Distinguished Women of Past and Present

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Elizabeth Coleman White

(1871-1954)

Elizabeth Coleman White introduced the nation's first cultivated blueberry. She was born October 5, 1871 in New Lisbon, N.J., U.S.A. Elizabeth was the oldest of four daughters. Her parents were Mary A. (Fenwick) White and Joseph Josiah White, an engineer in Camden. They were Quakers and members of the landed working gentry. They also farmed cranberries on what later became a 3,000 acre plantation known as Whitesbog. In 1869 the Whites published a book on cranberry culture which became a standard in the industry.

Elizabeth graduated from the Friends Central School in Philadelphia in 1887. Afterwards, she worked on the family farm helping in the farm's operation. She spent winters in Philadelpia where she took courses in first aid, photography, dressmaking and millinery at Drexel University.

Following the publication, in 1911, of a pamphlet by the National Child Labor Committee (NCLC), which was critical of the treatment child labor received from the cranberry growers, Elizabeth White wrote many letters and gave talks in defense of the growers. She felt strongly that the charges had been greatly exaggerated. After four years of the continuing controversy, the NCLC printed a retraction in the Trenton Times.

Also in 1911, White read in a U.S. Department of Agriculture bulletin about work done by Frederick Coville in blueberry propagation. She invited him to come and work at Whitesbog. Until then, New Jersey farmers believed that blueberry cultivation was impossible in that area despite the presence of wild blueberries.

White worked with Coville in locating blueberry bushes in the area which had the desired traits. She enlisted the aid of local people to measure the largest wild berries and to tag the plants they came from. She also handed out questionnaires requesting information about plant vigor, resistance to cold and disease, flavor, texture, productivity and the time of ripening. She then named the new varieties after their finders. Coville cross-fertilized these plants to create more new varieties. In 1916, they had the nation's first commercial crop of blueberries marketed under the name of Tru-Blu-Berries. At one time, her farm yielded up to 20,000 barrels of berries a year. It was White who also introduced the use of cellophane in packaging of blueberries. In 1927, White helped organize the New Jersey Blueberry Cooperative Association.

White was interested in all plants native to the New Jersey Pine Barrens. She formed the Holly Haven, Inc. and was active in rescuing the native American holly from obscurity. In 1947, she helped found the Holly Society of America.

She was the first woman member of the American Cranberry Association and the first woman recipient of the New Jersey Department of Agriculture citation. In addition, she received many awards and medals from horticultural societies from several states.

Elizabeth Coleman White died of cancer on November 27, 1954.

Contributed by Danuta Bois, 1998.

Bibliography:
1. Past and Promise: Lives of New Jersey Women, by The Women's Project of New Jersey Inc., edited by Joan N. Burstyn, Syracuse University Press, 1997. E.C. White's biography by Michele S. Byers and Sheila Cowing.
2. Susan B. Anthony Slept Here. A Guide to American Women's Landmarks by Lynn Sherr and Jurate Kazickas, Random House, 1994

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