On September 29, 1885, Jennie Thayer, a missionary stationed in England, wrote in her diary: “Quite windy. Last meeting of Council at 5:30 a.m. They took a photo of the mission house, workers, and delegates after the meeting. Quite a party of us went in town this P.M. It is rainy tonight when we start on our journey home. How many good byes have to be said! Wrote in Miss Dahl’s, Jean’s and Lenna’s autographs just before leaving.”
Two weeks earlier, the European Missionary Council had begun its third session. Those serving in Adventist missions across Europe came to Basel, Switzerland, to discuss how best to spread God’s present truth to the people of Europe. Even Ellen White and her son, W. C. White, had come! The 35 delegates, including Jennie, worshiped and trained together, heard mission reports from fellow missionaries, and made plans and resolutions for further work in their stations.*
The Ellen G. White Estate has the photo of the third European Missionary Council you see here, partially because Ellen White is in it. But she is not the only Adventist in the photo with a story to be told.
Let me briefly tell you the stories of three other Adventist missionaries in the photo. The 32-year-old Jennie stands next to Esther and Buell Whitney, parents of Jean and Lenna, who sit at their parents’ feet and in whose autograph books Jennie wrote. In 1885, Esther and Buell were both nearly 40, Jean was 13, and Lenna, 12. Both girls would also be missionaries when they were grown.
Jean Whitney was born in 1872 in the state of New York. When she was 16, her father fell ill, and she accompanied him from Switzerland to the Battle Creek Sanitarium in Michigan, caring for him until her mother and sister arrived. Jean trained at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, graduating in 1897 with a medical degree. For a while, she worked as a doctor at the Battle Creek Sanitarium. In 1906, she married fellow doctor John F. Morse, and after four years of marriage, the couple traveled to Europe for further studies in the field of medicine. Afterward, they practiced medical missionary work wherever they lived—Puerto Rico, Illinois, and Iowa. Dr. Jean died in 1940.
Lenna Whitney’s mission work was not medical in nature. She was born in 1873, also in New York State, and trained as a teacher. In 1896, she graduated from the literary course at Battle Creek College, training also as a nurse at Battle Creek Sanitarium. In 1899, she and Homer R. Salisbury were married; several years later, they were called to England and established Duncombe Hall College, a forerunner of today’s Newbold College. From there, the Salisburys moved to Takoma Park, Maryland, and lent their expertise in leading the Washington Foreign Mission Seminary (today’s Washington Adventist University). In 1913, they were sent as missionaries to India. In 1915, Homer was killed when his ship was torpedoed en route to India, leaving Lenna a widow at 42. For a year, Lenna refused to leave the work in India until her failing health forced her to return to the United States. In 1921, after she recovered, she traveled to France to work for what is now the Adventist University of France in Collonges-sous-Salève. She continued to work there until she died in 1923.
Neither girl knew what they’d do as missionaries when Jennie Thayer signed their autograph books in 1885, and neither did Jennie. The daughter of two Millerites who became Sabbath-keepers and then Seventh-day Adventists, Jennie was born in 1853. She attended Battle Creek College as part of one of the school’s earliest classes and then began working for the church. While her job titles varied, Jennie’s work almost always was connected to the church’s publishing work, whether as an assistant secretary of the International Tract and Missionary Society or as the first editor of the Atlantic Union Gleaner, which is still published today. Jennie died in 1940; several decades later, her great-niece donated some of her diaries to the General Conference archives, which is how I was able to transcribe her entry from September 29, 1885.
Medical work, educational work, publishing work—three branches of Adventist mission work represented in just three people from one photograph! How many more stories of Adventist mission—and of Adventist missionaries—are out there waiting to be researched and shared. I’d best get back to it.
* The minutes of the third European Missionary Council can be read on pages 92–98 in the 1886 Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook at http://documents.adventistarchives.org/Yearbooks/YB1886.pdf.