Elizabeth Coleman White
By Kathleen McFadden
Elizabeth Coleman White loved her family's
New Jersey cranberry farm, Whitesbog. After finishing school in
Philadelphia in 1887, Elizabeth went to work in the business, supervising
cranberry pickers during the harvest season and helping with packing
and shipping the fruit. During the winter, she took various courses
at Drexel University, including first aid, photography, dressmaking,
Elizabeth had long wanted to add blueberry
production to the farm, so when she read a report in 1911 about
Frederick Coville's work in blueberry propagation, she invited
him to move to Whitesbog to continue his research. Although wild
blueberries were abundant in the New Jersey Pinelands region,
many farmers had tried to cultivate the fragile wild plant for
commercial purposes and failed. Nevertheless, Elizabeth was determined
to succeed, even though she had no formal horticultural education.
During the next five years, Elizabeth
worked with Coville to produce a commercial crop of blueberries.
She asked local people to help her find wild bushes with the best
and biggest berries, and offered a bounty of $1 to $3 to woodsmen
for marking the largest berry on each bush. She also named the
plants after them. From these wild bushes, Elizabeth and Coville
collected thousands of cuttings that they used to develop new
varieties. Success came in 1916 when they produced a crop of 600
quarts. Elizabeth was the first grower to use cellophane wrappers
over the small fruit baskets shipped to stores for sale.
Recognizing that effective marketing
is just as important as successful cultivation, in 1927, she helped
organize the New Jersey Blueberry Cooperative Association. Despite
her accomplishments, Elizabeth's father did not allow her to inherit
the business after his death because she was a woman, a decision
that she resented. However, Elizabeth was the first woman member
of the American Cranberry Association, and the first woman to
receive the New Jersey Department of Agriculture citation.
By 1986, New Jersey's blueberry industry
was second in the country in total production of blueberries.
Elizabeth's next horticultural contribution was to establish nurseries
for cultivating the local holly tree and the Franklinia, a rare
type of magnolia bush discovered by 19th-century Philadelphia
botanist John Bartram in Georgia. Eventually she was recognized
as one of four key horticulturists specializing in hollies in
the United States.
Elizabeth was born on October 5, 1871,
and died on November 27, 1954.
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