ELLEN WHITE had many secretaries and helpers during her lifetime. Probably none of them was more highly appreciated than Marian Davis, who worked for her for twenty-five years, from 1879 to 1904. Miss Davis' special role was the organizing of Mrs. White's writings into books. Mrs. White wrote The Desire of Ages, The Ministry of Healing, Education, Patriarchs and Prophets, The Great Controversy, Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, Steps to Christ, and Christ's Object Lessons, but it* was Marian Davis who put all these books together.
When Marian was 21 years old, in 1868, her family moved from Maine to Battle Creek. One of her two sisters died there in the faith of the third angel's message. Her other sister married W. K. Kellogg and so was able to live a fairly comfortable life. Marian chose to work for Mrs. White. This took her from Michigan to Texas, to California, to Europe, to California, to Michigan, then to Australia for nine years, and finally back again to California. When Marian became critically ill in early October, 1904, Mrs. White cut short her trip in the East and returned to St. Helena so she could be near her faithful helper during the final weeks of her life.
We can understand Mrs. White's appreciation of Marian Davis when we read some of the things she wrote about her. In 1884 Mrs. White paid her and another secretary a generous compliment when she wrote, "Marian and Eliza are the best help I could have and [are] appreciated highly by me."1
Four years later, in 1889, Sister White commented, "We are now commencing the work on Vol. I and II [Patriarchs and Prophets and Prophets and Kings], and Life of Christ. Marian is earnest and anxious to put her whole soul into this work." 2
But the work went slowly, and Mrs. White was not able to give as much attention to the book on the life of Christ as she had hoped. After five more years went by she wrote, from Australia, to the General Conference president, O. A. Olsen: "I have done scarcely anything on the Life of Christ, and have been obliged to often bring Marian to my help. . . . But she is in good working order, if I could only feel free to give my whole attention to the work. She has her mind educated and trained for the work; and now I think, as I have thought a few hundred times, I shall be able after this mail closes to take the Life of Christ and go ahead with it, if the Lord will." 3
Something of the spirit with which Marian entered into her work can be seen in the lines Mrs. White wrote a year later, in 1895: "Marian greedily grasps every letter I write to others in order to find sentences that she can use in the Life of Christ. She has been collecting everything that has a bearing on Christ's lessons to His disciples, from all possible sources." 4
Books Not Marian's Productions
In writing to the next General Conference president, G. A. Irwin, Mrs. White described Marian's work: "My copyists you have seen. . . . Marian's work is of a different order altogether. She is my bookmaker. . . . How are my books made? Marian does not put in her claim for recognition. She does her work in this way. She takes my articles which are published in the papers, and pastes them in blank books. She also has a copy of all the letters I write. In preparing a chapter for a book, Marian remembers that I have written some thing on that special point, which may make the matter more forcible. She begins to search for this, and if when she finds it, she sees that it will make the chapter more clear, she adds it.
"The books are not Marian's productions, but my own, gathered from all my writings. Marian has a large field from which to draw, and her ability to arrange the matter is of great value to me. It saves my poring over a mass of matter, which I have no time to do.
"So you understand that Marian is a most valuable help to me in bringing out my books." 5
In 1903 Mrs. White paid Marian an other compliment. She wrote, "I feel very thankful for the help of Sister Marian Davis in getting out my books. She gathers material from my diaries, from my letters, and from the articles published in the papers. I greatly prize her faithful service. She has been with me for twenty-five years, and has constantly been gaining increasing ability for the work of classifying and grouping my writings." 6
A few days after Marian's death, Mrs. White wrote in retrospect, "[Marian] was my chief worker in arranging the matter for my books. She ever appreciated the writings as sacred matter placed in her hands, and would often relate to me what comfort and blessing she received in performing this work, that it was her health and her life to do this work. She ever handled the matters placed in her hands as sacred. ... I shall miss her so much. Who will fill her place?" 7
Appreciated Sacredness of Work
This estimate of Marian Davis' appreciation of the sacred character of her work is borne out by the letters she wrote to Mrs. White when they were in Australia. (Mrs. White's work often took her away from home.)
In one letter Marian stated, "This work is dear to me, the very tendrils of my heart and life are intertwined with it. I am not fit for it, but oh! I want to be sanctified, to be purified, to be where God can use me, that I may not mar the work while it is in my hands, and when the time comes for me to give it up for more efficient workers, He will give me grace for that. Jesus is so precious. He has come very near for a few days past. I have found peace. . . . I am sorry this is written so poorly. My eyes are so blinded by tears that I can hardly see to write." 8
Marian Davis' letters also tell us something of her working conditions: When the one lone typewriter gave out she wrote: "There is no typewriter here now, and no opportunity for either practicing or copying. Just what will be done I cannot say. It costs a great deal to rent typewriters, and will cost a pound to get the old one put in order. ... I should add though, that it is by no means certain that the old machine could be made usable. Bro. Rousseau fears that it is past help. ... If we only had a machine, I have a splendid chance to get my copying done. May Israel is anxious for something to do." 9
More Than Bookmaking
Marian's work actually included much more than bookmaking. A letter Mrs. White wrote to her in 1894 opens with this sentence: "Dear Sister Marian: Will you please look up the different manuscripts and letters that have been written for the last two mails, and send me a copy of every thing." 10
She also helped Mrs. White with her correspondence. Writing to Elder G. A. Irwin in 1900, Marian stated, "Letters are sometimes sent to Sister White making inquiries to which, for want of time, she cannot write out a reply. These letters have been read to her, and she has given directions as to how they should be answered. The answers have been written out by W. C. White or myself. But Sister White's name was not appended to these letters. The name of the writer was signed, with the words, For Mrs. E. G. White." 11
Marian often mourned because of the imperfections of her work, but the Lord put a much higher estimate on her than she put upon herself. Mrs. N. H. Druillard, who spent much time in Mrs. White's home, reminisced in later years: "Miss Davis was at the head of Mrs. White's workers while I was there and she used to tell us that we should take the same care to protect Mrs. White's writings as we would the writings of the Bible. Miss Davis loved her dearly and Sr. White thought that Marian was an angel." 12
While Mrs. White did not call her secretary an angel, she did say, "I greatly prize her faithful service." It took both the prophet and her secretary to give us the inspired books we all treasure so much today. Mrs. White did the writing. For twenty-five years Marian Davis did the gathering and arranging. The next time you read The Desire of Ages you may wish to thank the Lord not only for the work of the prophet but also for the faithful labors of her dedicated literary secretary.
1. E. G. White letter S-7-1884.
2. E. G. White letter F-30-1889.
3. E. G. White letter O-55-1894.
4. E. G. White letter K-41-1895.
5. E. G. White letter I-61a-1900.
6. E. G. White letter B-9-1903.
7. Manuscript 146, 1904.
8. Marian Davis letter Nov. 20, 1892.
9. Marian Davis letter May 4, 1893.
10. E. G. White letter D-14-1894.
11. Marian Davis letter April 23, 1900.
12. N. H. Druillard to Dores Robinson, Sept. 22, 1933.