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Ellen G. White

Who was Ellen G. White?

White Memorial Medical Center’s passion for community healthcare is fueled by the legacy of the hospital’s namesake, Ellen G. White. A central figure of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Ellen White is remembered as a charismatic pioneer of health reform at the turn of the 20th century.

White’s early life provided no hint of her eventual rise to prominence. She and her twin sister, Elizabeth, were born to Robert and Eunice Harmon on November 26, 1827. The family, including eight children, lived on a small farm in rural Maine until they moved to the city of Portland, Maine, a few years after the twins’ birth.

A severe injury from a rock thrown by a child when White was nine years old nearly ended her life. But she recovered after lying unconscious for three weeks.

As she continued to grow toward adulthood, White began to sense a strong calling of God on her life. It was during this time that she and her family joined the fledgling Adventist movement.

In August 1846, Ellen married James White, an Adventist preacher. Through study and dialogue with other Adventists, the young couple deepened their convictions toward the Adventist beliefs. Ellen became a prolific writer of Christian prophecy and teaching, while James became a publisher of Adventist papers.

White’s role as a health reformer started in 1863 after she and her family moved to Battle Creek, Michigan. During a prayer gathering in nearby Otsego, White became convinced of the relationship between physical health and spirituality, the importance of following natural laws in diet and care of the body and the benefits of clean air, sunshine, exercise and pure water.

Soon, the Adventists adopted White’s health message as one of the basic tenets of the church. In September 1866, a group of Adventists opened the Western Health Reform Institute of Battle Creek to care for the sick and teach healthy living. Adventist doctor John Harvey Kellogg became physician-in-chief at the renamed Battle Creek Sanitarium in 1876 and later lent his name to one of the best-known cereal brands in America.

In the following years, the Whites traveled throughout the United States on behalf of the Adventist Church, preaching, speaking, writing, establishing printing shops and strengthening churches. After James died in 1881, Ellen carried on the work with fervor, even taking a nearly two-year tour of the European Adventist churches and, later, living in Australia for nine years and working in the Adventist movement there.

At the urging of Ellen White, Adventists began opening healthcare facilities in California, first in St. Helena in 1878; in National City (near San Diego) in 1904; and in both Glendale and Loma Linda in 1905.

“There is much to be done for suffering humanity, and sanitariums should be established for healing, restoring and educating,” White wrote. “We are to labor both for the health of the body and the saving of the soul.”

White frequently visited Southern California to encourage the healthcare work that was being established all over the region. Inspired by her leadership, the health facility in Loma Linda opened a medical school, which led to the work in Los Angeles and the founding of White Memorial Medical Center — named in honor of Ellen White.

White died on July 16, 1915, at Elmshaven, her home near St. Helena, California. She was buried in Battle Creek, Michigan, next to her husband.

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