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HerStory Eartha Mary Magdalene White

Born Nov. 8, 1876, in Jacksonville, Fla., she was an African-American vocalist, educator, administrator and humanitarian. She was raised by Clara White and graduated from Stanton School and moved to New York City where she attended Madame Thurber’s National Conservancy of Music. She joined the Oriental American Opera Company, the country’s first black opera company. Eartha toured as a lyric soprano in American, Europe and Asia with the company but returned frequently for Jacksonville for visits.

On one visit she met and fell in love with James Jordan, a railway worker, and their wedding was set for June 1896, but while she was still working on the tour in May she received news of his death. She ended her singing career and returned to Florida where she taught at Bayard for a number of years. In 1901 she began to buy real estate at low prices and selling at a profit. By 1905 she had saved enough for a dry goods store and several other businesses. She reinvested her considerable wealth in the black community, establishing Boys and Girls clubs, recreational centers and parks. She operated the only orphanage for black children in the state of Florida.

She was most proud of the Clara White Mission, named for her adoptive mother, which offered food and shelter to the homeless and destitute. She became an influential force in Jacksonville’s social welfare, focused on prison reform and established an orphanage for African-American children. She created a home for unwed mothers, a nursery for children of working mothers, a tuberculosis rest home and, in 1902, a nursing home for elderly African-Americans.

In 1971 she was the guest of President Richard M. Nixon and was referred to as “an institution in Jacksonville”, and even when confined to a wheel chair she remained active. She received numerous honors and awards and or the last years of her life, her birthday we celebrated in the city’s civic auditorium.

She died in January 1974 at the age of 97.

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