Ruth Berkeley White
Ruth White, author and Baha'i (b 27 Jun 1880, Winstead, Connecticut)
This article was writen and is copyright 2007 by Will Johnson, firstname.lastname@example.org, Professional Genealogist. My thanks to Fred Glaysher who spent his own funds to get copies of material Ruth deposited in the Library of Congress, and for his help on compiling the information here. My thanks as well to the webmasters and editors at h-net.org/bahai for hosting Ruth's works, from which some of this material is sourced.
Ruth White is most well-known as a Baha'i who challenged the authenticity of the will of Abdul Baha, former leader of that faith, a little while after he had died. Most mentions of her life are quite abrupt, giving little to no background from which to form a biography. This article serves to correct that imbalance.
The name of this article is sort of a mish-mash. As an author she always called herself "Ruth White", in correspondence sometimes "Mrs Lawrence White". Her stage name was "Ruth Berkeley", but possibly this name was entirely created. One source claims her birthname was Emma Decker. These findings are not yet conclusive.
In her book Baha'i Leads out of the Labyrinth, she gives some biographical details of her life. She states that her "stage name" was Ruth Berkeley, but on page 9 in 1912, in Boston, she refers to herself as "Miss Berkeley", and a few pages later on page 12 states that she was writing articles for newspapers, and that both her parents were Roman Catholic. While a little later on, on page 23 she relates that she had been on the stage, but had given it up. She went to Boston to write for the newspaper, but then about 1912, returned to New York City and was doing art drawings for a fashion magazine. On page 27 on 24 Aug 1912, Abdul Baha calls her "Miss Ruth Berkeley". Here on page 110 she states : "When last I visited London it was as a member of the Sir Johnstone Forbes-Robertson company. Although I had been greatly interested in my stage career...." This statement would seemingly correspond to when she played the part of "The Red-Haired Girl" in The Light That Failed in or about 1903 (see primary documents below).
Robert Alan Kraft compiled a genealogy of the Pierrepont families, and uploaded it in 2000 here. It states that her birth name was Emma Decker, that her parents were Peter Decker and Anna Geiger and that she was born in Brooklyn. However, based on her several entries in the Ships logs below I think she was more-then-likely born in Goshen, Litchfield County, Connecticut. She states variously Goshen or Winsted as her birthplace, and the two towns are about 10 miles apart. Her birthday of 27 Jun is consistent, her birthyear being stated as either 1886 or 1888. Noticing the dates on which she was on-stage, I have to conclude that she lied about her age later on. I'm now going with the idea that she was born in 1880.
Since she definitely was living in or near New York City when on stage there, it's entirely possible she, at that time, lived in Brooklyn, which would explain the confusion over where she was born.
She states that her first married name was Mrs George Rowell, and by this marriage she had a daughter. (Could this be her?) Her second husband Herbert Lawrence White (1869-1953), graduated in law from Cornell University, but was set-up as a businessman in his family's company the Utica Drop Forge Company. Herbert in Robert Alan Kraft's Pierrepont genealogy, is shown with a wife Emma (Ruth) Decker born 27 June 1880, but note that there, they state, that this couple were married on 28 Oct 1912 in Chicago, which is a bit odd. Ruth relates how she and Lawrence met on page 34 apparently in New York City at a Bahai gathering.
On page 35 she states : "Five months after my first meeting with Lawrence White we were married....It was his first marriage and my second. Ruth Berkeley was the stage named of Mrs. George Rowell; the result of my first marriage had been a daughter." She then talks about how Abdul Baha left New York, so evidently Ruth and Herbert Lawrence White must have been married by the end of 1912.
Herbert is the one of that name who was son of William Mansfield White (1833-96 AFN:1Z38-JS5) by his wife Anna Maria Pierrepont (1841-84). This is proven by comparing the California Death Index entry below (which gives his birthdate and names his mother as a Pierrepont), to the ship's logs below, which give the same birthdate.
On page 57 we see that by 18 Dec 1918, "Ruth White and H. Lawrence White" were living at "R.D.2 Santa Cruz, California". At the invitation of Abdul Baha, they sailed from New York on 16 Mar 1920 to Haifa to visit him, where they finally arrived on 21 Apr 1920. They visited several sites, stayed with the Bahais there, and eventually returned to the United States about June or July 1920.
The following year they decided to spend the Summer in England. She relates this story, explaining how they left the United States on 21 May 1921, starting at page 107. After some months in England, they arrived in Palestine on 10 Nov 1921 (page 117).
In her first book or phamplet, printed in 1927 with an appendix dated 1929, she gives her address as merely a PO Box at Grand Central Station, New York City. In this work, she goes into very intricate detail about her concerns regarding the purported will of Abdul Baha. In her work Questioned Will and Testament, she picks up and continues the narrative. She and her husband, sailed to England on 25 Apr 1928, returning to New York on 29 May 1928. (page 51) She obtained photostatic copies of the purported will and had a handwriting expert examine it. His findings she reports here on page 68.
Frederick Glaysher paid to have copies made of the documents Ruth deposited in the Library of Congress relating to her correspondence with Palestine about the will. On one of these documents, dated 1931 here they, at that time, lived on Morningside Drive in New York City. They possibly as well had a home in Utica, New York.
She mentions here on page 91 the lawsuit brought by the National Spiritual Assembly against Mr and Mrs Lewis Stuyvesant Chanler and Mirza Ahmad Sohrab in 1941. In fact, her book in 1944 was published by the publishing arm of the Chanler/Sohrab organization, called the "Universal Publishing Company", but note the address which is Julia's townhouse. She perhaps moved in the mid 40s to Beverly Hills, California where one of her books is published in 1946. Her husband died in Santa Monica, Los Angeles County, California in 1953. She was evidently yet living as late as 1962, in South Carolina, per the Pierrepont genealogy cited above.
- Abdul Baha and the Promised Age, 1927, New York: J.J. Little and Ives Co., January 1929. (Copyright was renewed 2 Dec 1954 by Ruth White, see here) OCLC 3894952
- Is the Bahai Organization the Enemy of the Bahai Religion?. An appendix to Abdul Baha and the promised age. New York City 1929 OCLC 40732459
- The Bahai religion and its enemy, the Bahai organization,, 1930. Rutland, VT. The Tuttle Company OCLC 2815086
- Abdul Baha's alleged will is fraudulent; an appendix to The Bahai religion and its enemy, the Bahai organization,, 1930. Rutland, VT. The Tuttle Company OCLC 40853993
- Correspondence Between the High Commissioner of Palestine and Ruth White, Concerning the Alleged Will and Testament of Sir Abdul Baha Abbas . 11. Los Angeles , Calif. : White, 1932. OCLC 23790959
- Bahaí Leads out of the Labyrinth. New York: Universal Publishing Company, 132 E 65th Street, New York, 1944. Digitally republished, East Lansing, Mi.: H-Bahai, 2004. OCLC 1527153
- Abdul Baha's Questioned Will and Testament. Beverly Hills: Ruth White, 1946. Digitally republished, East Lansing, Mi.: H-Bahai, 2004. OCLC 2488238
- "Amusements", New York Times, 5 Feb 1899, pg 17 : "Wallack's, Broadway and 30th St present "At the White Horse Tavern", Characters by [a list of names]...Ruth Berkeley...."
- "Amusements", New York Times, 6 Feb 1899, pg 10 (as above)
- The Sixth Decennial Catalogue of the Chi Psi Fraternity 1902, by Chi Psi, Auburn (1902) stating : "Class of 1892... Hubert Lawrence White, LL. B., Manufacturer, [residence] 294 Genesee St, Utica; [business] 75 Genesee St, With Utica Drop Forge & Tool Co. since graduation; son of W.M. White, Phi '54 and brother of C. C. White, '05"
- "Notes of the Players", New York Times, 8 Aug 1903, pg 7 : "Forbes Robertson and Gertrude Elliott will appear at the Knickerbocker Theatre Nov 9 in The Light That Failed. In the cast will be ...[list of names]...Ruth Berkeley...."
- "The Light That Failed." : Stage Version of Kipling's Story Enthusiastically Received at Buffalo", New York Times, 29 Sep 1903, pg 5 : "...Of the supporting company, the acting of C. Aubrey Smith as Torpenhow, George Sumner as the Nilghai, Cecil Kennaird as Mackenzie, Auriol Lee as Bessie Broke, and Ruth Berkeley as the Red Haired Girl call for special mention."
- "Playbills for This Week", New York Times, 8 Nov 1903:"The Light That Failed...The Red-Haired Girl...Ruth Berkeley"
- 1910 Census of Utica, Oneida County, New York showing : "Lawrence H White, brother, 39, Single, b NY/NY/NY, Lawyer"
- Border Crossings: From Canada to U.S., 1895-1956, sailing on the Ascania, out of Southampton, 31 Jul 1925, arriving at Quebec, 9 Aug 1925 : "Hubert L White, 55, married, born Cardasenga, 12 Oct, 1869, resident of 119 White Stop, Utica, NY; Emma D White, 39, born Goshen 27 Jun 1886"
- New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957, sailing on the Majestic, out of Cherbourg, 23 May 1928, arriving at New York 29 May 1928 : "Herbert L White, 59, married, born 12 Oct 1869 Canasaraga, NY; resident of 102 White Blvd, Bleeker Street, Utica NY; Ruth White, wife, 40, born 27 June 1888 Winsted, Conn"
- New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957, sailing on the Bremen, out of Southampton, 26 Jul 1930, arriving at New York, 31 Jul 1930 : "Lawrence White, 60, married, born Canaseraga, NY, 12 Oct 1869, resident at 102 White Bldg, Bleeker St, Utica, NY; Emma, 42, born Wingted, Conn, 27 June 1888"
- A letter dated 25 Nov 1930 (photostatic copy here), from Secretariat, Government Offices, Jerusalem is directed to her as "Mrs H Lawrence White, Butler Hall, 88 Morningside Drive, New York City"
- A bit later on, at least after Jul 1931, her address is also given as "Mrs H Lawrence White, 102 White Building, Utica, New York"
- And in a bibliography, her evidently privately published "Abdul Baha's Questioned Will and Testament" is published in Beverly Hills 1946.
- "Ruth White" on Frederick Glaysher's site
- California Death Index, 1940-97 showing : "Hubert Lawrence White, born 12 Oct 1869 New York, died 15 Nov 1953 Los Angeles County, mother's maiden name Pierpont [sic]"