Ellen White's Suppressed Writings

Excerpts from a talk given by Dr. Ronald L. Numbers at the San Bernardino County Museum, May 29, 1976, published in Spectrum, Vol. 8, No. 2, p. 36

The most recent issue of Ministry Magazine contains an interview with Elder Bradley, who is Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Ellen G. White Estate. The title is "Does the White Estate Suppress Secret Documents?" In it Elder Bradley states:

We have nothing to hide or to be ashamed of. We do not fear to let light shine into any aspect of the work of Ellen G. White.

And to this I could only say "Amen."  (Voice from the audience:  "Amen.")  Thank you.  Nice to know you have one person in the audience who agrees with you.  However, I must confess that my own experience with the White Estate fails to substantiate Bradley's statement.  It is not true, as Arthur White has recently asserted, that nothing was withheld from me, and I think it might be advantageous, briefly, to review my relationship with the Estate. 

I first contacted the officials of the White Estate, specifically Elder Arthur White, in the summer of 1972, telling him that I would be coming East in a few weeks and was looking for material to incorporate in my historical lectures at Loma Linda University.  When I went there I discussed with him, also, my plans for publication.  He gave me some very sage advice at this time.  He said, "Do not make the mistake that others before you have made of trying to go to an outside publisher, "which I had suggested that I'd planned to do, "because," he said, "You will not make any money if you do so."

I don't know how many of you have worked within the White Estate, but perhaps I should say a word or two about the procedures.  The Estate does not allow browsing in their documents.  You must request a specific manuscript or letter.  It is then brought to you if it is not restricted.  You may read it, but you are not allowed to take notes.  If you see a passage you would like to use, you make a notation, bring it to the attention of the officials of the Estate; they then bring it before the Board of Trustees of the White Estate.  If they agree, then it goes before a Spirit of Prophecy Committee composed of officials of the church.  If they pass on it, the material is released and you have permission to use it.  During this initial contact with Elder White and his staff, they were most cordial. 

They granted me special permission not only to see many of the documents that I requested but, in effect, to browse through Ellen White's entire correspondence for the 1860s, which was the period I was particularly interested in, since her vision on health reform occurred in June of 1863.  During my discussions with Elder White at this time I told him I would be happy before publishing anything to send him a copy and receive his comments.  Later, I will return to a differing interpretation of this statement.  During this first visit I had only about a week to spend, and it was impossible for me to go through the procedure that was necessary with all the documents I wished to see; so I arranged with Elder White to have a number of other documents, which I specifically requested, sent to Loma Linda University where they would be used under the same restrictions that held in the White Estate.  Most of the documents which I requested were sent; however, five were withheld.  If any of you are interested:


The explanation given me for this was, and I quote:  "In four or five instances we have withheld letters because of the highly personal nature of some of the contents of them."  But as I recall none of these letters involved anyone outside the White family.  They were not revelations about secret sins in other individuals' lives.

After going through these documents I submitted a lengthy release request to Elder White and the officers of the White Estate.  Shortly after submitting this request, Elder White came to Loma Linda to discuss my request.  He spent an entire afternoon with me and asked a number of rather pointed questions.   Before releasing this material he wanted to make sure how it would be used.   At one point he pulled out of his briefcase a copy of Mrs. White's little volume Appeal to Mothers, which was her first booklet on health in which she describes her revelations on masturbation, and he asked me, "Brother Numbers, do you believe this?"  And I told him that I thought this would be one of the most difficult documents to substantiate today.

He also explained why the White Estate would not be able to release one of the documents I had requested.  This document was a letter, as I recall, written by Mrs. White to the President of the General Conference, Elder A. G. Daniells, in the 1890's.  In the 1890's after a lapse of several decades Mrs. White once again enthusiastically embraced health reform and vegetarianism, and she suggested to the President of the General Conference that Seventh-day Adventists now begin to circulate an anti-meat pledge analogous to the temperance pledge that had gone over so well in the church.  Daniells, who had just returned from Europe, responded that this would be impractical, that such a device would undoubtedly split the church in two, and that certainly before circulating an anti-meat pledge we would want to embark on an educational campaign.  Mrs. White subsequently backed down from this and at the next session of the General Conference endorsed Elder A. G. Daniells' view of things.

"Now," Arthur White said to me, "It would be very difficult for us to release this document to you because there are still some vegetarians in the church, primarily on the right wing, who would want to impose this upon the rest of us, and we could not allow this; so I am afraid you will not be able to quote it."

In July I received word from Arthur White saying that the Trustees and the Spirit of Prophecy Committee had approved most of my requests, but, and here again I quote, "In a very few cases the requests involved personal family matters and were of a character that we could see no good purpose that they would serve in releasing them for general use.  I must tell you frankly that it is difficult for us to understand how these could be of real service in reviewing the history of our health message, and we can see by some they could be misused.  I know that with the attitudes which are manifested by our own men in the history field that our action in this respect may seem unjustified, but we also stand before the church as a whole and must give an account for our stewardship in the handling of unpublished materials.  Now, Ron, you may feel I am a bit overwrought on this matter, but I've had some experiences down through the years which have shown how careful we must be in the releasing of unpublished materials to guard against distorted use."

Not released were:  (1) a passage from a letter (L-6-1864) describing Dr. James Caleb Jackson's physical and phrenological examination of Edson and Willie White, the two sons of Ellen White. Phrenology, I might add for a few of you who are not acquainted with the subject, was the science of the mind very popular in early and mid-19th-century America which said that you could read the character of an individual by the bumps on the head.  For example, if any of you have a very large protrusion in the back of your head, you may be assured that you are having trouble controlling your "animal passions."  It's very desirable, however, to have prominent bumps up here where traits like reverence and benevolence are located.

A second document that was not released was a passage from W-11-1873 mentioning John Harvey Kellogg's view of James White as a monomaniac on money matters. And a third one was D-162-1908 regarding Ellen White's anti-meat pledge. I guess I should correct myself. I had attributed that to the 1890's. It was the next decade.

Also deleted from release was a passage relating to James White's mental health. And over a year later, the White Estate still refused to release an account written by Ellen White on the 1870's in which she describes a vacation trip to the Rocky Mountains in which she and the members of her family dined on wild duck, the explanation being that since there was still some controversy among Adventists whether duck was clean or unclean, we would not want this information to get out until the matter was resolved.

I think it's important to note that not one of the documents not released was related to any revelation of personal sin in an individual's life, the Ellen G. White Estate's only publicly stated reason for withholding material. The concern was solely in protecting a certain image of Mrs. White carefully constructed by the White Estate over a period of many years.

In April, 1974, I resubmitted my request for release of that paragraph of L-6-1864 relating to Dr. Jackson's examination of Edson and Willie White, pointing out at this time that the officials of the White Estate had repeatedly stated that the Trustees had no interest in restricting significant historical data but were concerned only with protecting confidential correspondence dealing with personal sins. It seems to me, I said, that my request is in harmony with the stated policy of the White Estate. Later that month, Elder White notified me that my second request for this document had also been denied by the Trustees. Quote: "The fact that Elder and Mrs. White, in connection with their visit to the Jackson institution, presented their children for a physical examination by a doctor which included a phrenological examination, is, in our opinion, a family matter and does not carry with it particular significance. It is a singular case, an isolated case, and comes in for bare mention on the part of Ellen White." End quote.

That same spring I learned that the staff of the White Estate had discovered and brought to the attention of Elder White Dr. Jackson's own handwritten description of Willie White's physical and mental characteristics. When I subsequently visited the Estate, I asked Elder White if he knew of any documents besides L-6-1864 relating to Dr. Jackson's examination of the White boys.  He assured me in the presence of Elder Paul Gordon that he did not know that any such documents existed. Later, during a second visit to the White Estate, I prevailed upon Elder Ron Graybill to show me this document. I might add that subsequently in a phone conversation with Elder White I asked him why he had formerly denied that any such document existed, and he said, I quote, "I didn't know it existed at the time." End quote.  I might also add that the paragraph from the 1864 letter relating to the examination of Willie and Edson White was released only after I had cited, but not quoted, that document in the second draft of my manuscript which was submitted to the White Estate for criticism.

It was in September of 1974 I sent Elder White a copy of my revised manuscript asking him for corrections and criticisms. At the same time I sent a copy to the editors of Harper & Row, who had previously agreed to publish this volume when it was completed.  Elder White, upon learning that I had sent the manuscript simultaneously to him and Harper's, became irate, claiming that I had broken my earlier promise to submit anything I published before it was sent to the publisher. I have on more than on occasion assured the people at the White Estate that I had said only that I would submit the document to them before it was published, which to me is significantly different from "before I sent it to the publisher."  But he seems to feel that his interpretation of my statement is more correct; so I'll let you decide.

Upon receiving the copy Elder White refused to read it, but, instead, locked it in the vault with the approval of the Trustees. At the same time he wrote a letter to the editor-in-chief of Harper & Row stating his concern about this manuscript. He later told the editors that he had written at this time because I had refused to let him read the manuscript, which was locked in his vault. He expressed in his initial contact with the editors of Harper's his disappointment at not having an opportunity to examine my manuscript before it had been submitted for publication. I assured him on the telephone that there was still ample time to change any factual errors that he discovered and that it was specifically for this that I was submitting the document to him.

Harper's granted Elder White and the White Estate until December 15 to go over my manuscript carefully and prepare a rebuttal to be submitted to me and to Harper & Row. As a result of this agreement Elder Arthur White, Bob Olson, and Ron Graybill began collaborating on a line by line reply to my manuscript. They were assisted in this endeavor for a period by Dr. Mervyn Hardinge of Loma Linda University, who served as their scientific consultant and authority on the history of medical education. All told, the White Estate estimates that it spent approximately $5,000 in preparing his reply, the purpose of which was very clear--to discredit my manuscript in the eyes of the editors of Harper's so that they would not publish the volume.

In November Elder White contacted Harper & Row again and said that they did not have sufficient time to prepare an adequate criticism and requested a six weeks' extension. This was granted. In January Elder White went to New York to spend the day with the editor-in-chief of Harper & Row armed with a briefcase full of documents, which he hoped would prove to the publishers that this was such an irresponsible work of history that they should have nothing to do with it.

In February Elder White returned to New York for a second visit to Harper's accompanied by Ron Graybill and Robert Olson, and this time they had with them their completed criticism of my study, a 220-page document. When they got to the editorial offices, Arthur White laid their material on the desk of the editor and said, "We will give this to you under one condition, and that is if you will promise never to show it to Ron Numbers." And the editor was, of course, baffled by this request and said he could not accept it under such conditions because what good would it do for him to have all this evidence if I could not benefit form it? And Arthur White was insistent that I should not see it. When Harper's failed to accede to his request, the officials of the White Estate retrieved their document, took it back to Washington, and with the approval of the Trustees decided that they would have no further intercourse with Harper's and myself.

The editor-in-chief of Harper's and I then wrote letters to the officials of the White Estate. I pointed out that I thought we had been dealing with each other in good faith. They had requested, we had not requested, the opportunity for them to delay publication, and we thought it was rather unfair of them at this time, unilaterally, to back out of their agreement, that it looked to some as if they were only trying to delay publication to give them additional time to prepare a reply.  Because of these responses the Trustees relented and agreed to let me see their criticisms, which I spent an entire week going over with Dr. Richard Schwarz of Andrews University and Elder Graybill, who were sent out to Madison, Wisconsin, by the White estate to help me interpret the significance of their criticisms and, I might add, to try and be sure that I did not become unduly upset with the ad hominem arguments that were sprinkled quite freely throughout the reply.

As a result of this very helpful and informative discussion with Dr. Schwarz and Elder Graybill, I made numerous corrections in the draft of my manuscript.

Category: Shut Door
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