Biographical Sketch of Stephen Mallory White

Stephen Mallory White

A Biographical Sketch
Compiled by Stanley D. Stevens

“Hon. Stephen Mallory White, was born in San Francisco in 1853, and received his education in Santa Clara College, graduating in 1872. He studied law with Hon. Charles B. Younger of Santa Cruz and was admitted to the state bar in 1873 [sic; i.e. April, 1874, see Letter 137, White to Younger, University of California at Santa Cruz. Hihn-Younger Archive. Letters of Coleman Younger & C. B. Younger Sr.], after which he went to Los Angeles to practice. Old lawyers, remembering the days of their youth, can imagine his position, among strangers, without influence or prestige, yet undertaking the difficult feat of gaining a foothold. There was much in his favor, as he was an eloquent speaker, a fluent writer and a quick debater. Yet even with these talents there seemed no opening. For six months he struggled along, then decided it was useless to wait longer and began to think of removing elsewhere. After his mind was fully made up to investigate other towns, a man invited him to deliver an address at the celebration of St. Patrick’s day, March I7. Having decided to leave, he first declined; but, on being importuned, consented to remain and speak. At the conclusion of his able address to a very large assembly he was congratulated by hundreds and was told by many that he had opened a road to fame. This event changed his entire future. He remained, soon won a case, and from that day on had as large a practice as he could handle. An honorable service as district attorney was followed by his election to the United States senate, where his efforts in behalf of the San Pedro harbor bill gave him national prominence.”

[Source: James M. Guinn. History of the State of California and Biographical Record of Santa Cruz, San Benito, Monterey and San Luis Obispo Counties; Chicago : Chapman Publishing Co., 1903. p. 326-327]


White was first elected as District Attorney of Los Angeles County (for the 1883-1884 term) and then to the California State Senate (March 1887 to March 1889). Soon after White became state senator, Governor Washington Bartlett died in office (September 12, 1887), and Lieutenant-Governor Robert W. Waterman became Governor. Stephen M. White, who had been elected President Pro-Tem of the Senate (27th & 28th Sessions, 1887-1889), became acting Lieutenant-Governor (1887-1891) on the advancement of Waterman.

He was elected to the U. S. Senate, January 18, 1893 — at the age of forty, and served the 6-year term (March 4, 1893 — March 3, 1899). He was the first “California-born” to represent California in the U. S. Senate.

He was the chairman of the National Democratic Convention at St. Louis (1884) which nominated Stephen Grover Cleveland, who defeated James G. Blaine for the Presidency, 1884-1888.

White was also chairman of the Democratic National Convention at Chicago (1896), that nominated William Jennings Bryan. This was the convention at which Bryan gave his famous “Cross of Gold” speech.

White was a Trustee of the State Normal School at Los Angeles [now U.C.L.A.], 1887-1893; and, a Regent of the University of California, 1899-1901.

White died at his home in Los Angeles on February 21, 1901.

The following biography, “Stephen M. White,” is transcribed from the History of the Bench and Bar of California. Edited by Oscar T. Shuck. Los Angeles : Commercial Printing House, 1901, pp. 642, 645-646.

And, following it is a posthumous “Stephen M. White — In Memoriam,” from the same work, pp. 1137-1141.

STEPHEN M. WHITE

Stephen Mallory White, ex-United States senator, and a strong leader of the California Democracy, perhaps the most eminent of the State’s native sons, was born in San Francisco on the 19th of January, 1853. The cottage in which he was born stood on Taylor street, between Turk street and Golden Gate avenue. It was built in 1850, and held its ground so late as the year 1881, when, although it was still a fair looking residence, it disappear[ed] for “business reasons.”

Mr. White’s father was William F. White, a San Francisco merchant, who was in partnership with John A. McGlynn and D. J. Oliver. He came with his parents from Ireland when four years old, and was raised on a farm in Pennsylvania and educated at Oxford Academy, New York. He arrived with his wife at San Francisco in January, 1849. Shortly after the birth of his son, he removed with his family to the Pajaro Valley. There he engaged in farming, established a home and raised his children, two sons and six daughters. He had considerable literary ability, and wrote many articles for the public press. He was the author of the large and interesting book entitled “Pioneer Times in California,” which he published under the name of “William Gray.” He was a member of the constitutional convention of 1878, and was one of the State Bank Commissioners for a number of years by appointment of Governor Irwin. In the triangular contest for State officers in 1879, between the Republicans, Democrats and Workingmen, William F. White was the candidate of the last-named party for Governor, and was second in the race. He died at Oakland, where he had lately taken up his residence, on May 16, 1890, aged 74 years.

Stephen M. White attended a private school in Santa Cruz county from the time he was thirteen years old until reaching sixteen. Is his earlier boyhood he had been taught at home by his father’s sister, an extremely good woman, of superior and cultivated mind. At sixteen he was sent to St. Ignatius College, San Francisco, where he remained a year and a half. He then went to Santa Clara College, from which he was graduated in June, 1871, He studied law at Watsonville and Santa Cruz. He pursued his studies for about ten months in the office of A. W. Blair in Watsonville, about twelve months with Albert Hagan in Santa Cruz, and some eight months with C. B. Younger in Santa Cruz. He was admitted to the bar of the Supreme Court at Sacramento on the 14th of April, 1874.

After being admitted to practice, Mr. White removed to Los Angeles, and very soon thereafter took a leading place at an able bar. He was district attorney for the years 1883 and 1884, elected on the Democratic ticket. He received more votes than any other candidate on his ticket, either a State, county or township office. A few years after that time the city of Los Angeles, and the county, changed in politics most radically, by an inflow of population from New England, and while Mr. White could not now carry the county, probably, for any political office, he is held in universal regard for his great abilities and unchallenged integrity. He is attorney for General Otis, the proprietor of the great Times newspaper, the leading Republican organ of Southern California.

Mr. White is familiarly known in every community in the State, having “stumped” for his party in many campaigns. He is a man of large build, has a powerful and finely-toned voice, is a ready debater, and a masterful public speaker. He has the oratorical gift. He is really a wonderful man in this field, and the man to address great assemblies. We have said that his county changed its polities but he represented it as State senator from March, 1887, to March, 1889. Governor Bartlett, dying is office on September 12, 1887, Lieutenant-Governor Waterman became Governor. Mr. White having been in March of that year elected by the State senate its president pro tem, now succeeded to the office of Lieutenant-Governor.

He was elected United States senator in January, 1893, at the age of forty, and served a full term of six years, ending March 3, 1899. He was chairman of the Democratic national convention of 1896.

When he was elected a federal senator our legislature was nearly balanced between the tree great parties. The senate was Republican, the assembly Democratic. A few Populists is the lower house could turn the scales either way in joint convention. One of them did turn the scales finally, by supporting Mr. White and accomplishing his election by a majority of one. This gentleman was Hon. T. J. Kerns, assemblyman from Los Angeles. He was an old personal friend of the Senator, and his death occurred in December, 1900.

Worthy of special mention, in his faithful service as our senator for six years, is the part and hard struggle to secure a deep-water harbor at San Pedro. Mr. White has been a member of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce since 1889 (that body was founded in September, 1888), and in a very engaging history of the Chamber, by Charles Dwight Willard, published in 1900, the Senator’s work now referred to is gracefully applauded.

After stating that the first board of government engineers appointed to decide upon the best point for a deep-water harbor, in their report of December 1891, were unequivocally in favor of San Pedro, and advised an appropriation of about $3,000,000 for the undertaking; and that the report of the second board, submitted in the closing days of 1892, reviewed the whole situation, and declared that San Pedro was preferable on every consideration, and estimating the cost of construction at about $2,900,000, the history proceeds as follows

“A great piece of good fortune fell to Los Angeles at this time, in the election of Stephen M. White to the senate, a man who, by reason of his residence in this city, was thoroughly familiar with all the phases of the harbor controversy, and who was possessed of the brains, honesty and courage that were needed at such a crisis. In the fall of 1895 an organization was formed, known as the Free Harbor League, having for its object the assistance of the Chamber of Commerce in its work for San Pedro. As the United States Treasury was at this time in a depleted condition, it was proposed by the League that the agitation for the outer harbor he laid aside for one season, and that a request should he put in merely for such a sum as would be needed for the partial improvement of the inner harbor of San Pedro, a matter of $400,000. In February,1896, four delegates, H. G. Otis, W. C. Patterson, W. G. Kerckhoff and W. D. Woolwine, were sent on to Washington to present this matter. They did so, and received assurances from the chairman and other members of the house committee on rivers and harbors that the petition would be granted.

“The people of Los Angeles were greatly astonished some weeks later, when the news came that the bill, which was about to be reported to the house, contained not only the appropriation which had been asked for the inner harbor at San Pedro, but also the sum of $2,900,000 for Santa Monica.

“Upon this the old controversy started up in a somewhat new form, but with more than its ancient virulence. The Free Harbor League protested against any money being spent on the Santa Monica harbor, and demanded that the $2,900,000, if such a sum were possible to be secured, should be devoted to San Pedro. The Chamber of Commerce was urged by the representative of the district (in congress), Mr. James McLachlan to act on the issue, and the directors passed a resolution reaffirming their allegiance to San Pedro. * * The house acted. Then going up to the senate, Senator White succeeded, after a long and determined fight, in which a number of senators discussed the whole question in open session, in getting the item of $2,900,000 placed on the continuing contract list, to be expended on one or the other location, as should be determined by a new board of engineers (this was the third), to consist of one from the navy, one from the coast survey, and three from civil life, appointed by the President. * * *

“In December of 1896 the new board met in Los Angeles. It consisted of Rear Admiral John G. Walker, A. F. Rogers of the coast survey, W. H. Burr, George S. Morrison and Richard P. Morgan. Their report was filed the following March, and was four to one in favor of San Pedro, the one being Richard P. Morgan.

“One more obstacle remained to be overcome in the determined opposition of General Russell A. Alger, Secretary of War, to the expenditure of the appropriation, and a whole year was consumed in listening to an extraordinary collection of excuses and reasons why the work should not be begun. At last, after he had been forced from one position to another, until the patience of the whole State, and finally of the President himself, was exhausted, the contract was let to the firm of Heldmaier & Neu, of Chicago, and the work begun.”

Mr. White is in the prime of his manhood, and in the fullness of activity at the Los Angeles bar. In 1899 he passed through a critical illness, but is fully restored to his natural energies. He is a married man, with several children, the oldest, a son, being now nearly grown to man’s estate.

Mrs. White was Miss Hortense Sacriste, an accomplished lady of Los Angeles, of French descent. The marriage occurred at the Catholic Cathedral of Los Angeles, on the 5th of June, 1883.

Stephen M. White -- In Memoriam

In our sketch of Mr. White, on page 642 [above], he is referred to as “perhaps the most eminent of the State’s native sons.” Since it was written his career has ended, and the general judgment of the bar and the press has more than confirmed the estimate made while he was yet with us. We placed him among our “Strong Men of Today,” and Fame will keep him among the strongest men in our history through all time.

Mr. White died at his home in Los Angeles, on the 21st of February,1901. He had completed his forty-eighth year on January 19. On the morning following his death the leading paper of Southern California, which was always opposed to Mr. White in politics, but whose proprietor was his personal friend and professional client, declared him to be “the greatest man the State has produced in the half century of its existence.” The language was not stronger than that employed by many other journals, of all shades of political opinion, and by bar leaders in memorial council.

The legislature was in session at the time of Mr. White’s death. Both houses took appropriate action. In the senate Mr. Ashe offered a joint resolution providing for the appointment of a committee of three from the senate and five from the assembly, to include the president and speaker, to attend the funeral. A like resolution was introduced in the assembly by Mr. Fisk. Both resolutions were adopted. Memorial resolutions were also adopted by both houses, the authors being Senator Sims, of Sonoma, and Assemblyman Grove L. Johnson, of Sacramento. Those gentleman made impressive speeches on the occasion. Feeling tributes were also paid by Senators Simpson, of Los Angeles, and Shortridge, of Santa Clara, and Assemblymen James and Melick of Los Angeles, McBeth and Schlesinger, of San Francisco, and Radcliff, of Santa Cruz. The assembly adjourned under Hon. Grove L. Johnson’s resolution, and the senate adjourned pursuant to a resolution offered by Hon. John F. Davis, of Amador.

The joint committee of the legislature which attended the funeral was composed of Senators Ashe, Sims and Curtin, and Speaker Pendleton, and Assemblymen Anderson, Melick, James, Cowan and Guilfoyle.

The ex-Senator’s funeral ceremonies were conducted at the Catholic Cathedral in Los Angeles, in the presence of a larger body of representative and distinguished men than had ever assembled in the State on a like occasion. It included the Governor of the State, Hon. Henry T. Cage; the mayor of San Francisco, Hon. James D. Phelan; Speaker Pendleton of the assembly, Hon. James G. Maguire, members of both branches of the legislature then in session, the mayor of Los Angeles, Hon. M. P. Snyder, and leading lawyers and other prominent men from all parts of the State. The active pallbearers were the directors of the Newman Club of Los Angeles, to which Mr. White belonged, namely: John A. Francis (president), James C. Kays, L. A. Grant, John F. Fay, Jr., R. F. Del Valle, I. B. Dockweiler, Joseph Scott and H. C. Dillon. The honorary pallbearers, among whose names will be recognized the first men of the commonwealth, residents of various sections, were the following: General H. G. Otis and ex-Senator Edward Murphy, Jr., of New York, who served for six years in the senate with Mr. White; Governor Henry T. Gage, Chief Justice Beatty of the Supreme Court and six associate justices, Hon. E. M. Ross, Hon. Olin Wellborn, Hon. Lucien Shaw, Hon. B. N. Smith, Hon. M. T. Allen, Hon. Waldo York, Hon. D. K. Trask, Hon. N. P. Corey, Hon. R. J. Waters, Hon. James MeLachlan, Hon. James D. Phelan, Hon. James G. Maguire, Hon. W. F. Fitzgerald, Hon. John S. Chapman, Hon. James D. Bicknell, Mayor M. P. Snyder, P. W. Powers, John T. Gaffey, I. H. Polk, Charles Prager, W. W. Foote, D. M. Delmas, John Garber, H. W. Hellman, M. J. Newmark, K. Cohn. Eugene Germain, Joseph Mesmer, J. M. Elliott, W. C. Patterson, J. E. Plater, John R. Mathews, Major H. T. Lee, W. H. Perry, J. W. Mitchell, William Pridham, Charles Forman, John Kenealy, Richard Dillon, D. M. McGarry, Hon. W. A. Cheney, Hon. J. W. McKinley, O. W. Childs, J. O. Koepfli, Henry T. Hazard, John Crimmin, W. H. Workman, I. N. Van Nuys, A. J. King, Horace Bell, J. A. Redman, W. R. Rowland, R. Egan, John Foster, W. D. Could, T. L. Winder, Judge R. B. Carpenter, Hugh L. Macneil, ex-Senator Cornelius Cole, W. L. Hardison, C. White Mortimer, Victor Ponet, A. Fusenot, M. Esternaux, J. Castruccio, General Andrade, T. L. Duqne, A. M. Stephens, Jonathan R. Scott, A. W. Hutton, Ben Goodrich, R. H. F. Variel, F. P. Flint, Hon. W. A. Cheney, Hon. J. W. McKinley, B. W. Lee, S. O. Houghton, Charles Silent and J. A. Anderson Jr.; J. S. Slauson, Kaspare Cohn, F. Q. Story and E. F. C. Klokke; Dr. John R. Haynes, Dr. Walter Lindley, Dr. E. A. Bryant, W. R. Burke, Frank Garret, E. F. Loud, W. A. Clark, J. A. Barham, W. H. Alford, R. J. Wilson, Charles Monroe, J. B. Sproule, A. F. Jones, Frank McLaughlin, Frank Flint, Frank R. Finlayson, John P. Irish, Gavin McNab, H. B. Gillis, W. R. Radcliffe, J. H. Farraher, J. J. Dwyer, J. F. Sullivan, J. A. Filcher, Edward Maslini, Walter J. Trask, Fred Cox, J. H. Sewall, James H. Wilkins, T. W. H. Shanahan, H. C. Gesford, T. B. Bond, Ed. E. Leake, E. L. Coleman, W. V. Gaffey, W. R. Jacobs, Thomas Flint, Jr., John Curtin, B. F. Langford, D. A. Ostrom, M. F. Tarpey, R. B. Canfield, Marion Cannon, Abbot Kinney, George H. Fox, C. E. Thom, R. Porter Ashe, J. Ross Clark, T. E. Gibbon, Willard Stimson, Frank H. Gould, J. V. Coleman, Frank J. Moffatt, R. P. Troy, General P. W. Murphy, J. A. Graves, Fred Harkness, W. S. Leake, Dr. W. P. Mathews, C. B. Younger, W. H. Spurgeon, Oscar Trippett, Byron Waters, J. Downey Harvey, George S. Patton, Peter D. Martin, John MeGonigle, Jarrett T. Richards, William Graves, John A. Hicks, B. D. Murphy, G. G. Goucher, J. C. Sims, E. H. Hamilton, N. A. Covarrubias, Max Popper, General J. W. B. Montgomery, Dr. Joseph Kurtz, C. F. Heinzman, C. F. A. Last, J. D. Spreckels, M. H. de Young, W. R. Hearst, T. J. Flynn, E. B. Pond, E. A. Puschell. Frank J. Heney, Dr. H. Nadeau, A. B. Butler, Walter S. Moore, Garret W. McEnerney, James H. O’Brien, J. J. Carrillo, J. B. Van Demey, A. T. Spotts, John P. Dunn, Julius Sieckes, W. D. English, T. J. Clunie, Warren English, Victor H. Metcalf, W. W. Bowers, S. M. Shortridge, George A. Knight, W. H. L. Barnes, J. C. Campbell, E. S. Pillsbury, W. F. Dargie, Judge J. V. Coffey, Judge W. W. Morrow, Judge W. D. Gilbert, Judge J. J. de Haven, J. S. Spear, H. W. Frank, F. M. Coulter, Niles Pease, H. Jevne, J. Baruch, H. C. Lichtenberger, W. J. Variel, R. J. Dillon, L. E. Aubrey, E. A. Meserve, Dr. Carl Kurtz, M. H. Newmark, Frederick T. Griffith, W. C. Hunt, John S. Thayer, J. D. Hooker, I. A. Lothian, L. C. Scheller, Will Bishop and J. W. Lynch.