William Lawrence White was born May 29, 1908 in Salina, Pennsylvania and spent his childhood on his family's farm. He attended Pennsylvania State College where his professors included James W. Sinden and Frank D. Kern. His studies focused on fungi, and he soon collected a large number of fungi for his own personal herbarium. He received a Ph.D. from Cornell University in 1940. White first began work at Harvard's Farlow Herbarium in 1940 as Assistant Curator of Fungi. He also assisted on work for the Bibliographic Index of North American Fungi. He met Mary Rebecca Old, a graduate student at Radcliffe, and they were married in October 1942 and later had two children. In 1943, White turned his efforts to helping the military deal with the problem of molds and mildews destroying supplies in tropical areas. He worked first for the Chemical Warfare Development Laboratory at MIT and later in Philadelphia for the Quartermaster Research and Development Laboratories of the US Army. For a period in 1945 to 1946, he served as mycologist for the Air Technical Service Command Tropical Science Mission. In 1948, White returned to Harvard where he served as Director of the Farlow Library and Herbarium and Associate Professor of Botany. He was instrumental in developing a working research laboratory to supplement the resources of the Farlow. White also was involved in many mycological and botanical organizations, including serving as Chairman of the Microbiological Section of the Botanical Society of America. His own research resulted in a large number of publications, including monographs on lower fungi and papers on applied mycology, especially dealing with the deterioration of textiles caused by fungi. White died on July 31, 1952 after a car accident. The White family was driving home from a swimming trip during a strong rainstorm, when their car skidded across the road and collided head-on with another vehicle. White was severely injured and died several days later at Emerson Hospital in Concord, Massachusetts. His wife was seriously injured, but survived. His two children, Richard and Deborah, were not seriously injured.
Harvard University Gazette, March 14, 1953, Vol. XLVIII, Number 25, p. 175-176.
Harvard University Press Release, July 31, 1952.
"Injuries Fatal to W.L. White, Botanist, 44," The Boston Herald, August 1, 1952.
"Six Hurt in Crash on Concord Turnpike," Boston Globe, July 28, 1952.