Biography of Thomas J. White

Thomas J. White, a lawyer of high standing in both Kansas City, Kansas, and Kansas City, Missouri, had been a resident of Kansas forty-eight years. He had his experience as an early homesteader, was in railway service for a number of years, and gained a very thorough knowledge of public men and national politics in his relationship as confidential clerk to Senator Ingalls. He had been a lawyer for nearly thirty-five years.

Mr. White was born at Whitstable, a town on the seacoast in County Kent, England, January 27, 1842. He was the second in a family of seven children born to Joseph and Jane (Collar) White. He was the only member of the family to come to America. His father Joseph was a sea captain. Mr. White was reared in England and in the English schools and largely through his own persistence and studious habits acquired a good education. While in England he learned shorthand. He acquired proficiency in this by arduous work often by candle light, and also commenced the reading of law. He married in England, and two years later, in 1867, determined to seek his fortune in the New World.

After landing in New York he proceeded West, settling for a time in Illinois and taught a term or so of school at Neponset in Illinois. In 1869, with his wife and in company with two other families he left Illinois, journeyed by railroad to St. Joseph, Missouri, and from there by horse and wagon, overland to Washington County, Kansas. He homesteaded a claim of 160 acres. He and his family lived in a small house on the claim for about 2½ years, endured the privations and hardships characteristic of those years, and finally proved up by commuting the claim.

The art of shorthand which he had acquired in England proved the key by which he entered into a broader life. In 1871 he was requested to become secretary to W. F. Downs, superintendent of the Central Branch of the Union Pacific Railway, now a part of the Missouri Pacific system. He accordingly removed to Atchison, and held various positions, including secretary to the superintendent, claim agent, purchasing agent, chief clerk and finally general auditor. He remained in railway work until Jay Gould bought the road and made it part of the Missouri Pacific System in 1880. His Railway Auditorship gave him a thorough and practical knowledge of accounting.

In 1880-81 Mr. White was in charge of the office of a large hardware house at Atchison. In 1881, at the invitation of U. S. Senator John J. Ingalls, Mr. White became his private secretary; and he was also made clerk of the Senate Committee of the District of Columbia in Washington. He continued as Mr. Ingalls’ private secretary and clerk of said Senate Committee for nearly seven years. While in Washington he enrolled as a student in Georgetown University School of Law. Previously, in Atchison, Mr. White had taught a night school in shorthand. He also served as a member of the school board there two years and was city clerk there two years.

Mr. White was graduated from the Georgetown University Law Department with the degree LL. B. in 1882 and in 1883 received the degree of LL. M. He was admitted to the bar of the District of Columbia in 1882, and a year or two later, to the bar of the Supreme Court of the United States. Mr. White was in practice at Atchison from January 1, 1888, until the summer of 1889, when he removed to Kansas City, Kansas, and for twenty-seven years had successfully practiced there with particular attention to real estate and tax law. He had always been a great student with a high reputation for industry, method and exactness in all of his business and professional matters; strictly temperate and regular in his habits; all of which have resulted in giving him a very high standing among the successful lawyers of the State. From 1889 to 1891 he was a partner of F. D. Mills, but with that exception had practiced alone.

Among other fruits of his relationship with Senator Ingalls Mr. White acquired much knowledge of the bankruptcy law, and in 1898 was appointed referee in bankruptcy by Judge Foster, and filled that position until 1904. Mr. White was a member of the Kansas City, Kansas, school board from 1905 to 1908 and served as president in 1905.

Outside of his professional and business interests the inspiration of his life had been his home and family. Mr. and Mrs. White have been married fifty-one years. They were married in England at Speldhurst, Tunbridge Wells, Kent, April 17, 1865. Her maiden name was Mary Elizabeth Willett. They have four children: Frank W., president of the Lyman Drug Company of Manistee, Michigan; Nellie E., at home; William F., a real estate man at Seattle, Washington; and Mary L., at home.

Mr. White had been a loyal republican and had done much to support his party organization in Kansas. He and his wife are active in the affairs of St. Panl’s Episcopal Church and he had served as superintendent of its Sunday school for over twelve years. Prior to coming to Kansas City he was superintendent of the Congregational Church Sunday School at Atchison for twelve years. In Masonry he had become affiliated with the various bodies of the Scottish Rite, had served as master of the Consistory and is a member of the Kansas City, Kansas, Mercantile Club.

Mr. White had made nine long trips back to his native England, sometimes accompanied by his wife, sometimes alone, and at other times by one of his sons or daughters. They have spent much time in travel both in this country and abroad. Mr. White had always taken a great interest in the history of Kansas, and he cherished for many years one relic of pioneer times in the form of the original key to the jail in which John Brown was confined before he was hanged, but which he had recently donated to the Kansas State Historical Society at Topeka, Kansas.


Connelley, William E. A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans. Chicago : Lewis, 1918. 5v. Biographies can be accessed from this page: Kansas and Kansans Biographies.

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