Laura Harris White (1867-1960)
By George Robb: Professor, William Paterson University, Wayne, New Jersey
This biographical sketch was first published on the Online Biographical Dictionary of the Woman Suffrage Movement in the United States and appears here by permission. That database is accessible at https://documents.alexanderstreet.com/VOTESforWOMEN
Vice President, New Jersey Woman Suffrage Association
Laura C. Harris was born near Philadelphia on January 31, 1867 to John W. Harris, a wealthy manufacturer, and Caroline Delacroix. The family was part of a long-standing Quaker community in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, where Laura attended the Friends’ School. On February 2, 1890 she married John Josiah White, a Philadelphia lawyer, whose family was also wealthy Quakers. The couple lived in Lansdowne, Pennsylvania, where their only child, Elizabeth, was born in 1891.
In 1901 the Whites moved to Atlantic City, New Jersey, where John, along with his father and brothers, built and managed the Marlborough-Blenheim Hotel, one of the grandest establishments on the boardwalk. In 1911 governor Woodrow Wilson appointed John J. White to a judgeship on the New Jersey Court of Appeals, a position White was to hold for the rest of his life. Laura Harris White, like many wealthy and well-connected women of the time, was active in philanthropy and civic affairs. As a Quaker she was also predisposed to support progressive causes like women’s rights.
Laura Harris White was the most prominent suffragist in Atlantic City. She served as vice president of the New Jersey Woman Suffrage Association (NJWSA), and she frequently represented the state association at meetings of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), the largest suffrage organization in the United States. White was part of a delegation of New Jersey suffragists who petitioned President Wilson in November 1913 to endorse a constitutional amendment granting women the right to vote, and she helped organize an elaborate suffrage parade in Washington, D.C. on May 9, 1914. As a member of the legislative committee of NJWSA she actively lobbied state legislators to support the 19th Amendment.
The White family’s ownership of a large resort hotel on the Jersey shore also proved useful to the movement. Laura White helped organize the annual convention of NAWSA in Atlantic City in September 1916, during which Woodrow Wilson addressed the group and declared his sympathy for the cause. White later hosted meetings of New Jersey suffragists at the Hotel Marlborough-Blenheim in August 1917 and May 1919.
Although Laura White was aligned with Carrie Chapman Catt’s National American Woman Suffrage Association, she was initially supportive of Alice Paul’s rival National Woman’s Party, founded in 1916. White even donated money to the NWP, which sought to invigorate the suffrage movement with younger members and more militant tactics, but she disavowed the group when it continued to harass the Wilson administration during World War I. In August 1918 White was one of several prominent New Jersey suffragists who condemned the National Woman’s Party for its wartime picketing of the White House. Like most mainstream suffragists, Laura White focused on patriotic projects during the war years, to demonstrate women’s value as citizens. She helped fund a canteen for soldiers at Camp Dix, New Jersey, and she sold war bonds for the Woman Suffrage Liberty Loan Committee.
After the passage of the 19th Amendment, Laura White remained active in the New Jersey League of Women Voters and other civic organizations. She also made the news for condemning women’s skimpy bathing suits on Atlantic City beaches. When her husband died in 1930, she inherited his considerable business interests. Laura Harris White died on June 29, 1960, at the age of 93.
William E. Sackett, ed., Scannell’s New Jersey’s First Citizens (Paterson: J.J. Scannell, 1918), pgs. 541-42. https://books.google.com/books?id=D5JPAAAAYAAJ
“Oppose Picketing of White House,” Trenton Evening News, August 9, 1918, pg. 12.
“Suffragists Meet at Shore Today,” Trenton Evening News, August 24, 1917, pg. 2.
“Women Voters’ League Formed,” Trenton Evening News, April 25, 1920, pg. 3.