Previously Unknown Photo of Ellen White Found
The candid picture from 1905 provides a rare glimpse into the Adventist pioneer’s everyday life.
A previously unknown photograph of Adventist Church co-founder Ellen G. White has surfaced among the aging documents of an Adventist physician who died in California in 1966.
The 1905 photo — which shows White walking outdoors with her son William and his wife, May — is the first new picture of White to turn up in decades, and its discovery is especially thrilling for White scholars because it provides a rare glimpse into her everyday life.
“I’ve never seen her in this way before,” said James R. Nix, director of the Ellen G. White Estate, a church institution that oversees White’s writings.
“This particular photo is significant because it is candid,” Nix said Wednesday. “You feel like you could step up to her and say, ‘It’s nice to see you.’”
Only about 50 photos of White are known to exist, and most of them were taken in a studio or other formal setting.
In the 1905 photo, White, 77, is seen walking near a pitched tent as she apparently attends the General Conference session in Takoma Park, Maryland, in May 1905.
White, wearing an Edwardian hat and floral scarf, clasps the arm of her son William “Willie” C. White, her chief editorial assistant and publishing manager. Clutched in her other hand is a large journal, the kind that she used to hand-write letters and sermons and that the White Estate now carefully stores in a fireproof vault. A slip of white paper can be seen sticking out of the corner of the journal.
“In my imagination, she is heading to speak at a meeting and this journal contains her notes,” Nix said.
Supporting the idea that White might have been walking to a speaking engagement is the pince-nez perched on her nose. White was known to wear eyeglasses for reading, so perhaps she put them on her nose on that chilly May day to read a speech.
This is only the second known photo of White wearing glasses.
Why a Tent Stands Behind White
Tim L. Poirier, archivist at the White Estate who has researched the photo, initially thought that the other woman in the picture might be White’s nurse, Sara McEnterfer, who often accompanied White on travels away from California, where she lived at the time. But a comparison with other photos showed that the woman was White’s daughter-in-law, May. Poirier also learned that the nurse had fallen ill before the General Conference session and May White had made arrangements to leave her and William’s children with family members in California so the couple could journey East with Ellen White.
Poirier added: “The tents and grounds in the photo match what we know of the location of the session at the present location of Washington Adventist University in Takoma Park, Maryland.”
The General Conference session was held in a large tent at the newly founded Washington Training College (now Washington Adventist University). The General Conference, the administrative body that oversees the Seventh-day Adventist Church, had only moved to the area from Battle Creek, Michigan, in late 1903, and it was renting premises in nearby Washington together with the Review and Herald publishing house, said Ronald D. Graybill, a retired Adventist historian.
Delegates lived in tents. Ellen White stayed in a bedroom and study in the newly built men’s dormitory, while her son and daughter-in-law shared a third room, Graybill said.
Seventh-day Adventists view Ellen White as a gifted writer and a special messenger appointed by God to draw the world's attention to the Bible and help prepare people for Jesus’ second coming, according to a biography on the White Estate’s website.
“From the time she was 17 years old until she died 70 years later, God gave her approximately 2,000 visions and dreams,” it says. “The visions varied in length from less than a minute to nearly four hours. The knowledge and counsel received through these revelations she wrote out to be shared with others.”
White is the most translated woman author in the history of literature, writing more than 5,000 journal articles and 40 books on religion, education, nutrition, and Christian living, among other topics.
Years have passed since the previous discovery of an unknown White photo. Nix estimated that the last photo might have been found 50 to 60 years ago, saying the 1905 photo is the first new image in the 42 years that he has worked at the White Estate.
Origins of the Unknown Photo
The author of the 1905 photo is unclear. But a likely candidate is its original owner, Harriet “Hattie” Allee Trott, a 27-year-old widow who was working as a secretary at Review and Herald in 1905.
Trott, an avid photographer, later moved to California to work as registrar at the College of Medical Evangelists (now Loma Linda University), and she married graduate and physician Leslie Trott in 1921. It was among Leslie Trott’s papers that the lost photo was found.
Harriet Allee Trott died in 1958, eight years before her husband, who worked at the Adventist-operated White Memorial Medical Center, named after Ellen White, in Los Angeles.
The Trotts’ great-granddaughter, Jacqueline Leslie Trott-Bally of Los Angeles, stumbled across the White photo in a folder marked “Harriet Family Photos” while sorting through old papers, said Graybill, whom Trott-Bally contacted about the photo.
She had already been working with Graybill to donate some of her great-grandfather’s papers to his alma mater, Loma Linda University.
Graybill, whose own research includes a slide presentation of all the known photos of White, immediately recognized White in the photo and realized the rarity of the find.
“It is amazing to find an unknown photo at this late date,” he said in a telephone interview.
The old photo measures only 3.5 inches by 3.5 inches but is remarkably sharp, Graybill said.
“I was amazed at the clarity, I was amazed at the detail, and I was charmed by the hat,” he said.
He said White wore a bonnet in the one other photo that shows her head covered.
Graybill alerted the White Estate about the new photo on Oct. 1 and forwarded a copy of the image photographed on Trott-Bally's iPhone. He is now making arrangements to make a high-resolution scan of the original.
'My Favorite Picture of Ellen White'
The find raises hopes that other photos of White might surface. Nix, the director of the White Estate, said people with long connections to the Adventist Church should check old family albums and boxes of pictures to see whether they might contain photos of White or other Adventist pioneers.
He said it is interesting to read stories about Adventist pioneers, but also seeing them, particularly in candid photos, helps people to better identify with them as real people.
“Until I saw this picture, I mentally pictured Ellen White only wearing dark maroon or black in public following the death of her husband in 1881,” Nix said.
“Seeing her wearing a colored scarf around her neck, with reading glasses perched on her nose, and notes in her hand for a talk she gave, has brought her to life for me in ways that no other picture of her ever has,” he said. “I have only been aware of this picture for just over a week, but it has already become my favorite picture of Ellen White.”
Contact news editor Andrew McChesney at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @ARMcChesney
Searchable database of all known Ellen G. White photos on the website of the White Estate