Ellen White's Shocking Statements about Women
Dirk Anderson, July 2022
Mrs. White is lauded by the SDA sect as a pioneering female spiritual leader who insprired generations of other women to get involved in ministry. She wrote many positive and encouraging words about women and their role in the church. However, there is another side to Ellen White's treatment of women that most SDAs are unaware of. In what are described as her "inspired" writings, she makes a number of disparaging, and even false, statements about women.
Women are sicker than men?
In 1855, Ellen White published a testimony stating:
Infirmities and disease especially affect women.1
Perhaps, the SDA people wondered if this comment was factual or was colored by her own feeble health condition. She cleared that mystery up several years later when she reiterated the statement in the church's magazine, adding that God had specifically shown her that women were especially prone to disease:
I was shown that infirmities and disease especially affect females.2
The following year, she wrote of the dire state of female health in a letter:
Nearly all females are not well, are not really healthy, but if all should yield to their poor feeling and give up their ambition, lose their power of endurance, what a helpless, useless class of mortals there would be on the earth.3
In 1864, in her book about masturbation, she wrote that females "possess less vital force than the other sex."4 According to this book, when females practice "solitary vice," they exhaust their "vital force" more quickly than men.
Is any of this true? Are women especially prone to disease? Were nearly all women in the 1860s unhealthy? Do women have less life force than men?
Perhaps the best place to start looking for answers is in life expectancy.5 Did their proneness to disease and their possession of less vital force cause women to live shorter life spans then men in the 1860s? In the 1860s, many children died from childhood diseases, including two of Ellen White's children (John Herbert and Henry). Therefore, life expectancy must be calculated after a child reaches adulthood. In 1860, before the Civil War started, if a child survived to age 20, the average life expectancy for a female was 61 years. The average life expectancy for a male was 42 years. That is a 19-year difference! If the woman lived to age 60, her life expectancy was 75 years, which is not much less than today. In terms of life expectancy and mortality, women in the 1860s lived much longer than men. This would seem to deny Mrs. White's contention that women have less "vital force" then men. In the 1860s, it appears the opposite was true: women had substantially more "vital force" than men.
What about disease? Are females especially prone to disease? It is true that women have more auto-immune issues than men, but modern research has shown that the reason for this is that women have stronger immune systems than men. Dr. Kyle Sue, from the Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada, analyzed studies of respiratory diseases, comparing the genders, and discovered:
...a man's immune system may be naturally weaker than a woman's, and with some illnesses, especially respiratory diseases, men are more susceptible to complications than women. This is because of hormonal differences in the genders. The masculine hormone testosterone suppresses the immune system, while the feminine hormone estradiol is immunoprotective.6
A study from Stanford University School of Medicine had similar findings. Researchers found "the female hormone estrogen may strengthen women's immune systems, whereas testosterone — the male equivalent — impairs the body's capacity to fight off viruses."7 This lower immunity was demonstrated in the Covid-19 pandemic. In the USA, Italy, Spain, China, South Korea, and the UK, the majority of Covid-19 deaths were male, and by significant margins.8 Researchers concluded that "women tend to have greater and more robust immune responses" to novel viruses.9 Nature Communications reports that "men are more likely to be sick than women" and "female immune alertness" makes them "less vulnerable to infectious diseases."10 A large health study of Australians discovered that:11
Thus, modern medical research points in the opposite direction from what Mrs. White wrote. Instead of being more prone to disease, women are actually less prone to infectious diseases than men are.
Women are spiritually weaker than men?
Not only did Ellen White consider women more prone to physical disease, she also considered them more prone to being used by Satan:
Satan chooses women, for he can use them more successfully than he can men.12
There is no evidence to support this offensive statement. In fact, the most diabolical people in human history have all been men (e.g., Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, Pol Pot, Genghis Khan, Nero). Nearly all modern research over the last few decades of womens' studies has shown that women are more spiritual than men. For example, a PEW research study in the United States found:13
Women not to vote?
In the nineteenth and early twentieth century, women could not influence the laws of society because they could not vote. Women fought a long and difficult battle to obtain the fundamental right to vote in elections. The first country to grant women the right to vote was New Zealand, in 1893. Australia followed in 1902, Canada in 1917, and the United States in 1919. Oddly enough, Ellen White urged SDA women to avoid getting involved in the reform movement to allow women to vote. In 1864, she wrote:
Those who feel called out to join the movement of Women's Rights, and the so-called Dress Reform, might as well sever all connection with the third angel's message. The spirit which attends the one cannot be in harmony with the other. The Scriptures are plain upon the relations and rights of women and men.14
It is apparent Ellen White regarded the Scriptures to be contrary to women's rights, although she does not specify which Scriptural principles forbid women's rights. In 1872, Mrs. White explained that many women were not intellectually capable of voting appropriately:
There are speculations as to woman's rights and duties in regard to voting. Many are in no way disciplined to understand the bearing of important questions. They have lived lives of present gratification because it was the fashion. Women who might develop good intellects and have true moral worth are now mere slaves to fashion. They have not breadth of thought nor cultivated intellect. They can talk understandingly of the latest fashion, the styles of dress, this or that party or delightful ball. Such women are not prepared to intelligently take a prominent position in political matters. They are mere creatures of fashion and circumstance.15
When Mrs. Graves met with Ellen White in 1874, she implored Mrs. White to get engaged in Women's suffrage, but Mrs. White took no action.16 In 1878, Mrs. White wrote in the church's paper:
I do not recommend that woman should become a voter or an office-holder...17
To reiterate the importance of this "inspired" statement, it was reprinted in SDA publications in 1886 and 1892. Finally, in 1898, she urged the SDA people to not advocate for women's rights:
Whatever the opinions you may entertain in regard to casting your vote in political questions, you are not to proclaim it by pen or voice. Our people need to be silent upon questions which have no relation to the third angel’s message. If ever a people needed to draw nigh to God, it is Seventh-day Adventists. There have been wonderful devices and plans made. A burning desire has taken hold of men or women to proclaim something, or bind up with something; they do not know what. But the silence of Christ upon many subjects was true eloquence.18
Fortunately, many godly women ignored this ill-advised counsel and fought for justice for women. Today, SDA women can vote in many countries because non-SDA women fought for their right to vote. Thank God for them!
In order to judge whether Ellen White was truly inspired by God in her writings, it is important to consider all the facts, not just the ones that paint a rosy picture of Mrs. White. Compare Mrs. White's writings with the facts:
Far from being inspired, Mrs. White's statements about women are offensive, contradictory to known scientific facts, and history has shown them to be badly misguided.
1. Ellen White, Testimonies vol. 1 (1855), 306.
2. Ellen White, Review and Herald, April 22, 1862.
3. Ellen White, Letter 13, 1863 (1Ltms). Released by the White Estate in 2014.
4. Ellen White, Appeal to Mothers (1864), 27.
5. All United States life expectancy statistics are from the University of Oregon, extracted July 13, 2022, https://mappinghistory.uoregon.edu/english/US/US39-01.html.
6. Alexa Lardieri, "Man Flu May Be Real, Study Shows: New research suggests a difference in immune systems between men and women as the reason men claim to get sicker. ", US News and World Report, Dec. 12, 2017, https://www.usnews.com/news/health-care-news/articles/2017-12-12/man-flu-may-be-real-study-shows. See also "The science behind man flu," BMJ 2017;359:j5560 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.j5560, December 11, 2017.
7. Kelly O'Sullivan, "A new study shows that men actually do get sicker than women," Insider, June 7, 2016, https://www.insider.com/a-new-study-shows-that-men-get-sicker-than-women-2016-6.
8. George M. Bwire, "Coronavirus: Why Men are More Vulnerable to Covid-19 Than Women?", June 4, 2020, doi: 10.1007/s42399-020-00341-w, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7271824/.
9. Nell Greenfieldboyce, "THE CORONAVIRUS CRISIS: The New Coronavirus Appears to Take A Greater Toll On Men Than On Women," April 10, 2020, https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2020/04/10/831883664/the-new-coronavirus-appears-to-take-a-greater-toll-on-men-than-on-women#:~:text=One%20large%20study%20of%2044%2C672,with%20only%201.7%25%20for%20women. Quote from the article:
Men seem harder hit by the [COVID-19] virus than women and are more likely to have severe illness or die. ... One large study of 44,672 confirmed COVID-19 cases done by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention...found that the fatality rate was 2.8% for men compared with only 1.7% for women. In Italy, one study of 1,591 cases of critically ill people who were admitted into intensive care units showed that about 82% of them were men. ... And a study of people hospitalized in the U.S. for COVID-19...found that "males may be disproportionately affected by COVID-19 compared with females." ... New York...city's department of health reports about 39 female deaths per 100,000 people and 71 male deaths per 100,000 people.
10. Aaron Reich, "Why are men more prone to illness than women?" Nature Communications, October 12, 2019, https://www.jpost.com/health-science/why-are-men-more-prone-to-illness-than-women-604309.
11. "Men's Health", https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/mens-health, extracted July 12, 2022.
12. Ellen White, Manuscript 29, 1911, 13 (10MR 76.2). Released by the Ellen White Estate in 1980.
13. "The Gender Gap in Religion Around the World: Women are generally more religious than men, particularly among Christians," Pew Research Center, March 22, 2016. https://www.pewresearch.org/religion/2016/03/22/the-gender-gap-in-religion-around-the-world/. Quote from the article:
In the United States, for example, women are more likely than men to say religion is “very important” in their lives (60% vs. 47%) , according to a 2014 Pew Research Center survey. American women also are more likely than American men to say they pray daily (64% vs. 47%) and attend religious services at least once a week (40% vs. 32%).
14. Ellen White, Testimony for the Church #10, (1864), 30.
15. Ellen White, Testimonies vol. 3 (1872), 565.
16. Ellen White to James White, July 10, 1874, Letter 40a, 1874.
17. Ellen White, Review and Herald, Dec. 19, 1878. See also Signs of the Times, Sep. 16, 1886, and Gospel Workers (1892).
18. Ellen White to "Brethren", February 20, 1898, Letter 4, 1898.
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