Esther Griffin White

Esther & Other Newspapers

If Chorus Girls Asked Men For Suffrage, They'd Get It

A piece by Esther on women's suffrage, displaying her typical sardonic wit

"...for a born gift of expression, and that sense of drollery and humor that springs an arresting surprise continually upon the reader, we scarcely know Miss White's superior"
-Unknown Columnist


Esther Griffin White is often recognized for her work on The Little Paper, a self-written and self-edited newspaper released weekly between 1915 and 1916, and then sporadically in the years following. As a completely independent work lacking any managerial oversight, reading The Little Paper may be the best way to learn about Esther’s opinions and ideals. However, to ignore Esther’s other published material in doing so would be ignoring the fact that Esther was a tireless reporter whose journalistic career spanned many years. As such, her career involved affiliation with many periodicals that were not her own.

Esther published her first article, entitled “Our Kitchen-Garden,” in The Christian At Work when she was only seventeen years old. In the 1890s she would begin working at The Richmond Palladium, one of Richmond’s two major newspapers along with The Richmond Item.[1] Esther would work at both of these newspapers before their eventual merger, creating The Palladium-Item, and she would remain on staff at this new publication several years afterwards.[2] She would also work for many other publications in the intervening periods. It is theorized that working as a woman in such a male-dominated work environment is what caused her to develop the “hard, cynical, and eccentric exterior” recognizable in most of her work; a reaction to the opposition she surely faced due to her gender. Whether or not this is the case, she would become popular for her “satirical, impudent, often acid style,” [3] and gain an extensive bibliography in her preferred subjects of community issues, women’s suffrage, and art.[4][5][6]

Despite working with many different papers, Esther’s employment status was frequently inconsistent. She seems to have had a rocky relationship with her numerous employers, displaying the same stubborn force of will that she did elsewhere in life. Esther had a strong sense of her own abilities, lauding her “persistent application to the finish… It’s the quality… that makes me beloved of the newspapers I work for.”[7] But this admiration did not guarantee her position: “She almost always overwrote and her editors let her get away with it,” reports historian George Blakey, but, “When she was criticized too heavily she would quit the paper.”[8] She also appears to have made some enemies during her career, as in 1934 she claimed to have been forced out of her employment by Ed Harris, a man who she saw as “professionally jealous” of her.[9]            

However, she also had her share of friends and allies in her career. In her journal, Esther describes Neal, a colleague whose last name is unknown but who was affiliated with Esther in some professional capacity at almost every local paper she worked for. Despite occasional “temperamental infirmities,” Esther reported that: “I have a sort of affection for Neal and I fancy he’s rather fond ofme [sic].”[10] There was also Rudolph Leeds, publisher of the Palladium-Item. In the last years of her life, Esther had tragically gone blind and was nearly destitute; but she was too proud to accept government aid. Though Esther and Leeds had quarreled for much of her career and there was no obvious affection between them, Leeds chose to anonymously contribute funds to Esther in her old age, helping to ensure her continued well-being.[11]  

Most who knew Esther Griffin White are now gone, and her memory has almost faded from the public consciousness. However, her work with Richmond’s newspapers leaves behind the legacy of a woman whose strong personality attracted and repelled people in equal measure, and who was committed to bringing strong ideas to the Richmond public.

-Erika Kerr