North American Scholar

WHITE, John Williams

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  • Date of Birth (YYYY-MM-DD): 1849-03-05
  • Born City: Cincinnati
  • Born State/Country: Ohio
  • Parents: Rev. John Whitney & Anna Catharine W.
  • Date of Death (YYYY-MM-DD): 1917-05-09
  • Death City: Cambridge
  • Death State/Country: MA
  • Married: Mary Alice Hillyer, 20 June 1871.
  • Education:

    A.B. Ohio Wesleyan, 1868; A.M., 1871; study in Berlin, 1871; A.M., Ph.D. Harvard, 1877.

  • Professional Experience:

    Instr. Lat. & Gk. Wil-loughby Coll. (Willoughby, OH), 1868-9; prof. Lat. & Gk. Baldwin U., 1869-74; tutor to prof. Gk. Harvard, 1874-1909; founder with L. Packard & T. D. Seymour, College Series of Greek Authors, 1879; founder with C. E. Norton & W. W. Goodwin, AIA, 1879; pres., 1897-1903; co-founder ASCSA, 1881; first chair mng. comm., 1881-7; ann. prof. 1893-4; founder with J. B. Greenough, HSCP, 1890.

  • Dissertation:

    "On the Homeric Uses of the Subjunctive and Optative Moods" (Harvard, 1877)

  • Publications:

    J. H. H. Schmidt, An Introduction to the Rhythmic and Metric of the Classical Languages (Leitfaden in der Rhythmik und Metrik der classischen Sprachen) (trans.) (Boston, 1869); The Oedipus Tyrannus of Sophocles (Boston, 1873); A Series of First Lessons in Greek (Boston, 1876; repr. through 1930); Selections from Xenophon and Herodotus, ed. with W. W. Goodwin (Boston, 1877); Greek and Latin at Sight (Boston, 1878); An Illustrated Dictionary to Xenophon's Anabasis, with M. H. Morgan (Boston, 1892); The First Four Books of Xenophon's Anabasis, ed. with W. W. Goodwin (Boston, 1894); The First Greek Book (Boston & London, 1896); "The Manuscripts of Aristophanes," CP 1 (1906) 1-20, 255-78; "Enoplic Metre in Greek Comedy," CP 2 (1907) 419-43; "The Iambic Trimeter in Menander," CP 4 (1909) 139-61; The Verse of Greek Comedy (London, 1912); The Scholia on the Aves of Aristophanes (Boston & London, 1914).

  • Notes:

    Scion of an old New England family and long a Harvard professor, White was raised in Ohio, where his father, a minister, moved in 1832. It was also there that he took his first university degrees and held his earliest (and generally forgotten) teaching positions. The publication of his well-received edition of the Oedipus Tyrannus in 1873 led to his appointment as tutor in Greek at Harvard, where he initially concentrated on undergraduate instruction. White is said to have been a dynamic and exacting, but gracious and well-liked teacher, who fostered the notion that students should read widely and at sight in the classical languages. He was also involved in introducing courses in classical civilization which did not require a knowledge of Greek or Latin, and the emphasis he placed on archaeological evidence led him to pioneer the systematic use of slides in the classroom. An enthusiastic hunter, fisherman, and tennis player, he served on and chaired the university's first athletic committee. White edited or co-edited many elementary Greek grammars and readers, and his First Lessons in Greek (based on Xenophon) dominated the American market for well over 50 years. His most famous student was James Loeb, later founder of the Loeb Classical Library. In the late 1890s White began to withdraw from undergraduate teaching and official university duties in order to concentrate on scholarship, and thereafter taught only one or two graduate courses a year, generally in his favorite authors, Aristophanes and Demosthenes. In 1909 he retired from Harvard entirely in order to devote himself to what was to be an exhaustive edition of Aristophanes, including all the scholia. He died having published The Verse of Greek Comedy and Scholia on the Aves.

  • Sources:

    G. H. Chase, Harvard Graduates Magazine 26 (1917) 42-4; Charles Burton Gulick, DAB 20:112-3; W. G. Hale, CJ 12 (1916-7) 585-7 (portrait 560); Harvard Alumni Bulletin 19 (1917) 628-9; Harvard University Gazette 12 (9 June 1917) 177-8; L. E. Lord, A History of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (1882-1942): An Intercollegiate Project (Cambridge, 1947) 1-48 (with photograph); S. E. Monson, The Development of Harvard University (Cambridge, 1930), 44-5; NatCAB 12:352; NYTimes (10 May 1917) 13; J. R. Wheeler, AJA 21 (1917) 202-4; A. L. White, Genealogy of the Descendents of John White of Wenham and Lancaster, Massachusetts 1638-1900 (Haverhill, MA, 1900) 2:503-4, 508; for his 1881 undergraduate production of OT, perhaps the first such revival in the United States, see Henry Norman, An Account of the Harvard Greek Play (Boston, 1882).

  • Author: S. Douglas Olson