Smithsonian Names Ellen White One of 100 Most Influential Americans Ever

Smithsonian Magazine has named Seventh-day Adventist co-founder and author Ellen G. White among the 100 Most Significant Americans of All Time.

Smithsonian's list is based on the work of computer scientists Steven Skiena and Charles B. Ward, who analyzed massive troves of historical reputation data that derives from the English-language Wikipedia (which hosts over 840,000 pages devoted to individuals from all times and places) and from the more than 15 million books Google has scanned.

Cambridge University Press published the results of their analysis in a book entitled "Who's Bigger?: Where Historical Figures Really Rank". The 379-page tome begins with an excursis of "people as memes," as the concept of a "meme" was described by Richard Dawkins in his 1990 book, "The Selfish Gene".

"Who's Bigger?" analyzes historical figures from around the world, not just the United States. The book's Top 100 list of most significant historical figures begins with Jesus at number one, and ends with John Locke at one hundred.

Skiena and Ward developed a complex algorithm for ranking historical figures by their historical significance, which they define as “the result of social and cultural forces acting on the mass of an individual’s achievement.” The ranking prioritizes Internet notoriety over individuals' achievements. That is, individuals' historical significance depends on the volume of extant online data available for each historical figure.

According to Smithsonian's article:

[Skiena and Ward] analyzed this data to produce a single score for each person, using a formula that incorporates the number of links to each page, the number of page visits, the length of each entry and the frequency of edits to each page. Their algorithms differentiate between two kinds of historical reputation, what they call “gravitas” and “celebrity.” Finally, their method requires a means of correcting for the “decay” in historical reputation that comes with the passage of time; they developed an algorithm for that, too. By their reckoning, Jesus, Napoleon, Muhammad, William Shakespeare and Abraham Lincoln rank as the top five figures in world history. Their book ranks more than 1,000 individuals from all around the world, providing a new way to look at history.

Smithsonian added their knowledge of American history to Skiena and Ward's work to create their list of the 100 Most Significant Americans in which Ellen White appears. Smithsonian senior editor Tom Frail wrote, "By synthesizing our expertise with the systematic rigor of Skiena and Ward’s rankings, we sought to combine the best of quantitative measures and qualitative judgment."

Significantly, Smithsonian created categories deemed historically important, and after asking Skiena and Ward to separate American figures from their ranking of world historical figures, compiled a list of top ten in each category, adding a discretionary "Editor's Choice" selection in each category.

Smithsonian listed Ellen White among the following most significant American religious figures:

Joseph Smith Jr. William Penn Brigham Young Roger Williams Anne Hutchinson Jonathan Edwards L. Ron Hubbard Ellen G. White Cotton Mather Mary Baker Eddy Billy Graham

White, whose 187th birthday was last Wednesday, November 26 (she died in 1915), was one of three women in the religious figures category and one of only 22 women overall.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

What took them so long?

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She certainly ranks with Cotton, Joseph Smith, B Young. but Wm Penn and J. Edwards? Tom Z


The world has acknowledged a fact: She was profoundly influential. That should hopefully put to rest some of the rather petty criticism often expressed. That the one of the SDA church’s cofounders should rise to the top in such a study is amazing. Shows what God can do with a little dedicated to him. “Little is much if God is in it”, says the old hymn.


Was there ever any doubt that EGW was a remarkable woman that was very influential and whose work of establishing a new church was very successful?

Just looking at how the church was established and it’s growth shows it was a successful,project. To a point of being, not surprisingly, recognized by independent entities.


A swell of pride to be listed under Joseph Smith.


It isn’t a study. It is an analysis of “massive troves of historical reputation data that derives from the English-language Wikipedia (which hosts over 840,000 pages devoted to individuals from all times and places) and from the more than 15 million books Google has scanned.” It is a score produced by "using a formula that incorporates the number of links to each page, the number of page visits, the length of each entry and the frequency of edits to each page."
So it’s more than obvious that Adventists are very well at computers and on the web. In the early phase of Internet Adventist web sites were among the first and best of all religious web sites. Maybe is this “love” for the Internet by Adventists because of the very strong international character of our denomination. Nonetheless our scholars are very active and connected throughout the world and are citing EGW.


As Tihomir points out, the ranking is not based on an individual’s accomplishments, per se, aside from the (significant) accomplishment of garnering an expansive historical reputation in printed books and on the Internet. Skiena and Ward do not appear to have differentiated between “positive” and “negative” notoriety, perhaps once again making the point that, at least as far as historical significance is concerned, there is no such thing as bad publicity.


I am glad that EGW receives some well-deserved recognition. At times EGW is very inspiring. Yet when I read her Testimonies, I fret and stumble. In her Vol. 1 chapter on The Poor she says, “I saw that the stewards of the Lord have no duty to help those persons who persist in using tobacco, tea, and coffee.” Apparently, when she used the word “I saw” this is what God said—no help for those in poverty or homelessness if they drink green/black tea or Starbucks. Is inspiration cultural? Can we pick and choose what we want to practice and believe? Is it all or none?


The “study” placed the largest number of links and internet searches as their major influence. This could be infamy or notoriety with the larger numbers as being the "most influential. As Jared wrote, it also indicates the wide use of the internet by Adventists.

Thus Joseph Smith was number one for religious influence. But I agree with Tom Z, surely Jonathan Edwards and William Penn were far more influential for U.S. religious history.


it’s all, but making allowances for culture…the way we interpret egw is exactly the same way we interpret the bible…

as for this smithsonian recognition, to me it seems god is going to get the good news out about egw, with or without our help - the very stones are crying out…the importance of egw cannot be overstated for anyone who wants to understand how salvation really works…

it’s all, but making allowances for culture…

Is coffee and tea a cultural issue or an error. Who holds to this belief today? Does God not want us to help the poor who smoke or drink coffee?


Does this indicate God is also getting the good news out about Baker, Hubbard, Smith and Young?


Christian Scientists [Mary Baker Eddy] have their Reading Rooms out and about.
SDAs have NO Reading Rooms.
Mary Baker Eddy is probably more well known than EGW among the populous.
Same with Joseph Smith.

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this leaves us with this question
Does God change His mind and later say it is OK?
Or, is there another principle at work here? Perhaps it has to do with allocation of money and members having limited family funds and limited church funds.
Limited church funds is why she said no to Kellogg when he wanted to open a program in Chicago. The thought was good, but at the time would have been a drain on church funds needed for other projects.

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Perhaps worth noting that Sojourner Truth, a “good SDA”, was also included in the Smithsonian list…


I think what she means is that if people have money to use for tobacco, tea, and coffee (and alcohol), they must not be that bad off, and we should move on to help those who really need it.

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Frank, you might find this article helpful as you sort things out. Better yet, purchase the book “Did Man Create God” and read particularly the chapter titled “The Spiritual Brain” and a few surrounding chapters. It would seem to add a lot to the Adventist narrative on Ellen White’s gifts.

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Forgot to include the link

The key words in EGW’s quote above are “duty” & “persist”. It is those who REFUSE to give up their bad habits that become undeserving of our ongoing help. It is no longer our “duty” to help - this does not mean we will have no sympathy for them and we may continue to offer support although other “duties” will become a higher priority.