Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Carrie Harper White, 1875-1964

By Samantha Jackson
Undergraduate student, Idaho State University

In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, women's suffrage was a dominating topic and many were working hard to gain equality between the sexes. While eventually women won the vote, there were still many issues women faced and some rose above the others to leave impressions sure to be remembered by all of history. One such woman was Carrie Harper White. Her life and work is testimony to how far women advanced and how far they still had to go as White strove to help women realize their duties as citizens.

Carrie was born on October 20, 1875 in Detroit, Michigan to parents Wallace and Mary Harper. Although she was born in Detroit, she grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. Many details about her early childhood are unclear, although we know Harper attended college at the Cleveland School of Art (CSA). After spending two years at CSA and earning her degree, she moved to New York City in 1895 to attend the School of Applied Design. Her education would allow her to teach in her native city of Cleveland for approximately three years. Her teaching years came to an end when she married John White in 1900. Census records indicate that by 1920, the couple had three daughters and one son. John was a physician and White became devoted to helping him establish sanatoriums for tuberculosis patients in both Utah and Idaho. Due to this work, White found herself in Twin Falls, Idaho where she would become a prominent female leader who played a role in many public decisions.

In 1918, White decided to run for the Idaho Legislature on the Republican ticket and soon advertisements for her campaign were appearing weekly in the local newspaper. At this time, White would have been 42 years old with four children, the youngest being four. This alone speaks volumes about her character. While women in Idaho got the vote in 1896, women during this time were often expected to be more family oriented. White was one of the women who broke this norm. Newspaper sections highlighted her accomplishments outside of her husband's work. In 1918, she had been president for three years of the Federation of Rural Women's Clubs and of the Twin Falls Parent-Teachers Association. Carrie also was the director and organizer of the County Farm Bureau, an organization that aimed to protect agricultural workers and the land they lived on. While all of these are certainly incredible accomplishments, White felt that they were not enough and after winning the House seat she stated, "I am not a politician but I wanted to accomplish certain things and this legislative position seemed to be the only avenue." This work would extend into promoting voting rights at the national level.

In 1919, White joined the ratification committee of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). The goal was to gather women from all over the country to speak on a federal level in favor of the nineteenth amendment. White was chosen for this role due to her influence in the state of Idaho. While serving in the Legislature, White made it clear that she felt women needed to be made aware of their responsibilities as citizens to vote. After her term in the Idaho legislature, White did not run for office again and instead chose to return to life as town socialite. In November 1923, a local newspaper printed an article with the announcement of White's departure from Idaho. The article stated that she was headed to join her husband in Oklahoma. White's life took a different path after she left Idaho.

The 1930 census has White and her husband listed as living at the U.S. Veterans' Hospital 93 in Kerrville, Texas. While White is listed as a "roomer," her husband is listed as a servant. The details are unclear but it can be inferred that her husband was probably working for the hospital. Around this time White became more actively involved with painting. A local newspaper reported in 1928 that White would be having an exhibition of her paintings and oil sketches. For the next decade, White continued to paint and in 1938 she exhibited her works in Austin, Texas. The exhibit was set to focus solely on White's work and an advertisement highlighted her numerous travels. White was set to display sixty scenic landscape paintings of California, New Mexico, Mexico, and Texas. Perhaps the most important information gained from the article is that White went back to art school. She attended the Jose Arpa Art School in Texas, and later the Taos (NM) Art Colony.

On May 3, 1964, White passed away after living in a nursing home for many years. Unfortunately, her obituary fails to mention any of her work in Idaho, instead choosing to focus on her painting and community service in Texas. While these things were indeed incredible and honorable, they were not the entirety of her life. She was a woman who showed others that there was more to citizenship than simply living in the country. Most of her legacy lives on through her art works, but White made her mark on Idaho history through her dedication and commitment to bringing gender equality to her country.


1920 & 1930 U.S. census, population schedule, John White and Carrie Harper White, HeritageQuest, accessed December 6, 2016.

Blackwell, Alice. "On the Threshold of 1919." The Woman Citizen, Volume 3, no. 32 (January 4, 1919): 666.

"Carrie E. White." Find a Grave Memorial. Accessed 6 December 2016.

"Farewell for Mrs. White." Twin Falls (ID) Daily Times, November 24, 1923.

"Fill the Public Offices as you Would Hire Help." Twin Falls (ID) Daily News, November 2, 1918.

Gustafson, Melanie. Women and the Republican Party., p. 219. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2001.

Haverstock, Mary. Artists in Ohio 1787-1900: A Biographical Dictionary. Kent State University Press, 2000.

"Kerrville Artist, Mrs. Carrie Harper White, to Exhibit in Austin." Kerrville (TX) Mountain Sun, May 19, 1938.

"Mrs. Carrie Harper White Exhibits Fine Sketches." Kerrville (TX) Daily Times, December 6, 1928.

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