The Walter Havighurst Special Collections welcomes donations of materials appropriate to its mission and the scope of its collections. Please contact Bill Modrow for additional information.
If you’d like to make a financial contribution to support Special Collections, please contact the Panuska Development Center at (513) 529-1230,
or by email at: MUDevelopment@MiamiOH.edu
DONATION UPDATE from the Miami University News
By Emily Stewart, Assistant Director, Advancement Communications
John Hoxland White, Jr. ’58 is a retired Smithsonian Institute historian and curator, a nationally recognized author and a lifelong learner-turned-educator.
Had it not been for White’s mother, though, he could have gone down a different path entirely—one that did not include college or even a high school diploma.
To honor his mother’s dedication to his education and professional endeavors, White has established a bequest for the Christine S. White Special Collections Fund to support Miami University’s Walter Havighurst Special Collections in King Library. The fund will help preserve rare books, documents and other materials while also lending financial support for current and future library staff, special collections-hosted events and special projects.
“My mother was absolutely the defining influence in my life,” White said. “It’s so important to honor her legacy as the best decision-maker in my life with a gift to a part of Miami’s campus that means so much to me.”
Growing up surrounded by railroads and riverboats in his hometown of Cincinnati, White admits he was not that interested in classroom learning. He spent a lot of time on the tracks and on the river, dreaming of becoming an engineer or machinist.
White was ready to drop out of high school altogether to begin working full time, but he hit a roadblock—his mother.
“I tried to convince my parents to sign the consent form to let me drop out of school. My dad was less resistant, but I remember my mother saying, ‘I don’t care what you’re thinking, I will not let you do that,’” White recalled. “She was never financially able to attend college herself, and she said it was the greatest disappointment in her life. So, she pleaded with me to finish high school and go to college. We weren’t sure how we were going to afford it, but she said she would make it work.”
White followed his mother’s advice and stayed close to home to attend Miami. True to her promise, Christine gave her son what she could from her jobs as a typist and secretary, and he also took on a part-time job as a draftsman to help contribute. Though this meant lean years for the family, White found a sense of community in Oxford as well as a realized passion for European history.
“The education I received in my five years at Miami was nothing short of excellent,” White said. “I went on to a very exciting career in the field of history, and I credit much of my success to my Miami Experience.”
After White graduated in 1958 with a B.A. in history, Christine encouraged him to attend graduate school but was supportive when he took a summer internship with the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. The summer job eventually turned into a full-time junior curator position with the Institute, and White found a niche in his childhood passions while studying special collections at railroad and automobile museums.
Once White was promoted to curator, he was encouraged by Institute leadership to get published. Scholarly articles and books were expected of degree-holding curators at the Smithsonian, so White picked the history of Cincinnati Locomotive Works for his first book-writing project. He went on to write more than 160 articles and 13 other books on railroads, riverboats and other topics near and dear to his heart. His book “American Railroad Passenger Car” even earned him a nomination for the 1980 National Book Award.
After a highly decorated, 32-year career at the Smithsonian, White retired as senior historian in 1990. Six years later, he returned to Cincinnati and to Miami, where he became an adjunct professor of history and mechanical engineering. He is now retired from teaching as well but still holds an office in King Library and works to help preserve the Havighurst Special Collections.
On Tuesday, March 17, the Miami University Libraries will name the Special Collections exhibit gallery in honor of White and in recognition of his ongoing dedication to the Collections. White has asked to pay further homage to his mother, and, therefore, the exhibit will be named the Christine S. White and John H. White, Jr. (’58, HA ’96) Exhibit Gallery.
“The Special Collections are some of the most important pieces the library has,” White said. “It’s my hope to help keep those things there—just as my mother helped keep me in school.”