authority solidified, White’s prophecy and the Church’s activity engaged with the world around it through benevolent work, particularly in the area of health reform, though the Church remained hopeful of and focused on the immediacy of Christ’s Second Coming. Section 1, “Methodism and Millerism: White’s Early Religious Influences,” focuses on the initially complementary but ultimately competing influences of the Methodist Church and Millerite millennialism on White. Section 2, “Prophecy: White’s Gateway to Leadership,” examines how White successfully navigated what Butler calls the “no rules” period in the wake of the Great Disappointment to establish her role as a prophetic leader, and retain her position of authority as a theological leader of the institutionalized Seventh-day Adventist Church.11 Section 3, “Health Reform: The Arm and Hand of the Church,” describes how White’s agency continued to be cultivated in her health reform prophecies, which provided the theological justification and terms for health reform work within the church. White’s health reform work drew on the
9 The way the content of White’s writings changes over time indicates her “active process of self-interpretation that is inherent to the process of subject formation,” McNay, 141. 10 Jonathan M. Butler, “Prophecy, Gender and Culture: Ellen Gould Harmon [White] and the Roots of Seventh-Day Adventism,” Religion and American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation 1 (1991): 3, http://www.jstor.org/stable/1123904. 11 Butler, “From Millerism to Seventh-Day Adventism: Boundlessness to Consolidation,” Church History: Studies in Christianity and Culture 55 (1986): 50, http://www.jstor.org/stable/3165422.
traditions of benevolence but was also continuously justified by the Adventist’s core millennial beliefs. In other words, White’s prophecy throughout these formative years shaped the church’s benevolent millennialism.
O’Hagan Methodism and Millerism: White’s Early Religious Influences
Ellen White was born Ellen Gould Harmon on November 26, 1827, in a village near Portland, Maine, where her family moved when she was a few years old. White was the youngest of eight children—six daughters and two sons. Her father, Robert Harmon, was a hatter and occasional farmer by occupation, but also a lay preacher. In her autobiographical writings, White describes him as “one of the pillars of the Methodist Church” in their church, Portland’s Chestnut Street Methodist Episcopal Church. White’s “devoted mother,” Eunice Harman, shared his strong theological convictions.12 Their religious beliefs and her upbringing in the Methodist Church were certainly major influences on White’s theology and manner of religious worship and experience. However, Ellen White recounts two key formative experiences as a child in her autobiographical writings that have little to do with her social or familial background. They do, however, connect to the two major themes that emerged in her prophecies: millennialism and health reform. First, she recalls being “seized with terror” after stumbling upon a scrap of paper about an English preacher who was predicting the end of the world.13 While such a reaction might seem unfounded and over-enthusiastic by today’s standards, in which doomsday has become a popular feature of entertainment, White emerged in an environment of pervasive millennialism that was taken more seriously. As millennial scholar Ernest R. Sandeen famously noted, “America in the early nineteenth century was drunk on the millennium.”14 Soon after this incident, when White was about 10 years old, she was severely injured when a classmate threw a
12 Ellen G. White, A Sketch of the Christian Experience and Views of Ellen G. White (Washington, DC: Ellen G. White Estate, Inc., 2010 ), Kindle edition, “Experience and Views.” 13 Numbers, “A Prophetess is Born.” 14 Ernest R. Sandeen, The Roots of Fundamentalism: British and American Millenarianism 1800 – 1930, (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1970), 42.
rock at her head on the way to school. The injury left her unable to continue her schooling and physically frail for the rest of her life, which directed her to her eventual dedication to health reform work.15 Though millennialism (and more broadly, apocalypticism) may have been particularly present in the nineteenth century, it has a long history in American culture, dating back to before the period of discovery and settlement and continuing through the nineteenth century, and still today. Many new religious movements in seventeenth and eighteenth century America were centered around millennial belief.16 Two groups that illustrate this warrant specific mention: the Shakers and The Society of United Friends. Both groups were founded by female religious figures who make useful points of comparison to Ellen White, and White is often mentioned in the context of these predecessors. Mother Ann Lee is considered the founder of the Shakers, officially organized under the name “United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Coming.” The group’s religious doctrine was based in her teachings; principally, they were committed to practicing celibacy in order to usher in the millennium. Mother Ann Lee, who was responsible for transplanting the religion from England to America in 1774, was elevated to the role of divine messenger and posthumously considered by some to have been a reincarnation of Christ.17 Around the same time, in 1776, Jemima Wilkinson began to preach in Rhode Island and the New England region, and soon separated from her Quaker upbringing. Wilkinson, like Mother Ann Lee, advocated
15 Numbers, “A Prophetess is Born.” 16 Stephen J. Stein, “American Millennial Visions: Towards Construction of a New Architectonic of American Apocalyticism,” in Imagining the End: Visions of Apocalypse from the Ancient Middle East to Modern America, ed. Abbas Amanat and Manus Bernhardsson (New York, NY: I.B. Tauris Publishers, 2002), 187, 196. 17 Lawrence Foster, Women, Family, and Utopia: Communal Experiments of the Shakers, the Oneida Community, and the Mormons (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1991), 17.
celibacy. By 1780, she had a distinct group of followers who called themselves “The Society of United Friends.” Wilkinson and her followers referred to her as the genderless “Universal Friend.” Scholars have argued that this “pronoun/ced gender deconstruction” (which manifested itself in dress and appearance as well) was enabled by the group’s belief in the imminent millennium.18 As with Mother Ann Lee, millennial culture and belief allowed Wilkinson to achieve a position of power and leadership. Though White’s knowledge of and familiarity with either of these women is unknown, Mother Ann Lee and Wilkinson provide historical examples of the way millennial culture provided opportunities for female leadership within religious life, an expanded space for women White came to occupy. More broadly, as historian Whitney Cross writes, these groups’ “early manifestations of enthusiasm may in some cases have been direct inspirations for ensuing developments. More certainly they provide a gauge to measure early steps of a more general phenomenon: the growing appetite of the region for exhibitions of zeal.”19 Though such groups may have been small and short lived, and as such, existed on the fringes of society, millennial traditions in American culture helped to inform their religious conviction. Though they were considered fanatical for their belief in celibacy, in their belief in the imminent millennium they are hardly distinguishable from the larger community of millennialism in America.20 Historians and scholars have commonly used two categories to distinguish between millennial movements in the United States: pre-millennial and post-millennial. These terms
18 Sharon Betcher, “The Second Descent of the Spirit of Life from God: The Assumption of Jemima Wilkinson” in Millennialism and Society: Gender and Apocalyptic Desire, ed. Brenda Brasher and Lee Quinby, (London: Equinox Publishing, 2006), 78, http://site.ebrary.com/id/1034311?ppg=91. 19 Whitney Cross, The Burned-over District: The Social and Intellectual History of Enthusiastic Religion in Western New York, 1800-1850 (New York: Cornell University Press, 1950), 30. 20 Stein, 196.
describe the theology of the religious groups they are used to categorize: pre-millennialism is the belief that Christ’s return will precede the earthly millennium; in contrast, post-millennialism is the belief that the advent will follow the earthly millennium. As used by historians and scholars, the dichotomy between pre- and post-millennialism includes characteristics beyond the basic belief that birthed the terms. Pre-millennial versus post-millennial also signifies “pessimistic versus optimistic, declension versus progress, divine intervention versus human activity, and cataclysm versus gradualism.”21 The Millerite movement has been used as the textbook premillennial movement, and the so-called Second Great Awakening, led by prominent preachers including Charles Finney, has been characterized as the textbook post-millennial movement, especially as the early nineteenth century is the time period in which scholars have drawn the greatest distinction between the two categories.22 The binary opposition created by the terms pre- and post-millennialism is helpful for understanding basic characteristics of and differences between millennial groups. The Millerite group can accurately be described as pessimistic, seeing a world in decline, and anticipating a cataclysmic divine intervention. As Sandeen explains, they “did not believe that they could do anything to hasten, much less to bring about, the second advent of Christ.” 23 In contrast, postmillennialists, such as the Finneyites, saw “the upward-tending spirit of the age as the dawning of God’s millennial glory.”24 However, the terms pre- and post-millennial have been challenged by recent scholars for their limited usefulness. The terms fail to describe many fringe apocalyptic religions: neither
21 Stein, 201. 22 Ibid., 200-1. 23 Sandeen, xvi-xvii. 24 Nancy A. Hardesty, Women Called to Witness: Evangelical Feminism in the Nineteenth Century (The University of Tennessee Press: Knoxville, 1999), 13.
Mother Ann Lee’s Shakers nor Jemimah Wilkinson’s Universal Friends could be exclusively categorized as pre- or post-millennial. More important, the categories also don’t aptly convey the nuances of the groups these terms have been used to categorize. Even for post-millennialists, or “optimistic millennialists” such as Finney and his followers, “affliction often accompanied and impeded progress.” 25 Millennial scholar Stephen J. Stein also points to reform activism of Millerite leaders, especially Himes, and White’s leadership of the Seventh-day Adventist Church with a commitment to health reform as evidence for the limited usefulness of describing the Millerites as pre-millennial. Reform by its very nature optimistically anticipates a future, conflicting with the absolute pessimism associated with the term pre-millennialism. 26 Stein proposes new categories for describing variant forms of millennialism that are “descriptively rich but value-free.”27 Though he suggests the categories of ‘religious apocalyticism’ and ‘secular apocalyticism,’ his assertion of the importance of reform among leaders of the Millerites and the Seventh-day Adventist Church that emerged from the Millerite movement support the suitability of the term benevolent millennialism in this specific case. Caution against drawing too strong a distinction between their different brands of millennialism helps further an understanding of Ellen White. Her world was not shaped exclusively by Millerite millennialism, which has been the focus of much of the scholarship on her. It was also shaped by the influence of Finney and optimistic post-millennialism of the revivalism led by him and similar evangelical preachers—though the Millerite group certainly had a more demonstrable impact. Even White herself wrote “I could not give the glory to
25 Stein, 198-202. 26 Ibid., 201. 27 Stein, 211.
Methodism, when it was Christ and the hope of his soon coming that had made me free.”28 Despite this, and the dichotomy in the historiography of Millerites and Finneyites, it is possible to see the way revivalism also influenced the historical and culture context of White’s life and work by providing a precedent of female religious leadership, and shaped a world in which White could foster for herself a position of religious leadership. While Mother Ann Lee and Jemimah Wilkinson provide two prominent examples of American female religious leadership prior to White, there was a larger historical precedent for women to take prominent roles in religious life, including evangelizing and even preaching themselves. Female preachers who were neither middle-class Calvinists nor more fanatical, famous leaders such as Mother Ann Lee or Jemimah Wilkinson were at first neglected by historians. However, female preaching was widespread in the first few decades of the nineteenth century, fostered by the spirit of revivalism, still in full swing at the time of White’s birth.29 Indeed, revivalism reached its peak during White’s childhood, as its height is often defined as Finney’s 1831 campaign in western New York.30 There is disagreement as to whether or not Finney’s support for an active role for women in religious life—he is oft quoted as saying “the Church that silences the woman is shorn of half its power”—led to a new surge of female religious leadership or simply allowed this tradition to continue. 31 Regardless, there is ample evidence of women preachers in the northeastern United States in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century.
28 White, A Sketch, “Experience and Views.” 29 Catherine A. Brekus, “Female Evangelism in the Early Methodist Movement, 1784-1845,” in Methodism and the Shaping of American Culture, ed. Nathan O. Hatch and John H. Wigger, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2001), 153. 30 Cross, 156. 31 Quoted in Hardesty, 10.
White’s profile very much matches the collective profile of these women. White was young when she began to exhort and then prophecy. She had a common school education, as universal education was customary at this time in New England, though White’s injury ended her schooling much earlier than it would have otherwise. Geography and class also played an important role in this profile. Much has been written about the “burned-over district:” the part of New York State west of the Adirondacks and Catskills. It was so called because this area was being newly settled by Americans and was home to habitual revivalism at the time, thus its name is an appropriate reference to “the prevailing western analogy between the fires of the forest and those of the spirit.”32 The region was given this name by the title of the seminal text by Whitney Cross, and historians have followed The Burned-over District with studies on how specific cities and areas of the region fit into that history.33 There are very few general histories of Portland, Maine, and none that examine the city within the specific context of nineteenth century revivalism. However, Portland was certainly similar to areas in the burned-over district in that it was a small-scale, recently settled, and fast-growing Protestant world. Originally a colonial town called Falmouth, it was burned to the ground during the Revolutionary War. It was rebuilt, and renamed Portland in 1786. Though the city did not grow as fast as other cities in the region— certainly not as fast as the cities of the burned-over district—it did experience a solid growth in population between 1790 and 1850. The rate of growth was particularly high in the decade White was born: the population grew almost 50% between 1820 and 1830 to 12,601, a rate higher than the average for the state and country. The population continued to grow, reaching 20,879 by
32 Cross, 3. 33 See Whitney Cross, The Burned-over District: The Social and Intellectual History of Enthusiastic Religion in Western New York, 1800-1850; Paul E. Johnson, A Shopkeeper’s Millennium: Society and Revivals in Rochester, New York 1815-1837; and Mary Ryan, Cradle of the Middle Class: The Family in Oneida County, New York, 1780-1865.
1850, an increase of 66% between 1830 and 1850, the time period in which the White family moved to and lived in Portland.34 The population growth, while partly fueled by an influx of foreign immigrants, especially from Ireland, was also largely due to the rise of a new merchant class. This group was invested in the success of their “enterprising little metropolis,” and fueled Portland’s “antebellum renaissance” as one of America’s premier nineteenth century harbors.35 They helped to build the town up into cosmopolitan city: by the 1830s the landscape of Portland included well-funded public buildings and a bustling downtown. White’s family, hard working and of modest means, was part of this emerging middle class, a group infused with “a millennial, Whiggish spirit.”36 As one Portland historian recently wrote, “Portland with America marched forward toward the millennium.”37 Both Falmouth and Gorham, the small town outside Portland where White was born, had been home to Shaker communities, giving the geographical locations where White was born and raised a history of millennialism (though there is no direct connection between these communities and the millennial spirit of Portland’s middle class). 38 Beyond the fact that White matches the generalized profile for female religious leaders of the time, the direct effects of Finney and general female religious leadership on White are hard to measure. There is no evidence to suggest anything beyond the fact that they informed the larger cultural environment in which White developed. Examining the role of women in the Methodist
34 John F. Bauman, Gateway to Vacationland: The Making of Portland, Maine (Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2012), 3-21. William Willis, The History of Portland (Somersworth, NH: New Hampshire Publishing Company, 1972 ), 768-9. 35 Bauman, 15, 23. 36 Numbers, “A Prophetess is Born.” Bauman, 15, 22, 28. 37 Bauman, 23. 38 William Goold, Portland in the Past, With Historical Notes of Old Falmouth (Westminster, MD: Heritage Books, 2005 ), 329.
Church, however, provides more specifically applicable evidence of the influence of female religious leadership on White. Women made up the majority of membership in all Protestant denominations at the time. However, the early Methodist church was a sect apart from most other Protestant denominations as it did not only allow women to publically “witness,” “exhort” and “testify,” but actively encouraged it. 39 Indeed, there was a female exhorter in a Maine Methodist Episcopal church, Fanny Newell, who preceded White by a few decades.40 Like all other Protestant groups, the Methodist church didn’t ordain female preachers and had a strictly male institutional hierarchy. However, exhorting (or witnessing or testifying) was different from preaching in that it was spontaneous and informal rather than authoritative, and “it did not require women to explicate biblical texts, but only to tell their own personal stories of repentance and salvation.”41 This created considerable room for women to evangelize, and there were a significant number of unofficial Methodist female preachers in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, supported by some individual male church leaders, although not officially recognized in the Methodist Church.42 The Methodist Church was relatively new and unorganized in the early nineteenth century, though growing rapidly. White’s birth in 1827 preceded the official organization of the Methodist Church by a year, and her childhood coincided with the second half of the Church’s incredible growth. Between 1776 and 1850 the Methodists rose from less than 3 percent of all church members to more than 34 percent, “making them far and away the largest religious body
39 Brekus, 138, 148. 40 Louis Billington, “’Female Laborers in the Church’: Women Preachers in the Northeastern United States, 1790-1840,” Journal of American Studies 19 (1985): 376, http://www.jstor.org/stable/27554647. 41 Brekus, 136. 42 Ibid., 155.
in the nation and the most extensive national institution other than the Federal government.”43 The first Methodist sermon in Marine was in 1783; the Portland circuit was established the following year. The Chestnut Street Episcopal Church, which White and her family attended, was established in 1804, moved to its location on Chestnut Street in 1811, and was finally incorporated in 1821.44 The youth and initial lack of organization of the sect, along with its presence in small towns and new settlements (like Portland) led to a blurring of the line between informal witnessing and authoritative preaching.45 This allowed women to speak in expanded spaces, with women (and laymen) often exhorting informally during formal services when they felt divinely inspired.46 It was this expanded space that White sought to occupy. White’s Methodist heritage played an important role in shaping her beliefs not only because it encouraged a prominent role for women but also because, initially, it allowed for the integration of adventist belief, and encouraged the enthusiastic style of worship White used in the early development of Seventh-day Adventism. The Chestnut Street Methodist Episcopal Church was part of the shout tradition, in which churchgoers express their religious ecstasy vocally and loudly. The shout tradition made White particularly receptive to adventism.47 In her analysis of the visionary experience in American religion, Ann Taves argues convincingly that it was the Methodist shout tradition that gave White “an initial sense of the form that an experience of the divine presence might take.” The temple, the trumpet, and shouts of triumph are prominent
43 Nathan O. Hatch, “The Puzzle of American Methodism,” Church History 63 (1994): 178, http://www.jstor.org/stable/3168586. 44 Willis, 681-2. 45 Billington, 375. 46 Brekus, 144. 47 Butler, “Prophecy, Gender and Culture,” 5.
images in the Methodist shout tradition, and appear frequently in White’s writing.48 In White’s first short book published in 1851, A Sketch of the Christian Experience and Views of Ellen G. White, for example, she uses the word temple eight times, trumpet two times, and shout nine times. A quote from White’s first vision demonstrates the terms’ usage: “Jesus raised his lovely voice and said, only the 144,000 shall enter this place, and we shouted Alleluia. The temple was supported by seven pillars, all of transparent gold, set with pearl most glorious . . . [emphasis added].”49 White’s use of this language continued throughout her life. In her 1888 book, The Great Controversy, a longer examination of the events preceding and leading up to Christ’s Second Coming, she uses the word temple 82 times, trumpet 10 times and shout 28 times.50 Thus “imagery prominent in the shout tradition . . . blended with the adventist imagery of an imminent end.”51 Though the Methodist church played an important role in influencing White’s enthusiastic worship, she derived her particular adventist beliefs from the Millerite movement. Butler particularly emphasizes the influence of Millerism, writing it “provided the seedbed of enthusiasm and ecstasy which [White] came to personify.”52 Initially, the Methodist Church allowed room for her Millerite adventist beliefs, as well as a forum within which she could share her beliefs with the larger community. However, White’s emergence came as both the Methodist church and the Millerite movement began to shift in tone during the early 1840s. At first White
48 Ann Taves, “Clairvoyants and Visionaries,” in Fits, Trances and Visions: Experiencing Religion and Explaining Experience from Wesley to James, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999), 155. 49 White. A Sketch, “To the Remnant scattered Abroad.” 50 White, The Great Controversy (Washington, DC: Ellen G. White Estate, Inc., 2011 ), Kindle edition. 51 Taves, 155. 52 Butler, “Prophecy, Gender and Culture,” 4.
was able to keep her allegiance to both groups, but as time passed and the two diverged, she was forced to leave the Methodist Church. William Miller came through Portland for the first time in March 1840.53 Miller was a deist who had re-converted to Baptism after a life-changing experience in the War of 1812. Based on his reading of Daniel 8:14: “It will take 2,300 evenings and mornings; then the sanctuary will be reconsecrated,” Miller predicted the advent would occur sometime in 1843. Miller’s dispensational reading of the Book of Revelation and date setting was not new to millennialism in Christian history, let alone American millennialism. American millennialism was derivative of centuries of Christian apocalyptic belief in which those obsessed with the apocalyptic used history as evidence to confirm their interpretations of Biblical prophecy. Miller followed this centuries-old tradition by correlating historical events with the symbols and images described in the Book of Revelation.54 Circumstances combined to allow Miller’s particular brand of millennialism to reach a large, receptive audience that translated into a large and widespread following. Compelled to share his message, Miller began to preach throughout New York and New England in 1831. However, in 1839 when Joshua V. Himes, up until then a professional reformist, teamed up with Miller his message gained true notoriety. Himes took over organization and publicity, and also backed the movement financially.55 It is estimated the Millerite movement had a following of anywhere from 10,000 to 1 million.56
53 Butler, “Prophecy, Gender and Culture,” 7. 54 Stein, 188, 194. 55 Numbers, “A Prophetess is Born.” 56 David L. Rowe, God’s Strange Work: William Miller and the End of the World (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008), 160.
Though it is difficult to pinpoint the exact numbers of Millerite believers, the movement’s leadership decided to construct a “great tent” in 1842 that could seat approximately 4,000. As Millerite historian David T. Arthur writes, “the tent was reportedly the largest of its kind ever seen in America—a most effective promotional device. People came out of curiosity and stayed to listen to the Millerite message.” 57 White’s anecdotes of Miller’s visits to Portland indicate the excitement and interest they stirred among the population. She describes Miller’s first visit in 1840 as producing “a great sensation” and said the Church where Miller was staying and preaching was “crowded day and night.” She herself went to hear him speak and she later described Miller’s presentation: “[he] traced down the prophecies with an exactness that struck conviction to the hearts of his hearers. He dwelt upon the prophetic periods, and brought many proofs to strengthen his position.” According to White, Miller left quite an impression on Portland, as “terror and conviction spread throughout the entire city. Prayer meetings were established, and there was a general awakening among the various denominations, for they all felt more or less the influence that proceeded from the teaching of the near coming of Christ.” White was personally persuaded by Miller’s preaching, and she later wrote “my soul had been stirred within me by what I had heard.”58 In the two years before Miller returned to Portland, attitudes toward the Millerite community underwent major shifts, which, in tandem with shifts in the Methodist Church, created a conflict that ensnared White. Around May of 1842, many Millerite groups transformed their apocalyptic predictions from the nonspecific “1843” to two possible dates of March 21,
57 David T. Arthur, “Joshua V. Himes and the Cause of Adventism,” in The Disappointed: Millerism and Millenarianism in the Nineteenth Century, ed. Ronald L. Numbers and Jonathan M. Butler, (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1987), 46. 58 White, Testimonies for the Church: Volume I (Washington, DC: Ellen G. White Estate, Inc., 2010 ), Kindle edition, “My Conversion.”
1844 and April 3, 1844. This specific date setting, which Miller had initially strongly opposed, was encouraged by the growth and organization of the movement. Throughout 1843 and 1844, Millerites were ridiculed for what was perceived by most mainstream Christian denominations and individuals as fanaticism. The tales of fanatical behavior among Millerites that made Miller a “theological leper” have now been refuted—especially given the ubiquity of millennial belief already described.59 Whatever fanaticism did exist among the Millerites, it was not unique to this group. Sandeen points out that all leaders of millenarian denominations were initially seized by enthusiasm and zeal that they later tempered--a statement that can be extended to White herself. 60 However, the widely reported and perceived fanaticism was enough to ruin the Millerites reputation with the institutionalized churches. It was in part the perceived fanaticism of the Millerites that led to the Methodist Church’s rejection of the group. However, the Methodist Church’s membership was growing rapidly, becoming more educated and middle class. The membership of the Chestnut Street Methodist Episcopal Church itself was increasing in the 1820s and 1830s, growing with the growth of Portland. By 1865, Portland historian William Willis could write, “the society is large, prosperous, increasing and harmonious.”61 Despite being part of the shout tradition initially, White’s church was part of a larger effort within the Methodist church to become more culturally accepted beginning in the 1830s and 1840s: a conscious decision to try to avoid the label of enthusiastic fanatics.62 The Methodist Church specifically told ministers at various conferences in 1843 to abstain from advocating “the peculiarities of Millerism” and removed those who had done so, including Gerschom Cox, a prominent Methodist Millerite and former minister of
59 Butler, “From Millerism to Seventh-day Adventism,” 42, 55-7. 60 Sandeen, 49. 61 Willis, 682-4. 62 Brekus, 167.
White’s. Moreover, the church’s attitude toward the traditions upon which White was drawing shifted dramatically. The enthusiastic worship: shouting, dancing and clapping, that had characterized the Methodists was increasingly curtailed. Women preachers, who had been greater proponents and embracers of such practices, were marginalized and vilified to the point of exclusion.63 This transformation of Methodism was nearing completion in the 1840s, the time White was coming of age in the Methodist church. As she tried to draw on the strong tradition of female evangelism in her church, White encountered the institutional resistance to practices that were becoming unacceptable. White’s description of Miller’s June 1842 visit to Portland reflects the changes in reception to the Millerite message: “this second course created much more excitement in the city than the first. With few exceptions the different denominations closed the doors of their churches against Mr. Miller. Many discourses from the various pulpits sought to expose the alleged fanatical errors of the lecturer; but crowds of anxious listeners attended his meetings, while many were unable to enter the house.” But White did not let the Methodist Church’s disapproval prevent her from participating in Millerite prayer services. White and her family continued to both attend the Chestnut Street Church and Millerite prayer meetings. White’s anticipation of the coming advent is palpable in her writing about this period: “I believed the solemn words spoken by the servant of God, and my heart was pained when they were opposed or made the subject of jest. I frequently attended the meetings, and believed that Jesus was soon to come in the clouds of heaven; but my great anxiety was to be ready to meet Him.”64 It was immediately after Miller’s second visit, on June 26, 1842, that White was baptized in the Methodist Church. In doing so, White took control of her spiritual journey, and challenged
63 Brekus, 167-8. 64 White, Testimonies for the Church Volume 1, “Feelings of Despair.”
the shifts occurring in the Methodist Church. She wanted to be both Methodist and Millerite, and saw no conflict between the two. The growing conflict between institutionalized churches and Millerism frustrated White, who “could not understand why ministers from the pulpit should so oppose the doctrine that Christ’s second coming was near.” She disrupted the Church’s shifting institutional orientation by asking for acceptance as a Millerite and obvious proponent of the older, established, enthusiastic means of worshipping, now considered fanatical and embarrassing. Despite White’s best efforts to uphold the synergy between her Methodist and Millerite religious influences, her Methodist Sunday school classmates and teachers continuously met her belief in Chris’s imminent advent with admonishment, annoyance and ridicule.65 White and her family finally stopped attending church, and were ultimately expelled in 1843.66 The impetus of White’s baptism into the Methodist Church had been a dream in which the prominent images mentioned before appeared: “I seemed compelled to move forward, and was slowly making my way around the pillar in order to face the lamb, when a trumpet sounded, the temple shook, shouts of triumph arose from the assembled saints . . . [emphasis added].”67 After relating the dream to a Millerite Methodist minister, she was encouraged to pray publically. As described before, this was not unusual in the Methodist church, as “not only ministers, but women, laymen, and even children believed they had a sacred responsibility to “witness” for Christ . . . Every person had a divine obligation to “testify” to his or her experience of salvation.”68 Though White had never witnessed publically, she later wrote that she felt the pressure of this “sacred responsibility.” White related her dream experience to her fellow adventists at prayer meeting. This was a precursor to the visions and testimony she began to offer
65 White, Testimonies for the Church Volume 1, “Feelings of Despair.” 66 Numbers, “A Prophetess is Born.” 67 White, Testimonies for the Church Volume 1, “Feelings of Despair.” 68 Brekus, 142.
in the wake of the Great Disappointment. In fact, through this early public ministry—preaching both at churches and private meetings—White converted many of her community members to Millerism.69 The year 1844 was one of great hope and ultimately, great disappointment for the Millerites. When the original predicted dates for the advent (March 21 and April 3, 1844) passed without incidence, a small faction of the group usurped the leadership to reset the date for October 22, 1844, which Miller was ultimately persuaded to endorse. The strength of the Millerites’ belief in the October 22 prediction cannot be overstated; White called 1844 “the happiest year of [her] life.”70 Describing the time between her first public testimony in 1843 and October 22, 1844, White wrote: “My joys, trials and disappointment were like those of my dear Advent friends around me.”71 The passage of this date without any perceivable apocalyptic event was termed the Great Disappointment and led to the fracture of the Millerites, many of whom simply returned to their congregations.72 With the Great Disappointment, the Millerite movement had come to an end.
69 Numbers, “A Prophetess is Born.” 70 White, Testimonies for the Church Volume 1, “Advent Experience.” 71 White, A Sketch, “Experience and Views.” 72 Butler, “From Millerism to Seventh-Day Adventism,” 55-6.
O’Hagan Prophecy: White’s Gateway to Leadership
Jon Butler uses religious scholar Kenelm Burridge’s terms “old rules” to “no rules” to “new rules” to describe the movement of the Adventist religion from its unorganized state following the Great Disappointment to it’s official institutional incorporation in the 1860s.73 Given that the “old rules” period was that of the Millerite movement, the “no rules” period was the time during which White shaped herself into a prophetic leader. However, to solidify and maintain her leadership in the “new rules” phase, the official organization of the Seventh-day Adventist church, she had to modulate some of her earlier positions. The Millerite movement was the major impetus for White’s prophecy, but White was not merely a product of her environment. She assumed a leadership position in shaping the theology of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which she did through visions. From her first vision in late 1844 through the 1870s, White’s visions followed no set pattern, and she had about five to ten a year. They occurred at all times of the day, in the presence of others and when she was alone, and lasted anywhere from minutes to hours. According to those who witnessed her visions, she entered a coma-like state, with her heartbeat and respiration both dramatically slowing—though she did often describe the scenes she was seeing.74 In explaining White’s visions, some scholars have attributed them to physiological or psychological illness, including mercury poisoning, epilepsy, and depression.
explanations are merely speculative, given the lack of physical evidence and the limitations of using White’s published writings for psychological diagnosis. The language scholar Sharon
73 Butler, “From Millerism to Seventh-day Adventism,” 50. 74 Numbers and Rennie B. Schoepflin, “Ministries of Healing: Mary Baker Eddy, Ellen G. White and the Religion of Health,” in Women and Health in America, ed. Judith Walzer Leavitt, (Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1984), 382-3. 75 Numbers, “A Prophetess is Born” and “Afterword: Ellen White on the Mind and the Mind of Ellen White.”
Betcher uses to describe Jemimah Wilkinson is helpful in describing White’s agency without accusing her of fraudulence: she “lean[ed] into . . . the energies of religious apocalypse.”76 In the early years of Seventh-day Adventism, before the group organized officially under this name, White positioned herself as the prophetic authority on the church’s religious beliefs by giving divine sanction to the core theological doctrines of the Church. Despite White’s claims of divine inspiration, none of these doctrines originated with her. In addition, White’s prophecy shifted when it was not well received or detracted from her legitimacy. The language of leaning-in helps to understand these shifts given White’s followers’ belief in her prophesies. Though the skeptical reader may see White’s visions as self-serving, and to describe White’s own thoughts is again, merely speculative, White’s belief is palpable from her earliest writings through the compilations she completed late in her life. White’s first few visions outlined the sanctuary doctrine, which redefined the Great Disappointment and became core eschatology of Seventh-day Adventism. According to this doctrine, it wasn’t the date that had been incorrect, but the event. October 22, 1844 had not been the date for the advent; rather, it was an invisible spiritual event, when the High Priest entered the heavenly sanctuary just prior Christ’s coming. Most importantly, this meant the Second Coming of Christ was still imminent.77 The morning after the Great Disappointment, Hiram Edson, a follower of Miller, had a vision outlining this doctrine. It wasn’t until two months later, in December 1844, that White received her first vision supporting this reinterpretation of the Great Disappointment.78 White described this first vision as follows: “there were but five us of present, all females. While praying the power of God came upon me as I never had felt it before,
76 Betcher, 76. 77 Butler, “Prophecy, Gender and Culture,” 10, 17. 78 Numbers, “A Prophetess is Born.”
and I was wrapt up in a vision of God’s glory, and seemed to be rising higher and higher from the earth, and was shown something of the travels of the Advent people to the Holy City, as will be seen in the vision hereafter.”79 In her vision, 144,000 Adventist people traveled to New Jerusalem on a path lighted by the October 22 message while those who denied this message stumbled and fell off the path—in other words, the date of October 22 had not been a mistake.80 Two Millerite preachers published a paper in January 1845, not only supporting this interpretation of the Great Disappointment advocated by Edson and White, but taking it one step further by claiming the “door of mercy” had been shut on those who hadn’t been followers of Miller. In a February 1845 vision, White was shown that the door had indeed been closed— though she claimed not to have seen the paper from the previous month, which was in the house where she was staying. Of course, the shut-door doctrine was unsustainable if the religion was to flourish long-term, a fact the emerging leaders quickly realized. In fact, White’s first book was a result of this realization: A Sketch of the Christian Experience and Views of Ellen G. White (1851) was a collection of White’s early writings with passages that supported the shut door doctrine deleted.81 White’s embrace of the Seventh-day Sabbath provided further explanation for the delay of the advent. Her adoption of the Seventh-day Sabbath was certainly influenced by her association with Joseph Bates, a prominent Millerite who is also considered a co-founder of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Bates believed in the Seventh-day Sabbath and was one of its most prominent advocates. This was in contrast to most former Millerites, since an adventist conference of former Millerite leaders had officially condemned this doctrine in April 1845
79 White, A Sketch, “Experience and Views.” 80 Numbers, “A Prophetess is Born.” 81 Ibid.
(along with visions and the shut door). For most believers, White’s poor health served to validate the authenticity of her visions—they “thought of her as a defective vessel filled with God’s spirit.” 82 However, Bates was initially skeptical of White’s visions because he thought they were produced by her poor health. Ultimately, he was convinced by a November 1846 vision White had about astronomy, a particular interest of his. White described to Bates various astronomical information that Bates had written about months earlier—which White assured him she hadn’t read.83 Soon after this, in 1847, White had a vision in which she “saw that the Holy Sabbath is, and will be, the separating wall between the true Israel of God and unbelievers; and that the Sabbath is the great question, to unite the hearts of God’s dear waiting saints.”84 The implication of the vision was that Millerites must begin keeping the true Sabbath before the advent could occur; this then became one of the founding principles of the religion.85 Though her embrace of the seventh-day Sabbath was unlike her support for the sanctuary doctrine in that it didn’t necessary reflect what adventists as a whole wanted or needed to see, it did reflect what a particular adventist leader wanted or needed to see. By aligning herself with and obtaining the support of Bates, White continued her rise to becoming a powerful adventist leader herself. White’s main challenge during the no rules phase was to avoid becoming just another false prophet. Even before the attitude of the Methodist church had shifted, women were fearful of crossing the unclear boundary between institutionally encouraged witnessing, and preaching that usurped male clerical authority.86 Women, frequently faced with opposition, ridicule and criticism, were forced to defend not only the substance of their beliefs, but also their decision to
82 Butler, “Prophecy, Gender and Culture,” 14. 83 Numbers, “A Prophetess is Born” 84 White, A Sketch, “The Open and Shut Door.” 85 Numbers, “A Prophetess is Born.” 86 Brekus, 159.
speak at all. To do so, they developed elaborate justifications, and collected scriptural evidence in support of women’s evangelism. For example, female preachers aligned themselves with biblical heroines such as Mary and Anna the Prophetess, mentioned in the Gospel of Luke.87 Women’s most powerful claim in justifying their decision to preach was divine inspiration, which could be questioned but not ultimately disproved.88 White adopted this justification, for she too had to navigate this blurred line and defend her actions against ridicule and verbal abuse. Given this reality, White at first felt conflicted about her calling given the restrictions placed on women. After her first vision, she wrote that she “went to the Lord in prayer and begged him to lay the burden on some one else.”89 Indeed, White was not the only female visionary to arise out of the Millerite movement and try to make sense of the Great Disappointment. 90 Millerism, despite its male hierarchy and rejection of visionaries, had its own female clairvoyants. The secular press covered at least five Millerite women who were considered visionaries in the early 1840s. Millerites extoled the passage from Joel 2:28 that gave legitimacy to such visionaries: “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy.”91 Portland in particular was home to what Miller’s publicist Joshua Himes negatively called “continual introduction of visionary nonsense.92 Evangelical women who had prayed publically during the religious revivals of the early nineteenth century had paved the way for women who pursued careers as adventist preachers, though a male family member always
87 Brekus, 159. 88 Brekus, 161. 89 White, A Sketch, “Experience and Views.” 90 Taves, 157. 91 Butler, “From Millerism to Seventh-day Adventism,” 56. 92 Butler, “Prophecy, Gender and Culture,” 9.
accompanied them.93 White faced the challenge of both drawing on the tradition that these women had established and transcending it in order to avoid becoming indistinguishable from the women Himes and many others treated with condescension. One way she did this was by explicitly dismissing a fellow female visionary who emerged in Maine in the 1840s, Dorinda Baker. White said she had been shown in a vision from God that Baker, also covered by the press, was a fraud. Ironically, Baker was strikingly similar to White: sickly and claiming divine visions and personal healings.94 As she competed with other female visionaries White’s divine inspiration was frequently challenged. She was subjected to tests male prophets weren’t, asked, for instance, to hold heavy weights and was denied oxygen while in vision by curious men seeing to test the validity of her visions.95 She was also frequently accused of mesmerism, a popular psychological treatment of the time similar to hypnotism, which was “used as an epithet to discredit ‘fanatics.’”96 These charges were so adamant and frequent that White herself began to fear her visions were simply the result of mesmerism. After questioning if a vision had been produced by mesmeric force, White was unable to speak for twenty-four hours, which she interpreted as a sign from God and it dispelled her doubts permanently.97 White’s most frequent and serious challenge during this no rules period was that of fanaticism. White’s later writings gloss over the general “fanaticism” of the period following the Great Disappointment. However, she wrote in the recording of her first vision, “God had loved
93 Butler, “From Millerism to Seventh-day Adventism,” 57. 94 Butler, “Prophecy, Gender and Culture,” 9. 95 Numbers, “A Prophetess is Born.” 96 Taves, 131. 97 White, A Sketch, “Experience and Views.”
us who could wash one another’s feet, and salute the holy brethren with a holy kiss.”98 Such practices had become popular with rank-and-file Millerites late in the movement despite being disparaged by Millerite leaders. The sanctioning of such practices led to White’s association with “spiritualizers . . . those men and women who washed one another’s feet and kissed each other transgress[ing] the usual notions of decorum.99 White was not a spiritualizer, however. She did not go as far as supporting “spiritual wifery” or the attendance of public meetings in the nude, and she herself never engaged in even the practices her visions did endorse. White managed to distance herself from the fanaticism of the spiritualizers “by re-creating her past. Her memory of the enthusiastic community from which she arose underwent a subtle but significant change within the various revisions and expansions of her autobiography.”100 Though her writings, White actively engaged in constructing an identity as legitimate prophetess by minimizing and expunging that which undermined her position. Two reasons have been suggested for why White was more successful than her contemporary female visionaries. Ann Taves notes “White’s visions spoke consistently to the needs of the movement both in terms of content and timing.”101 This explanation is supported by the way White offered divine support for popular doctrines (the sanctuary and seventh-day Sabbath) and withdrew her support for doctrines that would have negatively impacted her legitimacy (the shut door and practices associated with spiritualism). Jon Butler, who writes “Prophecy originates less from an individual mind than from the collective impulses of a
98 White, A Sketch, “To the Remnant Scattered Abroad.” 99 Butler, “Prophecy, Gender and Culture,” 5, 17-18. 100 Butler, “Prophecy, Gender and Culture,” 21. 101 Taves, 163.
community which flow forcefully through an unusually receptive person,” also suggests that it was the need of the adventist community that led to White’s success.102 Butler emphasizes James White’s role in propelling his wife to a position of leadership by arguing that, “Ellen might have faded into this inchoate charismatic background and entirely disappeared had not James White married her . . . and served not only as her husband and protector, but as her promoter and publisher.”103 However, White’s prophecy preceded her marriage, and she found early sanction for her prophecy from many sources. At least sixty Portland adventists acknowledged the authenticity of White’s first vision in December 1844 as divine, testifying as such. One of them, Otis Nichols, even sent a copy of her this vision (published as a broadside in 1846) to William Miller and asked him to accept White as a visionary.104 As she traveled with her husband, White visions continued to be accepted as divine at various Adventist Conferences they attended throughout the New England and New York region in the late 1840s and early 1850s. Though White preached and spread her adventist message, she did not speak for all sabbatarian adventists, who at this time “had reached no consensus regarding the significance of [White’s] visions.” 105 The Whites knew of the controversy surrounding her visions, controversy based in her changed position on the shut door and association with spiritualizers. In a letter to friends in 1851, White wrote, “The visions trouble many.”
102 Butler, “Prophecy, Gender and Culture,” 9. 103 Butler, “From Millerism to Seventh-day Adventism,” 62. 104 Butler, “Prophecy, Gender and Culture,” 12. 105 Numbers, “A Prophetess is Born.”
Up until this point, White was publishing her visions in her husband’s leading adventist periodical, the Review and Herald.106 James White had begun publishing in early 1849 in response to a November 1848 vision White had after which she said “You must begin to bring a little paper and sent it out to the people.”107 However, beginning in 1851, White’s visions were confined to an “extra.” Though the first “extra” said that they would be published bi-weekly, this was the only one to ever appear. After this, according to Ronald Numbers, the frequency of White’s visions rapidly diminished, and she feared they were gone forever. However, when the Review and Herald changed hands in 1855 and the pages were reopened to White, her visions returned. At the same time, a general meeting of sabbatarian leaders endorsed White as “God’s chosen messenger.” This marked a turning point, giving White an institutional base of support that consisted of a growing system of churches—with male leadership.108 There were also numerous Adventist publications beyond the Review and Herald, and these periodicals allowed White’s adventist message to spread beyond the region where the she traveled and preached informally. As the passing of time lessened the intensity of the advent, an effort grew, spurred in large part by James White, to officially organize the church. As Butler wrote, “millenarians cannot last as millenarians.”109 As with the sanctuary doctrine and Seventh-day Sabbath, White relayed divine sanction for this movement toward organization, writing in 1859: “God is well pleased with the efforts of his people in trying to move with system and order in his work. I saw that there should be order in the church of God, and arrangements in regard to carrying forward
106 Butler, “From Millerism to Seventh-day Adventism,” 63. 107 White, Christian Experience and Teachings of Ellen G. White, (Washington DC: Ellen G. White Estate, Inc., 2010 ), Kindle edition, “Beginning to Publish.” 108 Numbers, “A Prophetess is Born.” 109 Butler, “Millerism to Seventh-day Adventism,” 50.
successfully the last great message of mercy to the world.”110 Though the organization of the church was initially controversial, with the support of the Whites and Joseph Bates the church was legally organized under the name “Seventh-day Adventist” in 1863. White’s followers had grown from 200 in 1850 to 3,500 at the time of the formal organization in 1863.111 Though White had initially embarked on her role as prophet with hesitation, over time, she grew increasingly assured of her calling, which is reiterated in various forms throughout her visions, such as the command in her first vision: “You must go back to the earth again, and relate to others what I have revealed to you.”112 Ultimately, the role of Adventist prophet allowed White to rise to a position of power and independence relatively rare for nineteenth century women—which White herself recognized. As Butler notes, “throughout her life . . . she equated her personal independence with her prophetic role.”113 In particular, prophecy enabled White to become financially independent. Though the Whites struggled financially through the early years of the religion, often living with friends and family and sustaining themselves on the charity of their followers—as did most traveling evangelicals in the early nineteenth century—their fortunes grew with that of the Church. By the time Seventh-day Adventists officially organized, the White family was comfortably middle class, with their own home in Battle Creek, Michigan, where they moved in 1855. Though Battle Creek was their permanent home, the Whites continued to travel extensively, staying with fellow Adventists across the northeast and Midwest for extended periods of time.114 It was from her home base in Battle Creek that White shifted gears, and embarked on the benevolent work in health reform for which she became known.
110 Quoted in Butler, “Prophecy, Gender and Culture,” 63. 111 Butler, “Prophecy, Gender and Culture,” 63. 112 White, A Sketch, “To The Remnant Scattered Abroad.” 113 Butler, “Prophecy, Gender and Culture,” 16. 114 Numbers, “A Prophetess is Born.”
O’Hagan Health Reform: The Arm of Seventh-day Adventism
Though “initially, the Adventists’ apocalyptic expectation was of such immediacy and intensity that it overrode any impulse toward social activism,” by 1863 the Seventh-day Adventist Church had been institutionalized, and two decades had passed since William Miller’s originally predicted date for the Advent and end of world. 115 It was this year that White received her first health-related vision, on June 5, 1863. The following year, White published her first book on health, a small volume entitled An Appeal to Mothers: The Great Cause of the Physical, Mental and Moral Ruin of Many of the Children of Our Time. The timing of White’s shift gave the Church a needed fresh cause. The health reform movement, though it had sporadic surges in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, truly took off under the leadership of evangelist Sylvester Graham in the 1830s. He began his career lecturing on temperance but quickly added vegetarianism to his crusade—probably influenced by earlier advocates, though like many at the time, he did not acknowledge his intellectual debts. Graham won a widespread following by claiming that his health prescriptions helped people avoid cholera, of which there was an epidemic in 1832. Graham advised avoiding all stimulating and unnatural foods and to consume only “the products of the vegetable kingdom and pure water.” This meant sweets, tea, coffee, tobacco, alcohol and meat were forbidden from ones diet; dairy products were also to be consumed sparingly if at all. Graham also advised only consuming two meals a day. In his lectures he emphasized these dietary outlines along with the importance of rest, exercise, cleanliness and dress. Finally, he preached that people should never resort to medicines. These edicts constituted the common core beliefs of health reformers through the mid- to late nineteenth century. The Graham system was
115 Douglas Morgan, “Adventism, Apocalyptic, and the Cause of Liberty,” Church History 63 (1994): 239, http://www.jstor.org/stable/3168590.
adapted to a variety of institutions, including boarding houses established by Graham himself but also at Oberlin College, at the urging of Charles Finney, and was practiced among Shaker communities.116 A precedent for health reform work also existed among the adventist community. Before the Great Disappointment, prominent Millerites such as Reverend Charles Fitch, Ezekiel Hale, Jr. and Dr. Larkin B. Coles had publically allied themselves with health reformers. Joseph Bates had campaigned for temperance and adopted Graham’s prescribed health reform practices in 1843.117 He and other men associated with the Whites surely shared their experiences with health reform. The alliance of fringe religious groups and reformers was not unusual, as “the unorthodox in religion commonly displayed a marked affinity for heterodox medicine, which they tended to view in a moral rather than in a scientific light.”118 The health establishments created and maintained by the Seventh-day Adventist Church were a continuation of this trend. The theological assumptions and expectations of those who held a moralistic view of health reform did differ depending on one’s millennial theology. Post-millennialists saw health reform as a key to bringing about the millennium on earth through the eradication of disease. Pre-millennialists, including White, saw obedience to the rules of health reform as another requirement for entry into heaven—though of course, she and others did also see and experience health reform as a means to live more comfortably. Considering the distrust of medicines among health reformers, it makes sense that hydropathy, a system of healing without drugs, became quite popular. Hydropathy, or the “water cure” as it was also known, claimed to heal wounds and cure illness through general application
116 Numbers, “The Health Reformers.” 117 Butler, “From Boundlessness to Consolidation,” 54. 118 Numbers, “Dansville Days.”
of water to the body, local application of water to particular parts of the body, and internal use of water by drinking and injections to heal wounds and illnesses—essentially, baths, wet bandages, and hydration.119 Though it originated in Europe in the 1830s, the water cure spread rapidly, appearing in the United States around 1844. Early proponents combined hydrotherapy with many elements of Grahamism, and this combination formed the basis of White’s prophecy, writing and directives on health. White’s introduction of these practices to the Adventist community with her first health prophecy in 1863 and publication in 1864 were not groundbreaking in and of themselves, but heralded a shift in the focus and direction of the church. White also had clear personal motivations for an interest in health reform. Though she had learned to see her early childhood injury as a blessing rather than a curse, writing: “the affliction that had darkened my childhood seemed to have been dealt me in mercy, for my good, to turn my heart away from the world and its unsatisfying pleasures, and incline it toward the enduring attractions of heaven,” she continued to suffer from perpetual attacks of poor health.120 White took interest in health reform as a patient and ultimately prophet, but also as a woman. Like involvement in religious leadership, involvement in social reform movements offered women the opportunity to engage in work outside the home without overstepping the boundaries of acceptable female behavior. Health reform was grounded in the larger benevolence movement in the early nineteenth century. It was the ideology of benevolence—the belief that women were predisposed to moral excellence and religion, a conflation of femininity and morality—that underpinned women’s work in charitable organizations and social reform causes. These causes were wide-ranging, including abolition, temperance, and relief for the poor, but
119 Marshall Scott Legan. “Hydropathy, or the Water-Cure,” in Pseudo-Science and Society in Nineteenth Century America, ed. Arthur Wrobel, (Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky, 1987), 75. 120 White, Christian Experience and Teachings, “Conversion.”
regardless of the specific cause, “the language of Protestant benevolence accurately described [women’s] efforts at bringing about social change.”121 Benevolent work had a long history in White’s hometown of Portland, a reflection of the benevolent work that existed in many of the major and developing cities of the New England and New York region in the nineteenth century. As William Willis notes many charitable institutions in his 1865 history of Portland, including “The Female Charitable Society, incorporated in 1812 and conducted by ladies . . . one of the most efficient and useful of the sisters of charity in our town; it visits with noiseless step the cheerless house of want, and kindly smooths the pillow of sickness and sorrow.”122 Health reform and its leading component in the nineteenth century, temperance, were especially popular outlets for women’s work outside the home. One-fourth of the members of the American Physiological Society—the first of many health reform associations formed in 1837— were women. 123 In particular, nursing a family member was considered one of the most important functions of a woman at the time, despite the fact that “her own health was probably, although regrettably, delicate.”124 Within her own family, White played this role as a wife and mother, nursing James White and two of her sons through illness. The importance of women’s role in health reform is indicated by the title of White’s first volume on the subject: An Appeal to Mothers [emphasis added]. In addition, hydropathy was especially appealing to women. It gave women an active role by offering improved health through easily implemented changes personal habits—thus women became “self-doctorers.” Women’s role in home health care was also recognized, and therefore
121 Lori D. Ginzberg, Women and the work of benevolence: morality, politics, and class in the nineteenth-century United States (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990), 2. 122 Willis, 753. 123 Numbers, “The Health Reformers.” 124 Barbara Welter, “The Cult of True Womanhood: 1820-1860,” American Quarterly 18 (1966): 163, http://www.jstor.org/stable/2711179.
they were seen as central in the campaign to reform American living habits. Women did not practice the water cure exclusively at home, however, but were also practitioners at water cure facilities. The early 1850s graduating classes of the American Hydropathtic Institute in New York City were about equally divided between men and women. The argument for female practitioners rested on the “the complementary nature of women’s character with healing,” and also allowed for same-sex attendants. 125 White embraced the use of female practitioners, administering the water cure herself to neighbors and friends in her hometown of Battle Creek. White’s personal experiences with illness correlated with and informed the health commands she delivered through visions. In January of 1863, White read an article published by James Caleb Jackson on diphtheria. There was an epidemic of the illness at the time, which two of White’s sons happened to be suffering from. White’s children recovered after she used the simple water treatments described in the article.126 It was reprinted in the February 17, 1863 issue of the Review and Herald.127 The article by Dr. Jackson also spelled out the basic principles of health reform. During the winter of 1863-64 two of White’s sons had critical cases of pneumonia. A physician treated her eldest son Henry. He died of the disease at age 16. Not too long after this, White’s son Willie caught what was then called lung fever. The Whites, rather than consulting a physician, administered water treatments and prayed for him. After a week of illness, Willie recovered. White later wrote that she had an inspired dream while Willie was sick that drugs were harmful. These two experiences with her children informed White’s belief that the water
125 Susan E. Cayleff, “Gender, Ideology and the Water-Cure Movement,” in Other Healers: Unorthodox Medicine in America, ed. Norman Gevitz, (Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988), 85-90. 126 Numbers, “The Health Reformers.” 127 James C. Jackson, M.D., “Diphtheria, its Causes, Treatment and Cure,” The Review and Herald, February 17, 1863, https://egwwritings.org/.
cure was superior to the practices of physicians.128 She claimed divine endorsement for the type of therapy that she found most successful in her own life. Throughout the spring of 1863 James White wrote articles and included excerpts from publications extolling the hygienic living health reform guidelines in the Review and Herald. Thus, long before White’s June 1863 vision, the Seventh-day Adventists had already heard of the health reform message. However, the health crusade that had begun received divine approval when White had her first health vision June 5, 1863. Though it was not published until fifteen months later, in August 1864, it recites what were at the time the established principles of health reform, though they were attributed to her recent vision. White’s prophecy was largely responsible for changing the eating habits of Seventh-day Adventists. The Review and Herald continued to publish articles and excerpts from leading health reformers to help Adventists take the transition to the new prescriptions of health reform. Though not all aspects of health reform were uniformly embraced, “for most Adventists, acceptance of health reform meant principally three things: a vegetarian diet, two meals a day, and no drugs or stimulants.”129 This was true of the White household itself; by 1864 she wrote that she had abolished meat from her diet and was down to two meals a day. White also reported that this regimen improved her own health.130 In autumn of 1864, the Whites decided to visit Dr. Jackson’s water cure resort for themselves. Dr. Jackson’s had established “Our Home on the Hillside” in Dansville, New York in October of 1858. The basic principles of health reform and hydropathy governed the daily life of residents. All of the women wore the “American Costume,” a dress and trousers outfit
128 Numbers, “Dansville Days.” 129 Numbers, “Whatsoever Ye Eat or Drink.” 130 White, Testimonies for the Church: Volume II (Washington, DC: Ellen G. White Estate, Inc., 2010 ), Kindle edition, “Flesh Meats and Stimulants.”
modeled on the famous so-called Bloomer costume. The food served was vegetarian; meat, butter, tea and coffee were forbidden. Two meals were served a day: breakfast in the morning, and dinner in the afternoon, and residents spent their time partaking in water treatments and simple exercises. Drugs and medicine were also expressly forbidden. The Whites were kept company by at least seven other Seventh-day Adventists at Our Home at the time. They stayed for three weeks, during which time the American costume of short skirts over pants particularly enraptured White. After their stay, the Whites began to travel, preaching the message of health reform. When at home in Battle Creek, White began to administer hydrotherapy treatments herself, though she already had plans to establish a sanitarium where Seventh-day Adventists could come to receive such treatments. The Whites soon returned to Danesville, as James White had suffered a stroke in the summer of 1865, and by September White was no longer able to care for him by herself. Upon their return to Our Home, the Whites settled into the Dansville routine. White was not only caretaker for her husband, but received treatments herself and took to nursing duties, making beds and tidying rooms for other ministers. However, this longer stay at Our Home revealed disagreements between White and Dr. Jackson, especially on theological matters. She wrote that despite “the kind attention and respect” she had received at Our Home, “the sophistry of the devil” prevailed in Dansville.131 The Whites left Our Home in December of 1865 to stay with friends in Rochester.132 It was in Rochester, on Christmas Eve, that White had a seminal vision. In it, she not only saw that her husband would recover, but received a calling for what might be White’s most enduring contribution to health reform and the Seventh-day Adventists Church. Adventists were to “have an institution of their own, under their own control, for the benefit of the diseased and
131 White, Testimonies for the Church: Volume 1, “Health and Religion.” 132 Numbers, “Dansville Days.”
suffering among us, who wish to have health and strength that they may glorify God in their bodies and spirits which are his.”133 At the annual General Conference session in May 1866, White announced the commandment from her vision to build an Adventist water cure. As a result, the Western Health Reform Institute was established in Battle Creek, and opened its doors September 5, 1866. Support and enthusiasm for the institute was widespread, especially as many church leaders had, like White, stayed at Our Home in Dansville, on which the institute was clearly modeled. Prompted by White’s vision, the Western Health Reform Institute became “the first link in what was to become a worldwide chain of Seventh-day Adventist medical institutions.”134 In keeping with the benevolent underpinnings of health reform work, the institute took in charity patients, at one point facing insolvency because of how few paying patrons it housed.135 The benevolent underpinnings of this health reform work helped the church respond to charges that the establishment of permanent medical facility, like the institutionalization of the church, was a heavy investment in this world and therefore “a denial of our faith in the speedy coming of Christ.” 136 The Western Health Reform Institute, and the medical centers that followed, were framed as a means of evangelism, spreading the “present truth.” Church leaders used the pages of the Review and Herald to make this clear, as it was also made clear by White’s prophecy.137 In this way, the benevolent health reform undertaken by the church was explicitly linked to the Church’s millennial message and theology: the creation of their benevolent millennialism.
133 White, Testimonies for the Church: Volume 1, “Health and Religion.” 134 Numbers, “Dansville Days.” 135 Numbers, “The Western Health Reform Institute.” 136 Numbers, “The Western Health Reform Institute.” 137 D. T. Boukdeau, “The Health Reform,” The Review and Herald, June 12, 1866, https://egwwritings.org/.
White’s writing and prophecy shaped the direction of the church, so much so that when church leaders wanted to expand the successful Institute, they saw a public endorsement from White as necessary to gain the needed investment. Uriah Smith, then editor of the Review and Herald, wrote White in 1867 asking for a public endorsement, as “a great many are waiting before doing anything to help the Institute, till they see the Testimony [White’s forthcoming publication].”138 White answered their appeal for assistance, and wrote in her response letter to Smith that she had received a vision that the institute was “a worthy enterprise for God’s people to engage in, one in which they can invest means to his glory and the advancement of his cause.”139 She also reaffirmed her support for health reform work more generally, writing that it was as “closely connected with the present truth as the arm is connected with the body.”140 However, her position quickly shifted. Only months after issuing her statements of support, including the account of her vision, she published another volume saying the Lord had shown her that the institute should be “small at its commencement and cautiously increased, as good physicians and helpers could be procured and means raised.” White blamed Uriah Smith for the repudiation of the divinely inspired testimony she had published months earlier, while also refusing to withdraw any of her earlier writing. This contradiction, and her admittance to acting under Smith’s pressure raised “long-lasting questions about her susceptibility to human influences.”141 Such questions about the role of human influences had already come up regarding her health reform work. Since her first speeches and writings on the subject, White had insisted her
138 Numbers, “The Western Health Reform Institute” 139 White, Testimonies for the Church Volume 1, “The Health Reform.” 140 Quoted in Numbers, “Dansville Days.” 141 Numbers, “The Western Health Reform Institute.”
views “were written independent of books or of the opinion of others.”142 Despite White’s claim that the health reforms she advocated were based on personal experience and edicts she received through divine inspiration, they clearly drew on the work of health reformers who had become increasingly active and competent in nineteenth century America. She was so often questioned about her knowledge of Dr. Jackson and other health reformer’s writings that she ultimately issued a formal statement in the Review and Herald “disclaiming any familiarity with healthreform publications prior to receiving and writing out her vision.” However, this is clearly not the case, given the publication of articles in the Review and Herald, which White certainly read or of which she was aware, on health reform, in addition to the fact that she had read Dr. Jackson’s January 1863 article on diphtheria. Ronald Numbers, in his book on White’s health prophecy, has extensively documented that this was not the case. He points out plagiaristic parallels between the writings of leading health reformers White’s writing to evidence this claim. In addition, he cites correspondence between the Whites and Dr. Jackson that demonstrates the White family received books from Dr. Jackson in August 1863 and that at least James White had read them by December of that year.143 White negotiated and shifted her positions over time in response to the reaction within the church, especially with regards to certain dietary restrictions and particularly the issue of dress reform. In terms of dietary restrictions, White’s commitment to temperance and abstinence from other stimulating substances such as tobacco and coffee remained, while her commitment to
142 White, Manuscript Releases Volume 1, “Integrity of the Prophetic Message” and “Writing Out the Light on Health Reform.” https://egwwritings.org/ 143 Numbers, “Dansville Days.”
vegetarianism had dropped off by the mid-1870s, only to resurge in the new century, at which point it “was more the exception than the rule in Adventist households.”144 However, it was in dress reform that White most definitively changed her position, and it is perhaps especially revealing about the precarious nature of White’s leadership given the gendered nature of the issue. Dress reform had always been one of the more controversial aspects of the health reform message, though it was an important aspect for many reformers. Graham himself had advocated against wearing corsets and other tight costumes. The Bloomer costume had actually been designed in a hydropathic institution, modeled after “the wet dress, a gown with extra wide sleeves which was dipped in cold water before being put on.”145 White seemed predisposed to an interest in dress reform. She had always dressed simply, and believed modesty in dress was an important religious tenement. She recounted her faith being shaken the day she was baptized in the Methodist church, when her minister failed to admonish a fellow candidate for her ornate adornments, which White felt were a “display of vanity in one who professed to be a follower of the meek and lowly Jesus.”146 Despite this, and the fact that she supported most other tenants of health reform, White had actually initially opposed dress reform, writing in 1863 “God would not have his people adopt the so-called reform dress.”147 It was her trip to Dansville that changed her mind, and created an association between not only dress and morality, but also dress and health. At Dansville, women’s clothing received special attention. Dr. Jackson and his colleagues designed their own “American costume,” a dress and trouser outfit modeled on the famous so-called Bloomer costume. White decided to
144 Numbers, “Whatsoever Ye Eat or Drink.” 145 Legan, 84. 146 White, A Sketch, “My Conversion.” 147 White, Testimonies for the Church: Volume 1, “The Reform Dress.”
support a modified version of the American costume with a longer skirt. She herself, however, only wore the costume intermittently in late 1865 and early 1866, careful to avoid wearing it in situations where it might cause controversy. However, the opening of the Western Health Reform Institute forced her to take a stronger stance. Since her directions regarding health reform in her 1865 publication How to Live were the directives under which the institute was run, patients were urged to wear the reform dress. Some Adventists, however, understandably pointed to White’s earlier writing that condemned the reform dress and questioned this practice. Again, the contradiction in White’s vision put her authority at stake. She published another volume that attempted to reconcile the two positions; essential to her position was distinguishing between the American costume and that which she advocated in How to Live. The former was too short, and this is what she had cautioned Adventists against adopting in her initial writings; the latter was the acceptable and encouraged dress. In addition, White reasserted her authority as prophet: “I am the best judge of the things which have been presented before me in vision; and none need fear that I shall by my life contradict my own testimony, or that I shall fail to notice any real contradiction in the views given me.”148 Having successfully navigated her way out of this controversy, White enthusiastically took up the cause of dress reform. “God would now have his people adopt the reform dress,” she wrote, and she set out to ensure that they did so.149 She set a standard for what was appropriate— skirts should be nine inches above the floor—and began peddling patterns as she traveled to churches. In 1869 the General Conference officially endorsed the dress standards that White had laid out.150
148 White, Testimonies for the Church: Volume 1, “The Reform Dress.” 149 Ibid. 150 Numbers, “Short Skirts and Sex.”
Dress reform never received a wide following among the Adventist membership however. Like many dress reformers who also considered themselves health reformers, White struggled to legitimize this more rational way of dressing, which “numerous women testified . . . improved their health and saved their lives.”151 Despite the good intentions of White’s advocacy for dress reform, in that she was not attempting to challenge gender norms or attack women’s virtue, wearing bloomers, or any other similar costume, was considered fanatical.152 This was in part due to its association with early feminists such as Sarah and Angelina Grimke, Lucy Stone, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and other women’s rights advocates who “eagerly adopted the Bloomer as their distinctive uniform.”153 Distancing himself from this association is perhaps why Dr. Jackson renamed the costume worn by women at Our Home in Dansville the “American costume,” though it appears indistinguishable from the Bloomer costume. This association with fanaticism is also perhaps the reason for White’s initial opposition. She had learned the dangers of being associated with fanatics from her association with spirtualizers in the late 1840s. But even the feminists, including the leaders: Stanton, Stone and the Grimkes, abandoned dress reform, given the overwhelmingly hostile response from the press and negative associations with dress reform. Indeed, the demise of the National Dress Reform Association came in 1865, just as White was enthusiastically taking up the cause.154 This hostile response from most was also too much for even those Adventist women willing to try the reform dress, who were few and far between—further exacerbating the situation. By 1875, White had given up
151 Gayle V. Fischer, A Nineteenth-Century Dress Reform in the United States (Kent, OH: The Kent State University Press, 2001), 115. 152 Welter, 157. 153 Numbers, “Short Skirts and Sex.” 154 Fischer, 121.
on dress reform within the Adventist church, personally abandoning the costume as well.155 White had a vision on January 3, 1875 in which she saw dress reform had become “an injury to the cause of truth” and testimony calling for the adoption of dress reform was now “to become silent.”156 Without contradicting her earlier divinely inspired testimony in favor of dress reform, she was able to abandon the cause. From then on, White simply advocated that Adventist women “dress plainly, as many do, having the dress of good material, durable, modest, appropriate for this age, and let not the dress question fill the mind.”157 Though dress reform historian Gayle V. Fischer allows that “the Seventh-day Adventists were successful in combining health and religion in their theology . . . encouraging women to wear trousers was one of their least productive experiments.”158 White’s most strident and enduring commitment with regard to her health reform message was temperance; as Numbers writes, “temperance was her favorite theme, and she happily accepted the many speaking invitations that came her way.” Throughout the 1870s, she spoke to audiences of thousands on temperance; her greatest triumph in this matter was lecturing on temperance at a gathering of 20,000 at a camp meeting in Massachusetts in September 1876. She also regularly wrote articles on temperance for Adventist publications. The Adventist commitment to temperance was institutionalized in 1879 with the formation of the American Health and Temperance Association. As she traveled, White actively recruited Adventists to sign
155 Numbers, “Short Skirts and Sex.” 156 White, Testimonies for the Church: Volume III (Washington, DC: Ellen G. White Estate, Inc., 2010 ), Kindle edition, “Daydreaming.” 157 White, Healthful Living (Washington, DC: Ellen G. White Estate, Inc., 2010 ), Kindle edition, “Dress: General Statements.” 158 Fischer, 131.
a teetotal pledge, which included abstinence from tea coffee, opium and all other narcotics and stimulants, or a less comprehensive anti-liquor and tobacco pledge.159 Despite White’s unacknowledged debt to the health reformers whose teachings she drew on, and her later retraction of certain aspects of her health reform message, the Seventh-day Adventist Church retained a commitment to health work as a whole. White and the Church remained committed to core aspects of health reform, and by the early 1870s the financial outlook of both the Western Health Reform Institute were bright. In 1875 John Kellogg joined the staff of the Western Health Reform Institute. While hydropathy had rejected many of the valid practices in traditional medicine, Kellogg worked with the Whites to turn the institute into a scientifically respectable institution where a wide variety of medical and surgical techniques were used. White was willing to do this in order to “prove her detractors wrong and bring fame and honor to Seventh-day Adventists.”160 By the Spring of 1878 a new Medical and Surgical Sanitarium stood on the old institute grounds. Though White had originally supported this recasting of the institution, she now felt the building was more like “a grand hotel rather than an institution for the treatment of the sick.”161 Kellogg responded by working with the White’s rivals to force them off the board of the sanitarium in 1880. The sanitarium continued in success; the medical director of Johns Hopkins University Hospital praised Kellogg for “having converted into a scientific institution an establishment founded on a vision.”162 Kellogg, still a practicing
159 Numbers, “Whatsoever Ye Eat or Drink.” 160 Numbers, “The Western Health Reform Institute.” 161 White, “Testimony for the Physicians and https://egwwritings.org/ 162 Quoted in Numbers, “Fighting the Good Fight.”
Adventist, continued to give credit to this vision, characterizing White as the institution’s “real founder and chief promoter.”163 Kellogg had ascended to the leadership of the church’s health reform work—he was also president of American Health and Temperance Association. Not long after the Whites were removed from the sanitarium’s board, James White passed away: a severe and tragic loss for White whose work and prophecy had been supported and promulgated by her husband, and a loss for the church as well, as it was his efforts that created and led the church’s organization. White’s work, then, underwent another shift. She began to lend her assistance to the Adventist’s global missionary efforts, and “literally followed the spread of Adventism around the world.”164 White and her husband had in fact already begun spending much of their time in the western United States in the 1870s, assisting with proselytizing, and so global travel, in a way, was a natural extension of White’s continued westward movement. The spread of Adventism country and worldwide followed similar patterns: an Adventist leader relocated as a missionary, found a publication, and set up centrally located headquarters. It was at this point, when churches had been somewhat established, that White traveled to the newly established branch of Adventism. Like early Methodist women, White “broke down the barriers between “public” and “private” by making the world [her] household”— quite literally, given her international travels.165 Her first trip was to Switzerland in 1884; she spent the following three years traveling across Europe. During this time, “the thrill of sightseeing and speaking in new places tended to divert Mrs. White’s attention from health reform.”166 However, after some time back in the United States, she went to Australia and New Zealand in 1891, and here she continued her health reform work.
163 Quoted in Numbers, “Fighting the Good Fight.” 164 Numbers, “Fighting the Good Fight.” 165 Brekus, 145. 166 Numbers, “Fighting the Good Fight.”
White realized that health reform was benevolence and evangelism combined.167 As she wrote in 1900, it was “an entering wedge, making a way for other truths to reach the heart.”168 In 1900 White returned to the United States. Rather than retiring, she continued to work, writing extensively. As Butler explains, “the role of prophet offered her a culturally defined way to speak and to write, relieving her illnesses rather than aggravating them.”169 She compiled a volume on Christian Temperance from her previously published writings in 1890, and published The Ministry of Healing, another major work on health, in 1905. She also helped to establish other medical centers near major cities, including ones near Washington, Chicago, Boston and Nashville. She had moved to Southern California in 1900, and was especially involved in establishing sanitariums near San Diego and Los Angeles. Her assistance came not only in the form of endorsement and fundraising, but also in some cases a personal involvement in the staffing and function of the institutions. By 1915, there were 33 sanitariums and a number of smaller medical facilities associated with the Seventh-day Day Adventist Church across six continents.170 Today, there are over 500 Adventists medical institutions worldwide.171 Thus, health reform, informed and entrenched by White’s prophecy and writings, became a defining characteristic of the church. It is the importance of health work to the church and the fact that White was the leader and impetus for much of this work, that makes the description of the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s millennialism as “benevolent” appropriate.
167 Numbers, “Fighting the Good Fight.” 168 White, Testimonies for the Church: Volume VI (Washington, DC: Ellen G. White Estate, Inc., 2010 ), Kindle edition, “United Effort in Canvassing.” 169 Butler, “Prophecy, Gender and Culture,” 15. 170 Numbers, “Fighting the Good Fight.” 171 General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research, “Seventh-day Adventist World Church Statistics,” 4 January 2012, http://www.adventist.org/world-church/facts-and-figures/index.html.
White’s daytime visions tapered off in the 1870s. After 1879, all her visions came in dreams. White remained a somewhat controversial figure throughout her life and remains so today. Her visions and actions continued to be attacked for inconsistencies and plagiarism in her visions, especially by Adventist doctors and ministers. However, White’s position as prophet was entrenched and continued to be endorsed by the church even as the controversy over her work led to a schism, and at the time of her death, on July 16, 1915, there were over 136,000 Adventist followers.172 White never lost her belief in the imminent return of Christ. She spent her final years completing a set of volumes entitled Conflict of the Ages, describing the biblical history of the world, including the second coming of Christ and the millennium. To this day, Seventh-day Adventists talk of the imminent Advent.173 Despite being restricted to the “domestic sphere,” women found outlets for their talents that did not require them to overstep the boundaries of acceptable female behavior. For White, these outlets were her millennial prophecy and health reform work.174 Despite a cultural and historical environment in which most women were unable to attain positions of power and authority, White was able to embrace and challenge norms and trends of the Methodist church, millennialism, and the Millerite movement in order to establish herself as a prophetic leader and found the Seventh-day Adventist Church with its particular brand of benevolent millennialism. Her empowerment began with her individual spiritual journey, as she chose to convert to the
172 Numbers, “Fighting the Good Fight.” As part of this complex controversy, Kellogg was excommunicated from the Church in 1907. 173 Laura L. Vance, Seventh-day Adventism in Crisis: Gender and Sectarian Change in an Emerging Religion (Chicago, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1999), 47-9. 174 Brekus, 151.
Methodist church but gave ultimate fidelity to the Millerite movement. Though it was not a straight or easy path, White continued to successfully become prophetess, health reformer and Adventist leader. In discussing her role as both millennialist and health reformer, Ronald Numbers suggested, “in a fundamental way [White’s] life had been a paradox. Although consumed with making preparations for the next world, she nevertheless devoted much of her energy toward improving life and health in this one.”175 Her benevolent millennialism resolved this theological paradox by integrating these two themes--the legacy of which remains in the hundreds of medical institutions operated by the church worldwide, and by the millennial fervor that endures.
175 Numbers, “Fighting the Good Fight.”
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