Elizabeth Coleman White


Elizabeth Coleman White (1871 – 1954) was a New Jersey agricultural specialist who collaborated with botanist Frederick Vernon Coville to develop and commercialize cultivated blueberries. White was Quaker, graduating from the Friends’ Central School in Philadelphia in 1887. Afterwards she worked at her father’s farm, Whitesbog in the New Jersey Pine Barrens, supervising cranberry pickers in the bogs. Pine barrens are plant communities that occur on dry, acidic, infertile soils dominated by grasses, low shrubs, and small to medium-sized pines.

In the early part of the 20th century, White offered pineland residents cash for wild blueberry plants with unusually large fruit. Her collaboration with Coville began in 1910. Their project revealed the importance of soil acidity (blueberries need highly acidic soil), that blueberries do not self-pollinate, and the effects of cold on blueberries and other plants. Their work doubled the size of some strains’ fruit, and by 1916, Coville had succeeded in cultivating blueberries, making them a valuable crop in the Northeastern United States.

For this work he received the George Roberts White Medal of Honor from the Massachusetts Horticultural Society. White became the first female member of the American Cranberry Association and the first woman to receive a citation from the New Jersey Department of Agriculture. In 1927 she helped organize the New Jersey Blueberry Cooperative Association.

In 1910, a controversy arose when an agent of the National Child Labor Committee (NCLC) issued a report of child labor in the cranberry industry. As one third of the cranberry farms was harvested by J.J. White Inc., Elizabeth White wrote letters and spoke out against the report, defending her father’s company and industry. The argument of NCLC investigators was that parents recruited their children under the age of 14 to work ten-hour shifts. White argued and reported that children played in the clean air and would gladly work at the request of parents.

The controversy continued for four years until the NCLC printed a retraction in ‘The Trenton Times’ and acknowledged White’s efforts as peacemaker. White also conceded that children missed school between the months of September and October due to the harvest. She worked with the Women’s Home Mission Council to provide babysitting services for younger children and informal educational and recreational programs for older ones.

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