November 5, 2014

Rare Photo Provides a Walk With Ellen White Down Memory Lane

, retired Adventist historian

A previously unknown photo of Adventist Church co-founder Ellen G. White provides a rare look back at a time when the General Conference was settling down in the U.S. capital, its business meeting was held in tents, and a U.S. president bowed to White as he passed her in his carriage.

The photo, the first new picture of White to surface in decades, turned up a few weeks ago among the papers of a California physician who died in 1966.

It shows White with her son William “Willie” C. White and his wife, May Lacey White, walking across the campus of what was then the newest Adventist college. The date 1905 is scrawled on the bottom left-hand corner of the print.

Several telltale clues indicate that the picture was taken during the 1905 General Conference session of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

The General Conference session took place in a large tent on the grounds of the newly founded Washington Training College (now Washington Adventist University) in Takoma Park, Maryland. A smaller tent of the type that housed delegates is visible in the background of the photo.

Moreover, Ellen White’s nurse, Sara McEnterfer, normally accompanied her on travels, but Sara was ill during the General Conference session, so May took her place.

The General Conference and the Review and Herald Publishing Association had moved from Battle Creek to Washington in late 1903, but they were still housed in rented quarters near the U. S. Capitol building in 1905. The location of the building is now part of a park on the north side of the U. S. Capitol.

So the General Conference session was held on college grounds in Takoma Park, Maryland, a suburb immediately bordering the District of Columbia.

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.

This was not Ellen White’s first visit to Takoma Park. In 1904 she spent several months there, thus giving support to the General Conference’s once-controversial move out of Battle Creek, Michigan. During that visit, on a carriage ride through Rock Creek Park, she actually passed President Theodore Roosevelt’s carriage coming in the opposite direction.

“He bowed to us as we passed him,” White reported.

But for most of the General Conference session delegates, it was their first visit to the town that would be home to church headquarters for the next 80 years. The college and adjacent hospital (now Washington Adventist Medical Center) would be planted in the Maryland section of Takoma Park, while the General Conference and Review and Herald Publishing Association would be based just over the line in the District of Columbia.

A picture of Sligo Creek and the bridge across it graced the cover of the Review magazine that reported on the 1905 General Conference session. The caption read: “Near the General Conference Encampment,” and an inside article expanded on the wonderful advantages of the town: “TAKOMA PARK! There is a touch of nature in the very name itself—a suggestion of woodland and wild flowers, of winding roads, of hill and dale!”

Just two months earlier, down at the U.S. Capitol, it had been a windy 45 degrees Fahrenheit (7 degrees Celsius) for Roosevelt’s inauguration.

Temperatures were still chilly by the time Ellen White arrived, so she, Willie, and May dressed warmly as they left their rooms to attend a meeting. White set her pince-nez eyeglasses on her nose, put a flowered scarf around her neck, donned her hat, and was off to the big tent.

Clutched in her hand was a large journal, the kind that she used to hand-write letters and sermons.

We don't know for sure which of her 1905 journals she was carrying, but it may have been the one that included the talk she gave on the last day of the conference. Her remarks strongly supported the need for the move out of Battle Creek. Concerned about the influences being exerted on Adventists students in Battle Creek, she spoke of the importance of their being educated by those "true and loyal to the truth," that was "delivered to the people of God, under the ministration of the Spirit of God."

White’s hat, which may at first glance appear a little ostentatious, was quite modest for the time. This was the Edwardian era—King Edward VII reigned in England from 1901 to 1910. Edwardian hats often swirled and swooped around the head. Lavish brims created an illusion of a hat suspended as if by magic on the head. The hat was often an amorphous mass swathed in stiff lace and smothered in flowers, ribbons or bird feathers.

“But why don’t we ever see her smiling in pictures?” asked one person who saw Ellen White’s seemingly solemn gaze in the photo.

The answer is simple: It was not the custom to smile in pictures. In fact, in the early days of photography half a century earlier, those who sat for their picture were told not to smile lest their expression be reduced to a silly smirk before the long exposure was finished.

And where has this photo of White been all these years? At the time of the General Conference session, a 27-year-old widow named Harriet “Hattie” Allee was working as a secretary in the Review and Herald Offices down on Capitol Hill. Her late husband was Edgar Allee, son of the prominent Adventist administrator N.W. Allee.

  The likely photographer, Harriet Elizabeth Allee Trott.
Harriet Elizabeth Allee Trott, 1878-1958

Harriet was an avid photographer throughout her life, and it is entirely likely she took the newly discovered picture.

The original print is only 3.5 inches square, but a digital, high-resolution copy shows a blurry reflection in Willie White’s eyeglasses of what appears to be the photographer wearing a large women’s hat.

A blurry reflection in Willie White’s eyeglasses appears to show the photographer wearing a large women’s hat.

Later Harriet moved to California and became the registrar at the College of Medical Evangelists (now the Loma Linda University School of Medicine).

During her years as registrar, medical student Leslie Trott graduated at the top of his class—the second graduating class—in 1915. Then, while he practiced medicine in Los Angeles, he served as the first president of the CME Alumni Association. In 1919, Leslie’s wife, Lucy, passed away. Two years later, the widower, Leslie, married the widow, Harriet Allee, who now added Trott to her name, becoming Harriet Elizabeth Allee Trott (1878-1958).

Harriet died in 1958 and Leslie died in 1966 after a long and distinguished career as an ear, nose and throat doctor. Leslie’s papers were eventually handed down to his great- granddaughter, Jacqueline Leslie Trott-Bally of Los Angeles, California.

As Bally worked through her great-grandfather’s papers, she came across a folder labeled “Harriet Family Photos,” and in that folder was the photo of White. Because of her great-grandfather’s early training in the clinic that became the White Memorial Medical Center in Los Angeles, Bally contacted me, the author of a recently completed centennial history of the hospital, A Journey of Faith and Healing.

Tim Poirier, the vice director and archivist of the church’s Ellen G. White Estate, then helped to confirm the time and place the photo was taken.

Only about 50 photos of Ellen White are known to exist. With the discovery of this gem after so many years, here’s to hoping that more pictures will be found.

Related link

Adventist Review, October 8, 2014: "Previously Unknown Photo of Ellen White Found"