"Top 7 Myths: #2: Wrote Steps to Christ"
This charge comes to us from Dirk Anderson's and Robert Sanders' web sites. It utilizes one of the most common accusations out there, namely, that Ellen White plagiarized her material from other writers. See if you think there's a case to be made on this one.
Given the above, it shouldn't be too hard to determine whether Fannie was the one who "plagiarized," if that is the correct term. If either of the two examples of alleged plagiarism copied from Walter Rea were in fact taken from things written prior to 1888, then Fannie could not be the one who did the "plagiarizing." However, if these particular quotes cannot be found in Ellen White's earlier writings, then Fannie may indeed be the culprit
Let's now take a look at the two examples copied from Walter Rea:
This selection from pages 96 and 97 of Steps to Christ is taken from Testimonies for the Church, vol. 3, page 323, which in turn is taken from a personal letter written by Mrs. White in 1873 to a young minister and his wife (The Progressive Years, p. 388). (See comparison between Testimonies and Steps to Christ here.) Thus, this first selection was written 15 years before Fannie Bolton began working for Mrs. White.
The portion of Steps to Christ in blue comes from an article by Ellen White published in the August 21, 1884, issue of Signs of the Times, four years before Fannie Bolton became an employee of Mrs. White. The portion in red is taken from a November 18, 1886, issue of the same journal, still more than a year before Fannie was around. (See comparisons between Signs articles and Steps to Christ here.)
The portion in red is similar only in thought, not in word, to Underwood. Because of this, and because the two Signs articles were published two years apart, the similarity in thought between the red portions of Underwood and Ellen White is merely coincidental.
Intentionally or not, either Walter Rea or his researcher made Underwood's quote more like Steps to Christ than it really is. In the original, there are no quotation marks or reference for Hebrews 11:6. Indeed, there shouldn't be any quotation marks, for Underwood paraphrased the verse slightly.
Of course the question remains, was there plagiarism, even if Fannie Bolton wasn't involved? The answer to that question depends upon how you define plagiarism, and whether you define it according to present-day standards or 1892 standards.
For example, in some circles today, if only ideas and not words are borrowed, there is no plagiarism. In other circles, the borrowing of ideas alone may constitute plagiarism. In some circles today, one may copy freely from oneself and not be a plagiarist. In other circles, copying from one's own writings is definitely plagiarism, and can result in rather stern penalties.
Thus, if Mrs. White had published Steps to Christ as an article in one of today's scientific journals, she would have been condemned by her peers as a plagiarist, not because some wording appears similar to March and Underwood, but because she freely copied from her earlier writings without using quotation marks and without giving any credit to herself whatsoever. As absurd as that may sound, it's the truth.
On the other hand, 6 words and a Bible verse out of a paragraph of 502 words from Underwood are found in Steps to Christ, and 37 words out of 6 paragraphs totalling 1126 words from March can be found in Steps to Christ. (See the original quotations of all three authors, without any ellipses, here.) The latter 37 words first appeared two decades prior to the publishing of Steps to Christ in a personal letter of encouragement to a young minister and his wife. Thus, if borrowing 6 words out of 502 constituted plagiarism in 1884, then Ellen White was indeed a plagiarist, if we assume that she really did borrow those 6 words. (Given the fact that any two writers writing on the same subject are going to use some of the same words, it would indeed be an assumption that Ellen White was copying those 6 words from Underwood.) Or, if intentionally or unintentionally borrowing 37 words out of 1126 when writing a personal letter constituted plagiarism in 1873, then Ellen White was guilty of plagiarism.
Dealing with the big "if" of what was plagiarism and what wasn't in the nineteenth century goes beyond the scope of this web page. To read up on copyright laws of that era, see "Plagiarism Defined."
The Author: Fannie vs. Ellen
Robert Sanders provides on his site a scanned copy of a 1952 letter by Edward S. Ballenger. In this letter Ballenger claims that Fannie told him that she, not Mrs. White, had written Steps to Christ. Ballenger is also the one that published in the 1930's the accusation that Ellen White had plagiarized pictures, pictures she had paid for. (See "Even the Pictures Were Plagiarized!")
Yet after our discovery that the portions allegedly plagiarized actually came from Mrs. White's own writings, we are puzzled to know exactly what portions Fannie supposedly wrote herself.
Indeed, the fair and honorable thing for Sanders to have done would have been to quote from Fannie herself regarding this matter:
That Fannie Bolton may have elsewhere contradicted her own testimony lends nothing to her credibility as a witness, especially if no one can discover which portions of Steps to Christ she actually wrote.
Fannie Bolton had nothing to do with any alleged plagiarism in the writing of pages 96 and 97 of Steps to Christ, since the material was already written and published by Ellen White before Fannie joined Mrs. White's staff.
That is, unless we say that Fannie assisted in plagiarizing from Mrs. White's own writings. Using the extreme standards of some of today's academic and professional circles, since Mrs. White never put quotation marks around or gave references for her previously published material, she indeed plagiarized most of Steps to Christ.
In our (non-legal) opinion, Mrs. White would have had no legal grounds for suing herself for plagiarism in 1892.
We can trace the page on Dirk Anderson's site back to 2000, and the page on Robert Sanders' site back to 1999. Since Ellen White's writings came out on CD a decade earlier around 1990, it would have been a simple matter to discover that when Fannie Bolton came along Ellen White had already written the material in question. Additionally, they would have discovered that "But to claim that prayer will always be answered . . ." was not taken from Underwood.
While Dirk and Robert did give credit to Walter Rea for the material they got from him, it would have been best if they had verified his findings before making public these accusations. We therefore strongly recommend that critics of Mrs. White do their own independent research, rather than merely copying from one another.
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