Magazine Article

One in the Saddle, One in the Office

Settling into a routine

Merle Poirier
One in the Saddle, One in the Office

Ellen White attended the General Conference (GC) Session in Takoma Park in 1909. The two-year-old controversy between W. W. Prescott and S. N. Haskell on “the daily” had yet to subside. Looking to move the church toward city evangelism, something she saw as much more urgent, Ellen White met with the GC Committee before returning to California, where she delivered a message concerning Prescott. “He is a minister. He should not remain here in Washington to do a work that another man can do. He can stand before the people and give the reasons of our faith in an acceptable way. I know this, because I have been associated with him in labor. He has a precious gift, and here he is employed in work that other men can do, while there is a dearth of laborers who can warn these large cities! His gift is not to be used longer as it is now; for if he continues to labor here, his health and strength will be used up. But if he will go out into the public ministry, strength will come to him.”1

Prescott also received a direct message from Ellen White, part of which was shared in the Review, alerting readers that his decision to step away as editor was not his own, but at God’s direction.2 This unexpected directive placed the publishing committee in a difficult position. There wasn’t anyone they felt ready for the editorship. This led to their appointment of W. A. Spicer, although it’s reported that he was less than enthusiastic. Review readers were notified that Prescott would leave immediately, and they would be in the capable hands of Spicer, along with associates F. M. Wilcox and C. M. Snow.

Editor in the Saddle

William Ambrose Spicer was no stranger to editing, but his reluctance was probably because he was already serving as GC secretary. He would not relinquish this role, but add to it. This change in editor was endorsed by both Stephen Haskell and his wife. They made it clear that the Review under Prescott’s leadership was not what it would be under Spicer.

“Several times we have written you a commendatory note on the Review since you have had charge of it. We think it greatly improved, and we think it will speak as well for the Review if you wrote the first articles, as for Brother Prescott to write them,” wrote S. N. Haskell. “I do not say this to demerit his writings at all, but the great dropping off of the Review after he took hold of it was partly because of his editorials,” he continued.3

Haskell’s wife was a bit more direct. “For the last five or six years the editorials in the Review have had very little charm for me. In fact, I do not think that I read two columns during the past five years. I have been in the habit of reading Sister White’s articles, the news from the foreign fields, and the obituaries, and the notes on the last page; but since the late change in the Review the editorials are the first things read.” She went on to write: “Elder Haskell was reading the Review this morning and every few minutes saying, ‘There is a different spirit all through it.’ We hear great many others speak of the change as though they felt just as we do in regard of it.”4 It is left to speculation as to whether the Haskells felt this because Prescott, their adversary, was gone or Elder Spicer was the better writer.

Others wrote of Spicer’s talent. “One of Elder Spicer’s most remarkable gifts was his ability as a writer and author. If it was a letter on routine office business, it would sparkle with his vivacious spirit of courage and zeal. If it was an editorial for the Review and Herald, it reflected his desire to inspire hope and faith in his readers,” wrote J. L. McElhaney.5

F. D. Nichol wrote, “His writing had the charm of simplicity, directness of expression, and apt illustration. In our editorial office we were often wont to exclaim, almost enviously, ‘There is only one Elder Spicer.’ ”6

Spicer was already deeply involved in church business, carrying heavy responsibilities. While his name was at the top of the masthead, it was not possible for him to do what an editor should since he was traveling. Yet even as he accepted the duty, he claimed a different rationale. “As far as my work on the Review is concerned,” he wrote to C. P. Bollman, “it will be very minimal. I shall expect F. M. Wilcox to be the office editor. I will merely plan a little more regularly and systematically to stand by, and will be the one to take the blame when we don’t do something somebody wants us to do. Otherwise I shall be related to matters in the future just as I have been in the past as associate editor.”7

A few days later he wrote to former GC president G. I. Butler: “But do not take the change in the Review editorship too seriously. I am going on with my regular work, and will be merely an editor in the saddle. The office men will do the work, and deserve all the credit. However, I am to take the blame for things that are done and things that are not done, and go on my way rejoicing.”8

Spicer did exactly that, being content to work in his role as GC secretary and let F. M. Wilcox carry the load. He faithfully submitted weekly editorials and articles from wherever he was, which was frequently away from the office and home. Spicer once calculated he’d been away from home for nearly 40 years of his married life.9

Keeping Current

Francis McLellan Wilcox moved to Takoma Park in 1909 as associate editor under W. W. Prescott.10 Within two months of his arrival, Prescott left for city evangelism, and while Spicer was editor, Wilcox did the work. This continued until May 11, 1911, when Wilcox was appointed as editor of the Review as well as president of the Review and Herald Publishing Association. Spicer became his associate.

The Review had an elaborate nameplate that included angels with trumpets, the Ten Commandments, a dove, and the world, all surrounded by ivy. It seemed they wanted all prominent beliefs in one illustration. In the center was occasionally a photo, but typically an uplifting poem. For a few years the nameplate changed every year, always with similar illustrations.

The content was similar as before, with editorials, contributed articles, eight pages on the worldwide work, followed by four pages of personals, including requests, obituaries, and interesting notes.

The emphasis on mission began under Prescott but grew under Spicer. Spicer was devoted to foreign missions, and this was reflected in the paper. Mission reports, photographs, and statistics demonstrated the expansion of the Adventist work. Under Spicer a 64-page edition of the Review entitled “The Story of Our Missions,” written solely by missionaries, was published. This led to additional uses of the Review for Harvest Ingathering as well as Thanksgiving issues, each devoted to mission.

During Wilcox’s years as editor, significant events related to the church and world occurred.11 In 1915 Ellen White died. The Review devoted four pages acknowledging her service to the Lord and to His church. Wilcox also wrote a long editorial in tribute.12  

World War I (the Great War) was sometimes referenced in the Review either through an editorial, a reference to end-times, or advertisements for books and other publications.13 An extra edition featured a lecture by A. G. Daniells concerning the Great War and prophecy. To ensure it was widely read, the extra’s price was 15 copies for 10 cents each, and even less per copy if more were bought.14 In 1917 “An Appeal to the American People,” a message from President Woodrow Wilson, was printed on the cover, as well as a proclamation for fasting and prayer, also from Wilson, in 1918.15 From September 20, 1917, through July 4, 1918, each Review carried a “Notice to Reader” from the postmaster-general: “When you finish reading this magazine, place a one-cent stamp on this notice, hand same to any postal employee, and it will be placed in the hands of our soldiers or sailors at the front. No wrapping—no address.” Certainly this was a way to share the gospel not anticipated.

Different Editor, Similar Ideas

By 1919 the Review expanded to 32 pages with smaller type, although not consistent. A noticeable change was made to the layout, with articles in two columns as opposed to three, although the mission pages stayed in the more traditional format. This alerted the reader to a change in focus as they turned from one page to another. By the early twenties the page count had been reduced to 24 pages.

F. M. Wilcox seemed to have a similar focus as Uriah Smith. “To guard and to promote Adventist beliefs and standards was to him [Wilcox] more than an editorial duty, it was a passion,” wrote F. D. Nichol.16 Like Smith, the Review was, apart from the mission pages, heavy on type, light on photography, and focused on beliefs, Adventist living, and signs of the times. Similar columns as might be found in Smith’s day were added. In 1914 a Question and Answers column with reader questions appeared occasionally with no author, but it can be assumed that, like Smith, it was Wilcox. Studies in the Testimonies was another added in 1919, with reader questions answered directly from Ellen White’s testimonies.

An interesting feature for parents called The Round Table appeared. “We are glad to grant the request of perplexed parents for an opportunity to discuss their problems through the columns of our church paper,” the introduction read. Five questions submitted by readers were published for other readers to answer. Subjects included lying, divided spiritual households, and tidiness. Responses were printed in a subsequent issue.17

The General Conference Bulletin was a separate publication advertised to members and Review readers. F. M. Wilcox had been associated with the Review during the 1913, 1918, and 1922 sessions, but the Review staff was not responsible for the Bulletins. But at the 1926 session the Bulletin was merged into the Review, and the editorial staff now produced each issue—an arduous task that meant producing an issue in 24 hours, a practice still maintained today.18

In 1925 F. M. Wilcox forecasted what readers should expect from the Review. In it he listed: featuring the progress of the Second Advent movement in all the world; GC officers would continue to write; and the best religious thought of the church. In addition, there would be special features: 12 issues, one per month, would be devoted to a review of doctrines; a verse-by-verse study of Romans; a series of articles on the fundamentals; a focus on the great delusions of the day; an exposition on Matthew 24; strong, helpful articles on practical religion in the home, neighborhood, and church; and continual features devoted to young people.19

In F. M. Wilcox the Review had once again found stability.

 1 Ellen G. White manuscript 53, 1909 (“Proclaiming the Third Angel’s Message in Cities at Home and Abroad,” June 11, 1909).

 2 Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, July 1, 1909, pp. 3, 4.

 3 Stephen N. Haskell to W. A. Spicer, Sept. 27, 1909.

 4 Mrs. S. N. Haskell to W. A. Spicer, Sept. 22, 1909.

 5 Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Oct. 30, 1952, p. 24.

 6 Ibid., p. 13.

 7 W. A. Spicer to C. P. Bollman, July 8, 1909.

 8 W. A. Spicer to G. I. Butler, July 12, 1909.

 9 Adventist Review, Oct. 4, 1984, p. 12.

10 Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, May 27, 1909.

11 Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Sept. 13, 1951, p. 23; Sept. 27, 1951, p. 13.

12 Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, July 29, 1915, p. 6.

13 Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Oct. 29, 1914.

14 Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Extra 93, no. 50 (1916): 1.

15 Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Dec. 6, 1917, p. 1; May 30, 1918, p. 1.

16 Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Sept. 13, 1951, p. 23.

17 Advent Review and Sabbath Herald,  Aug. 28, 1919, p. 19; Oct. 9, 1919, pp. 20, 21.

18 Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, May 27, 1926.

19Advent Review and Sabbath Herald,  Sept. 18, 1924, p. 2.

Merle Poirier

Merle Poirier is the operations manager for Adventist Review.