Local History Spotlight

Volume 2: Grace Miller White

Grace Miller White, 7/28/24 Photo: Library of CongressBorn Mary Esther Miller on July 22, 1868, the woman known as the great authoress, "Grace Miller White" had humble beginnings here in Ithaca. Her early years were spent living near Hayts Road, just outside of Ithaca.1 Her father worked as a dry goods clerk at the store now known as Hawkins, Todd & Co. on East State Street. While endowed with five siblings, the loss of her youngest sister Grace prompted her to change her name from Mary Esther to Grace in 1897. As an adult, Grace would marry twice; once to attorney Friend Hull Miller of Bath, NY and then to Homer White of Adams, NY.2

After a period of novelizing plays, Grace published her first novel, Tess of Storm Country in 1909. She would go on to write ten more novels, but none as popular as her first which was interpreted on the silver screen four times. All of White's novels were swiftly appropriated for screen and stage, leading to increasing accolades from readers and theatre buffs alike. Producers and performers clamored to participate in productions based on Grace Miller White novels, which almost guaranteed fame and fortune for all involved. One of the most notable films was based on the novel, Valley of the Missing in December, 1918. Producer Frank Powell used a cast of 1,000 people in addition to renting a circus and county fair for the production.3 Tompkins County's influence is evident in all White's works; she often used our area as the backdrop for her novels and even included the names of Ithaca area locations in her books.

While most believe Grace spent her entire life in Ithaca, NY, A 1908 article in The New York Times states that she spent winters in Paris and often stayed in London, England where her books were published.4 It is clear however, that Ithaca is where Grace felt most at home. After enjoying a successful life as a world-renowned novelist, she returned home to Ithaca, where she remained until her passing in 1957.


1 Kammen, Carol. (October 14, 2006). "Pottery among NY collectibles." Retrieved from http://www.theithacajournal.com/ Hanford, Geoge (Ed.). (1869-1957).

2 Ithaca city directory. Ithaca, NY: Manning, US West Marketing.

3 The Star and Sentinel (Dec 8, 1915). "From the Valley of the Missing by Grace Miller White." Retrieved from http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=_NMlAAAAIBAJ&sjid=V_QFAAAAIBAJ&pg=3830,816955&dq=grace+miller+white&hl=en

4 New York Times (March 29, 1908) "New book by Mrs. White: Deals with life of squatters in Central New York." Retrieved from http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F00D16FE3D5517738DDDA00A94DB405B888CF1D3

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