Elizabeth Coleman White was born in New Lisbon, New Jersey on October 5, 1871. She was the oldest of four daughters. Her family worked on a large cranberry plantation in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey called Whitesbog, and had written a book on cranberries in 1869 that had become the industry standard.
Her family was Quaker, and she was sent to the Friends Central School in Philadelphia. After graduating in 1887, she split her time between helping out in the cranberry bog, and taking some classes at Drexel University. Over the next eighteen years, White would slowly improve the way that the Whitebog operated, eventually expanding the plantation to the largest cranberry operation in the state of New Jersey.
One of her largest interests was engineering a way to successfully cultivate blueberries. At this time, all attempts to grow blueberries on a farm had failed, and local farmers considered the plant impossible to cultivate. White read a pamphlet from the Department of Agriculture in 1911 titled "Experiments in Blueberry Culture," which was written by Dr. Frederick Coville. White wrote to Coville, and invited him to Whitesbog to continue his research.
Over the next six years, White and Coville worked to make a hybrid blueberry bush. Coville brought the technical knowledge necessary to create the plant, White financed the operation, and Whitesbog had the infrastructure. White often gave rewards to locals who would find wild bushes with large berries or a superior taste. From these samples, White and Coville selected several cuts, began crossbreeding the bushes, and created several different varieties. In 1916, Whitesbog produced the first commercial crop of blueberries under the brand name 'Tru-Blu Berries'. In total, about 600 quarts of blueberries were grown that first year.
In 1927, White formed the New Jersey Blueberry Cooperative Association in order to promote this new crop. Despite expanding the farm and increasing business, White's father did not allow her to inherit the farm upon his death because she was a woman. However, Elizabeth became the first woman member of the American Cranberry Association, and the first woman to receive a New Jersey Department of Agriculture citation.
After losing Whitesbog, White formed her own corporation called Holly Haven, and started to prepare local holly and Franklinia, a rare type of magnolia, for cultivation. In 1947, she helped to found the Holly Society of America. She is considered one of four American botanists that helped save the American Holly plant from obscurity.
Elizabeth Coleman White died of cancer on November 27, 1954. Today, New Jersey is the second largest producer of blueberries in the United States.