Esther Griffin White

Esther's Family

Letter From Raymond White

A letter from Raymond White to his sister and her husband, Herbert Emery.

"She [Esther Griffin White] was always very fond of her brothers and talked about both of them very much."
-Elmer Porter


It is a common understanding that most people are profoundly affected in their development by their relationship with their family. This idea appears to holds true in the case of Esther Griffin White. However, determining this for certain is made difficult due to very little being left in the way of records of the White family. Being the last of her name, Esther knew that her family would die out, but she did not seem disquieted by the fact; in fact, she commented that the position gave “certain feelings of exclusiveness.”Esther was also determined to remain unmarried and childless, stating that “reproducing the species is ridiculous.”[1] Despite this, it is possible to glean a decent portrait of Esther’s family from various correspondences, obituaries, and other sources .

Esther’s father was Oliver White, one of the first merchants of Richmond, who ran a store selling books and wallpaper. Her mother’s name was Mary White. [2] Esther comments in her journal that the two were very different, her father being lively and her mother more cold, and she did not believe that the two were a good match for each other.[3] Esther was the eldest of four children, with brothers named Robert and Raymond and one sister named Winifred. Despite a lack of informative details about most of these family members, it is clear that they shared a strong sense of love and commitment towards each other. Though Oliver and Robert were both frequently away for work, and Winifred lived abroad with her husband, the abundance of letters between these disparate relatives betrays their desire to stay connected.[4][5] Elmer Porter, neighbor and close friend to the Whites, confirms this, noting especially that Esther was “always very fond of her brothers and talked about both of them very much.”[6]

Of all her family members, however, Esther was probably closest to her brother Raymond. An invalid most of his life due to a case of tuberculosis and spinal damage from a childhood accident, Raymond White nonetheless did his best to present a happy demeanor to people, something Esther greatly admired in him.[7][8] She also considered him an artistic genius, and would send him her stories for her to illustrate.[9][10] Esther Cooper Kellner, Esther’s Neighbor, probably says it best: “She [Esther] simply adored Ray…”[11] However, this bond most likely put a large mental burden on Esther as Raymond’s condition continued to worsen, and he flitted between optimism and deep depression.[12]

The true mental burden, however, came in 1908, when Esther lost all of her male family members within the same year. Though the causes of Raymond and Oliver’s deaths are uncertain, it is likely that they were continuing health problems and old age respectively. Robert died of blood poisoning after a minor operation. [13] Suffering even further tragedy, Esther lost her mother and Winifred only five years later, her mother passing away only a few days after her sister.[14]  Though not always obvious from her journalistic work, material left behind by Esther, particularly her poetry (hyperlink to come), reveal the deep depression she suffered as a result of the death of her family. More than anything, a single line from Esther’s journal shows the profound despair inflicted upon this woman who was so violently separated from the family she loved: “Why---why---am I ALWAYS alone!”[15]

-Erika Kerr