Albert Blakeslee ‘‘A. B.’’ White (September 22, 1856-July 3, 1941) was West Virginia’s 11th governor, serving from 1901–05. He was born in Cleveland, Ohio. He was the fourth person to serve as governor from Wood County, his adopted home.
His father, Dr. Emerson White, was president of Purdue University in Lafayette, Indiana, during six years of Albert’s early boyhood and later moved the family to Columbus, Ohio. As a teenager, A. B. White was employed by his father to assist in publishing two journals, the Ohio Educational Monthly and the National Teacher. It was then that the young White acquired an interest in journalism. He attended Marietta College, a private liberal arts institution in Ohio just across the Ohio River from Wood County, and graduated as the valedictorian of the class of 1878. One year later, he married Agnes Ward of Marietta. The couple had five children.
Upon graduating from college, White returned to his boyhood home in Indiana as manager and part owner of a daily newspaper. He moved to Parkersburg in 1881. He purchased the State Journal, a weekly newspaper owned by former governor William E. Stevenson. White made several changes to the publication, turning the State Journal into a Republican daily newspaper and a power in state politics.
White established himself as a successful newspaper publisher. He served many years as president of the West Virginia Editorial Association and was president of the National Editorial Association in 1888. During those years, White further developed his interest in politics. He was appointed in 1889 and 1897 as an internal revenue agent, during the presidential administrations of Harrison and McKinley. In addition, he managed the successful U.S. Senate campaign of Stephen B. Elkins in 1894.
A. B. White, a Republican, was elected governor of West Virginia in 1900 and took office in 1901. He soundly defeated the Democratic nominee, Huntington lawyer John Homer Holt. Before taking office, White retired from journalism by selling his interest in the State Journal.
White was a very partisan politician and an active member of the Elkins machine. Nonetheless, he is remembered as a reform governor. During his administration he fought for changes in the election process. One law required lobbyists to register with the state. Governor White is most remembered for sweeping reforms in property assessment and tax laws. He appointed the industrialist and former U.S. senator, Henry Gassaway Davis, a Democrat, as chairman of the Tax Commission, which made what historian Otis Rice called a ‘‘surprisingly moderate’’ report despite the commission’s conservative composition. Still, anti-tax forces rallied the state’s railroads and key industries against tax reform, and blocked White’s proposals in the legislature until Senator Elkins arranged a compromise. White worked for other progressive reforms, as well, including a food and drug act. He spoke forcefully against industrial pollution of West Virginia streams. During his term, the legislature organized the state tax commissioner’s office.
White had an active public career after leaving the governor’s office in 1905. He served as the state tax commissioner and in the state senate, and again as an internal revenue agent during President Harding’s term. He attempted a run for the U.S. Senate but was unable to gain his party’s nomination. White also was an executive in the insurance, banking, and coal industries. When the capitol building burned in January 1921, White and others organized an unsuccessful campaign to move the West Virginia state capital from Charleston to Parkersburg.
A. B. White died at the age of 84 at his Parkersburg home. He is buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery in Parkersburg.
Read Gov. White’s inaugural address.
This Article was written by S. Shuan Butcher
Last Revised on November 19, 2010
Morgan, John G. West Virginia Governors, 1863-1980. Charleston: Charleston Newspapers, 1980.
Allen, Bernard L. Parkersburg: A Bicentennial History. Parkersburg Bicentennial Commission, 1985.