Papers of T. H. White
Access and Use Restrictions
Extent77 cubic feet (232 boxes)
The collection also includes diaries and engagement calendars, records of White's board and consultancy work, school and family papers, photographs, memorabilia, and copies of White's books and articles.
Hewas born in a Jewish neighborhood of Dorchester, Massachusetts on May 6, 1915, the second child and first son of David and Mary Winkeller White. A Russian immigrant who had earned a law degree from Northeastern, David White was barely able to support his wife and four children on the income from his meager law practice. The family lived with White's maternal grandparent's in a two-family house on Erie Street. Despite his family's economic situation, White received an excellent education, first at the William Endicott school and Christopher Gibson school in Dorchester and then at the Boston Latin School. At the insistence of his orthodox grandparents, White also attended the Beth-El Hebrew school and later the Hebrew College of Boston in the evenings.
After David White's death in 1931, the White family was forced to go on home relief. Upon his graduation from the Boston Latin School in 1932, White became the primary breadwinner for his mother and three siblings and had to postpone college for two years to work as a newspaper boy. A scholarship from the Burroughs Newsboy Foundation along with a Harvard scholarship finally enabled White to enroll at Harvard as a commuter student in 1934. In his sophmore year, White became interested in Chinese history and decided to become the only undergraduate major in Chinese. John Fairbank, then a first-year professor, was assigned as his tutor and became an important mentor for White, greatly influencing his early career. White graduated summa cum laude in 1938 and won a Sheldon Travelling Fellowship. Fairbank had encouraged him to become a journalist rather than a history professor, and White used his fellowship to fund a trip around the world.
White arrived in Chungking, China in 1939 and was hired by the Kuomintang's propoganda office as a writer. He soon became disillusioned with Chiang K'ai-shek's government, and accepted John Hersey's offer to become a stringer for Time Magazine. White's dispatches immediately impressed his editors at Time, and he was soon promoted to TimeBureau Chief in China. White's relationship with Henry Luce and Time soured when his story of Joseph Stilwell's dismissal in 1944 was rewritten to reflect Time's pro-Chiang K'ai-shek bias. White resigned from Time in 1946 and wrote, with colleague Annalee Jacoby, Thunder Out of China (William Sloane, 1947), an uncensored account of the Kuomintang's approaching collapse and the rise of the Communists.
Despite the critical and popular success of Thunder Out of China, White's career foundered after leaving Time. At the request of Stillwell's widow, he edited a volume of Stillwell's personal papers published in 1948 and worked briefly as an editor for the New Republic in 1947. Labelled as too sympathetic to the Chinese communists and left wing in the post-war climate, White was unable to find work as a foreign correspondent for any major newspaper. Finally he was hired by the Overseas News Agency, a tiny foreign news service, as their Paris correspondent in 1948. After O.N.A. went bankrupt in 1950, White spent three more years in Paris writing free-lance for The Reporter and other magazines. He summarized his five years covering the rebuilding of Europe under the Marshall Plan in Fire in the Ashes (Sloane, 1953). Like his first book, Fire in the Ashes was critically acclaimed and selected for the Book-of-the-Month Club.
White returned to New York in 1953 and was hired as the national correspondent for the liberal magazine The Reporter. In 1954, White testified on behalf of the diplomat John Paton Davies who White had worked with in Chungking and was being investigated by the State Department's Security Hearing Board. During the hearing, White was also accused of supporting the Chinese communists and temporarily had his passport confiscated. Chafing under the domineering control of The Reporter's publisher Max Ascoli, White quit to become the national political correspondent of Collier's Magazine in 1955. Even though it had a circulation of over 4 million, Collier's was unable to compete with the more successful weekly magazines, Life and Look, and ceased publication in December, 1956.
White later wrote that after he left Collier's "I would never again be employed by anyone." White had previously attempted to write short fiction, and in 1957 decided to write a novel about his experiences in East China during World War II.The Mountain Road, published in 1958, was once again a Book-of-the-Month Club selection, a best seller, and a critical success. White fictionalized his experience at Collier's in a second novel, The View from the Fortieth Floor, published in 1960. Gary Cooper purchased the film rights to the novel, and White used the proceeds to finance his next book project, The Making of the President, 1960.
White had always been fascinated by American politics and decided in 1960 to follow the presidential campaign and write a book-length analysis. White's publisher William Sloane was not interested in the project, but Simon Michael Bessie, who had just started Atheneum, was willing to give White an advance. Until then, most political reporters felt that readers' only interest in a presidential race was who would win, and that no one would want to read a book-length treatise after the election was over. The Making of the President, 1960, which told the story of the 1960 election with the suspense and drama of a novel, was not only a phenomenal best-seller but also significantly changed the nature of political reporting. After 1960, coverage of presidential campaigns went far beyond reporting daily events to look at the behind-the-scenes machinations. The Making of the President, 1960 won the 1962 Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction.
White wrote three more books in the Making of the President series, on the 1964, 1968, and 1972 elections. Critical reactions to the subsequent books were mixed. Some critics lambasted White's flattering portrayal of Richard Nixon in the 1968 and 1972 campaigns. White decided to quit the series after the turbulence of Watergate and published his own Watergate analysis, Breach of Faith, in 1975. White's final summary volume on American politics, America in Search of Itself, was published in 1982.
Throughout his career, White was a remarkably prolific writer. In addition to his quadrennial books on presidential elections, White wrote numerous articles on a diverse array of subjects: U.S. political figures,civil rights,urban development, the environment, and the opening of China. After 1962, White reestablished his relationship with Time/Life and was a frequent contributor to Life Magazine and Time, as well as the New York Times Magazine, The Saturday Review, and the Reader's Digest. His play about Julius Caesar, Caesar at the Rubicon, was published in 1968 and produced in 1971. He wrote eight documentary screenplays, including the Emmy award winning China, the Roots of Madness. He described his childhood and early career in his autobiography In Search of History, published in 1978.
White held many board and consultancy positions. He was on the Encyclopaedia Britannica board from 1962 to 1986, and was a consultant for CBS in the early 1960's. He was a member of the Harvard Overseers, 1968-1972, and was chair of the Harvard History Department Visiting Committee, 1968-1972. In 1958 he started a small business which published the Executive Desk Diary, a bound engagement calendar. He also served on the board of many small organizations including The Author's Guild, the Citizen's Research Foundation, and the Empire State Report. He was an active member of the Century Club and the Council on Foreign Relations.
White married Nancy Bean in 1947. They had two children, a daughter Ariana Van der Heyden (Heyden) in 1949, and a son David Fairbank in 1951, both born during White's sojourn in Paris. White's first marriage ended in divorce, and he married Beatrice Kevitt Hofstadter in 1974. White died of a cerebral hemorrhage on May 15, 1986.
Series and Subseries in the Collection
- 1. Correspondence
- 2. China and Asia Correspondent Papers
- 3. European Correspondent Papers
- 4. Magazine Articles and Records
- 5. Books on U.S. Presidential Elections and Politics
- 6. Novels, Plays and other Writings
- 7. Diaries and Engagement Calendars
- 8. Board, Committee, and Consultancy Records
- 9. Personal Papers
- 10 Printed Material
- 11. Audio and Video Tapes
- Accession number: 12637, received from Houghton Library, 1993 February 24.
- White, Theodore Harold, 1915- Papers of T. H. White : an inventory
- Harvard University Archives
- EAD ID
Part of the Harvard University Archives Repository
Holding nearly four centuries of materials, the Harvard University Archives is the principal repository for the institutional records of Harvard University and the personal archives of Harvard faculty, as well as collections related to students, alumni, Harvard-affiliates and other associated topics. The collections document the intellectual, cultural, administrative and social life of Harvard and the influence of the University as it emerged across the globe.
Cambridge MA 02138 USA