April 8, 2024

Searching for Stability

The editor changed three times in 12 years.

Merle Poirier

The decision to replace Uriah Smith in 1897 was somewhat divided. There were those on the publishing board and General Conference (GC) Committee who felt it was time to conclude Smith’s editorship. Others, while they understood the issues, weren’t as resolute. The committee invited Smith “to counsel” with them. What followed was a questioning of Smith regarding where he stood on certain issues. While the answers they received didn’t completely meet their expectations, the committee voted, some reluctantly, to reappoint Smith as editor.1

At the Autumn Council concerns about Smith resurfaced. This time the GC Committee and publishing board met together for an open assessment of the paper. Editors Uriah Smith and George Tenney were both present. While it was said that the comments should not be regarded as criticism, their list was long and specific. There was: a drop in subscriptions; not enough focus by the editors on the paper; a desire for “real live issues for this time”; a need to give “the trumpet more of a certain sound”; a problem with articles “written above the average reader”; “a lack of interest in the first-page articles;” and the thought that the president could be included more often.2

A final observation came from Alonzo T. Jones: “The editorial columns of the Review have failed to contain the third angel’s message for the last six years; and until that is changed, we cannot expect that part of the Review and Herald to prosper. When that is changed, there will be no difficulty in raising the subscription of the paper to 15,000, or to its limits.”3 By the next day, A. T. Jones was editor and Uriah Smith his associate.4

Eager Editor

Jones took to his role with enthusiasm. His first issue announced lowering the subscription price from $2.00 to $1.50 per year. Those who had paid the $2.00 would get a bonus subscription to the Christian Educator.5

The Christian Educator was relatively new. Its purpose was to emphasize home education from an Adventist perspective. Jones effected an arrangement with this publication perhaps to excite interest and boost subscriptions. Since the Educator was monthly, the Review would carry weekly lessons expanding on the material. In January 1898 The Home School department appeared. These materials for ministers, teachers, and parents included lessons in Greek as well as science experiments for children. In April 1898 The Home School in the Review ended, and students were encouraged to subscribe to the Christian Educator.6

Other changes involved the appearance of the paper. By 1899 large department headers were added, often with some form of design or flourish. Advertisements were more prominent and often shared illustrations or samples. A health column, Sabbath School lessons, a science column, and a sunset calendar were all added. The Home Section expanded to include recipes, child-rearing counsel, health messages, and helpful instruction such as “How to Prepare Toast.”7 It seemed Jones was intent on making the Review a publication no Adventist could do without.

Of course, this included meeting spiritual needs as well. A. T. Jones was especially interested in the Holy Spirit, so much so that he wrote an editorial on this topic each week for more than a year. A new department, The Sermon, was added, often written by Jones himself. More Adventist authors were included, and less from other Christian sources.

Enticing Readers

Tasked by the publishing board to increase subscriptions, Jones employed several ideas within the pages of the Review. Teasers appeared on the back page with such messages as: “Therefore you cannot allow your subscription to expire now: you must read these coming articles.” In this instance the anticipated articles were about the beast and the third angel’s message.8

Another method was to use yellow address labels on lapsing subscriptions so when the paper arrived the subscriber would be alerted to renew. Announcements outlined in black warned readers to look for the yellow address label.9 A surprising tactic was to list the names of five random subscribers whose paper was up for renewal.10 A more direct approach was a personal letter to subscribers from Jones. His creative marketing made an impact as he raised the subscriptions by 20 percent.11

Jones’s ingenuity may have brought in more subscribers, but his sharp tongue and combative style began to wear on leadership, including Ellen White. This led to another change in the masthead. Jones was removed, and Uriah Smith was back in the editor’s chair. An announcement in the paper by A. G. Daniells revealed that this move would allow Jones “to be again free to engage in evangelistic work in the field.”12 He assured readers they were in good hands with Smith.

He’s Back

The change in the appearance of the Review was quick and dramatic. Gone or reduced in size were the flourishes, design, banners, and other items of visual interest. The paper essentially returned to its former text-filled pages. Back were the editorials Smith did so well, hammering the theology and doctrine he felt so vital. He embraced the idea of preparing a people and used every column inch necessary to do the job.

While Uriah Smith had confessed during the 1888 crisis that he had behaved badly, it did not mean he agreed with Jones and Waggoner. He tenaciously held to former prophetic interpretations, to the exasperation and consternation of others. A. G. Daniells sought to remove Smith when he printed a series of articles that held to the former view of the law in Galatians.

A minority meeting of the GC Committee—six individuals with six invitees—discussed the issue and unanimously voted to appoint W. W. Prescott editor of the Review, demoting Smith to associate editor.13 Throughout his tenure with the Review, Uriah Smith appeared unaffected by the decisions that impacted his position, but this one, at least privately, seemed to deeply offend him. Making matters worse, within a short time of learning the board’s decision, Smith suffered a serious stroke. Those who cared for him believed the decision had been a catalyst. While it may have been and he reportedly found the demotion difficult, no bitterness appeared, as Smith, in an editorial three months later, noted his seventieth birthday and more than 50-year association with the Review.14

W. W. Prescott, sensitive to Smith’s feelings, spoke privately with him about the plans for the paper. Prescott said he had no intention of taking Smith’s place. Smith would remain at the top of the masthead, while Prescott assumed the role of managing editor. But it was made clear that Prescott would make the editorial decisions.

On March 6, 1903, as Uriah Smith walked to
the office carrying written remarks for the upcoming GC Session, he collapsed from another stroke. He lapsed into a coma and died that afternoon. A full-page photo with his signature was on the cover of the next Review, with five interior pages devoted to his life sketch and tributes, including words from his “message for the church” he carried the day he died.15

A New Editor, a New Review

A new pattern had emerged—when the editor changed, so did the paper. Within six weeks of Prescott’s appointment, the overall size of the paper decreased, but the number of pages increased to 24. Instead of an article on the first page, Prescott introduced a full-page photo. He rearranged the page order, placing an advertisement on page 2, followed by editorials. Ellen White, who traditionally had been on the front page, was moved to page 8.16

With Daniells as president and Prescott as editor, the Review took a decided and intentional turn toward shaping the church. Daniells desired church unity, and what better tool than the church paper? Prescott, a former educator, was directed to use the paper as an instructional tool—to reform, guide, counsel, and assist members in their understanding of spiritual things and Christian living.

At the time, John Harvey Kellogg and the GC administration were at odds. Since the Battle Creek Sanitarium fire, Kellogg had become increasingly independent of church leadership, and began to share certain theology out of step with Adventist beliefs. The publishing board gave Prescott a specific mandate: “Keep constantly before the people, the distinctive doctrines of this denomination.”17

The same year fire destroyed the sanitarium, the publishing house also burned to the ground. Prescott, serving both as editor and president of the publishing house, was tasked to move the entire publishing operation from Battle Creek first to Washington, D.C., and eventually to its final home in the Takoma Park area. It was an arduous process and took its toll on both Prescott and Daniells. Both were close to exhaustion and nervous collapse. While the presses moved in 1903, it wasn’t until the end of May 1906 that the Review carried its permanent Takoma Park address.18

A report given at the 1909 GC Session demonstrated Prescott’s impact on the Review, but also highlighted why subscriptions were a constant concern. It was reported that the paper was sent to 53 countries outside the United States, and 16,176 weekly subscriptions19—but the Review was reachingonly 18 percent of the membership.20

While wrestling with the move, Prescott also became embroiled in a theological controversy related to the interpretation of Daniel 8:13. A “new view” presented by Prescott was strongly opposed by Stephen Haskell, who represented the “old view.” One of the main contentions involved understanding what Ellen White meant in a statement written in 1850, almost 60 years earlier. The debate continued for two years. When pamphlets were distributed to attendees of the 1909 GC Session, there was so much talk that they put the agenda aside for two evenings to discuss the topic, reaching no resolution. Eventually leadership chose to deal with this controversy as they had before—remove one of the persons in question. This time it was Prescott who was reassigned to city evangelism, leaving the editorial chair vacant once more.

 1 GC Committee Minutes, Mar.26, 1897.

 2 GC Committee Minutes, Sept. 23, 1897.

 3 GC Committee Minutes, Sept. 24, 1897.

 4 Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Oct. 5, 1897.

 5 Ibid.

 6 Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Jan. 4, 1898.

 7 Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Sept. 14, 1897.

 8 Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Apr. 24, 1900.

 9 Ibid.

10 Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, June 19, 1900.

11 George Knight, A. T. Jones (Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 2011), p. 191.

12 Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, May 14, 1901.

13 Minority Meeting of the GC Committee, Feb. 15, 1902.

14 Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Apr. 29, 1902, pp. 3, 4.

15 Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Mar. 10, 1903.

16 Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Apr. 8, 1902.

17 Gilbert M. Valentine, W. W. Prescott (Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 2005), p. 199. One of W. W. Prescott’s editorials is found on page 60 of this issue.

18 Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, May 31, 1906.

19 General Conference Bulletin, May 19, 1909, p. 72.

20Annual Statistical Report, 1909, Table No. 3