Esther Griffin White · 1992
This speech was given at his induction into the Hall of Fame.
We are indebted to George T. Blakey, a history professor at Indiana University East in Richmond, for bringing to our attention the worthiness of Esther Griffin White for induction into the Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame.
Professor Blakey did so by writing a compassionate, perceptive biography of White which was published in the September, 1990, issue of the Indiana Magazine of History. Professor Blakey is with us tonight.
White, who lived from 1869 to 1954, indeed was a woman ahead of her time and a successful leader for women’s rights and other causes. The following are excerpts from Blakey’s biography of White and his other comments about her.
Approximately 50 years of White’s life were devoted to journalism in her hometown of Richmond, Indiana. As an employee of the Richmond Morning News, The Item, and the later combined Palladium-Item, she became the reporter of “choice” for society coverage, arts reviews, politics and special events.
Her editorials often evoked community discussion because they were forceful, crusading and sometimes eccentric. On other occasions she edited her own publications, such as The Little Paper and the Peoples Paper, the latter being a decisive force in defeating a local referendum to adopt a city manager form of government.
She also battled city hall and successfully. She would resort to more extreme measures if her written articles did not bring satisfaction. In an effort to stop the Richmond Board of Works from altering a section of historic National Road, White recruited the aid of Richard Lieber, director of the Indiana Department of Conservation, and also filed for an injunction to prevent city action.
Her series calling attention to unsanitary privies in close proximity to park springs forced the city to move the offensive structures.
Politically, she was an active suffragist. She won election that year as a delegate to the Indiana Republican State Convention. Later, she was a candidate for mayor of Richmond and for Congress.
Combining her political and feminist interests, she was the secretary for the group which raised funds for the commissioned bust of Robert Dale Owen, now located in the state capitol. She was an admirer of Owen, a champion of women’s rights and social reformer known for his utopian efforts at New Harmony, Indiana.
Artistically, Miss White published four books of poetry and the definitive book, Indiana Bookplates. She was an impresario of concerts and other cultural attractions. Her home was a salon for local and regional artists.
She single-handedly beat down the Indiana blue law which prohibited Sunday performances.
Her impressive collection of Hoosier paintings were donated to Earlham College.
In summation of this remarkable, assertive, persistent, stubborn woman, Blakey wrote:
• “Beyond her obvious and memorable eccentricities, Esther Griffin White was an ‘awakener’ of Hoosier potential. She pioneered and prevailed in serious journalism for roughly fifty years during a time when only a few females ventured outside the society section of newspapers. ”Her longevity as a writer, editor and publisher is alone significant. ”White was also considerably influential during the crusade for women’s suffrage. Her publicity work and physical presence helped awaken many Hoosiers to the need for voting rights for women. ”Although a perennial loser in campaigns for public office, White created a vibrant model for other women wishing to emerge from political passivity. ”Her activities as an impresario, her poetry, bookplates, and patronage of artists added color and texture to the aesthetic richness of east central Indiana. Furthermore, White awakened in many people a heightened sense of human, political and artistic potential that had been dormant or drowsy.”
In her final years, she was nearly blind, penniless and dependent on charities. When she died only a few people were aware of her significant contributions to Hoosier life.
Her modest gravestone in Earlham Cemetery at Richmond bears just her name, Esther Griffin White, and the year, 1954, in which she died.
“A continued awareness, rather than a laconic gravestone, should be her legacy,” Professor Blakey wrote.
We agree. That’s why the name of Esther Griffin White is being enshrined in the Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame.