Ellen G. White (born Harmon) was an influential religious figure in the religious revival in the "burnt over district" of upstate New York in the 1840s. After the Great Disappointment of October 22, 1844, when Christ failed to return as predicted by the Millerite sect of Christianity, White reorganized a movement based on visions she claimed had been sent by God to her during trances.
As part of her reconstruction of a Sabbatarian dietary code, she propagated a dietary philosophy aimed at cultivating and preparing Christian souls for the second coming. "I was informed that the inhabitants of earth had been degenerating, losing their strength and comeliness. Satan has the power of disease and death, and with every age the effects of the curse have been more visible and the power of Satan more plainly seen" (White 1882: 184). In 1864, her husband Revd James White became ill, and White nursed him back to health using vegetarian principles. In i866, they founded the Western Health Reform Institute at Battle Creek, Michigan, which became the center for late nineteenth-century diet reform. White simply reversed the claims about original sin and the eating of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden:
God gave our first parents the food He designed that the race should eat. It was contrary to His plan to have the life of any creature taken. There was to be no death in Eden. The fruit of the trees in the garden was the food man's wants required.
(White 1946: 111)
Sexual reform was also part of the practice of hygiene in Battle Creek. White was a stern critic of the "solitary vice," masturbation. She preached against a variety of foods and other commodities such as meat, alcohol, tobacco, and spices, which she believed excited the nervous system and led to "self-abuse." This, in turn led to physical deformities, and even early death. In 1864, she printed a pamphlet warning against this evil entitled An Appeal to Mothers: The Great Cause of the Physical, Mental and Moral Ruin of Many of the Children of Our Time.
White also preached against medical intervention in case of ill health and recommended a regimen of fresh air, sunshine, exercise, vegetarian food, and plenty of water as a cure for any ailment. She constantly linked religious conviction with notions of hygiene, writing in 1866:
The majority of the diseases which the human fam ily have been and still are suffering under, they have created by ignorance of their own organic health, and work perseveringly to tear themselves to pieces, and when broken down and debilitated in body and mind, send for the doctor and drug themselves to death.
Again in 1902, she warned against the diseased nature of modern food: "Flesh was never the best food; but its use is now doubly objectionable, since disease in animals is so rapidly increasing" (White 2002: 313). White's teachings were characteristic of the American health reform movement's emphasis on temperance and abstemious living.
See also Kellogg; Trall
References and Further Reading
Numbers, Ronald L. (1976) Prophetess of Health: Ellen
G. White, New York: Harper & Row. Rosenberg, Charles (ed.) (2003) Right Living: An Anglo-American Tradition of Self-Help Medicine and Hygiene, Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins Press. White, Ellen G. (1882) Early Writings, Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald Publishing House.
-(1946) Counsels on Food and Diet, Washington:
Review and Herald Publishing Company.
-(2002) The Ministry of Healing, Mountain View,
Calif.: Pacific Press.
Was this article helpful?