Amelia Elizabeth White and her younger sister Martha arrived in Santa Fe in 1923, purchased land, and built a magnificent estate on Garcia Street, now home to the School for Advanced Research (SAR). El Delirio, or the Madness as it was called, quickly became a gathering place for Santa Fe artists, writers, and archaeologists who flocked to its billiard house, tennis court, and swimming pool, the first in Santa Fe.
Guesthouses were constructed to accommodate their visitors, who included Agatha Christie and her archaeologist husband, Max Mallowan. Built to resemble the mission church at Laguna Pueblo, the main house reflected a growing interest in Santa Fe style.
Their parties were legendary and included such luminaries as William Penhallow and Alice Corbin Henderson, Witter Bynner, John Sloan, Gustave Baumann, Randall Davey, Will Shuster, and Sylvanus Morley.
Born in New York City and educated at Bryn Mawr, Elizabeth White also enjoyed Santa Fe’s colorful traditions, especially Fiesta. Dressed in a sixteenth-century English hunting costume, she marched in the 1933 Fiesta parade, accompanied by four Irish wolfhounds.
Standing 36 inches at the shoulder, they dwarfed Elizabeth, who was barely five feet tall. “She was a tiny little thing,” noted archaeologist Marjorie Lambert. “She weighed perhaps not quite 90 pounds, but she had a brain on her like steel wool. “
In 1907 the School for American Archaeology was founded in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It soon became known as the School of American Research, and since 2007 as the School for Advanced Research on the Human Experience. Always referred to as the initials SAR, the name changes that occurred over the years perhaps account for its sometimes mis-stated title.
Amelia (variously known as Amelia, Elizabeth, and Miss E), unsurprisingly, left El Delirio, various other properties, and much of the remainder of her vast estate to the SAR following her death in 1972 aged 96 years.
Martha died of cancer in 1937.
This tract is part of the ‘Amelia White Park’ in Santa Fe. The park is frequently used for concerts attracting tens of thousands of patrons. Both sisters were keen horse riders and bridle paths were developed on the estate. The estate was maintained meticulously.
It is fair to say that the two spinster sisters were eccentric.
They are buried together, under a gazebo, on the estate. The kennels that housed their beloved dogs, and who mingled in the house along with guests, exist today exactly as they did in their heyday. The dogs were buried in their own cemetery and named markers remain to this day.
Many personal movies taken by the sisters between 1927 through to 1933 have been restored. They include footage of their dogs.
The sisters were leading supporters and promoters of native American art, particularly from the South West and opened a gallery in New York to promote it. The first of its kind in New York.
History had been kind to the sisters, and their father Horace White. His father was an MD and married Elizabeth McClary Moore. The Whites had come from England in the mid 1600s. The Moores were Scottish (via Ireland) and claim they survived the Glencoe massacre. Elizabeth’s father (Deacon William Moore) fought in the War of Independence. By the age of 31, Horace Jnr (Amelia, Martha and Abby White’s father) was the managing editor of the Chicago Tribune and a journalist of immense power and influence. He resigned in 1874 due to ill health having established himself as an international expert on banking and finance.
However, prior to turning 31, Horace Jnr had spent years listening to, reporting on, travelling with, conversing with, and even slept in the same bed as, Abraham Lincoln. Horace White reported on all the debates between Lincoln and his antagonist Stephen A Douglas that so captivated Americans from 1854 to 1861.
White and several others set up a news agency and supplied six major newspapers. He was also by now secretary to the Secretary of War, and secretary to the Senate Military Affairs Committee. An impressive set of credentials for one still not 31 years old and a ‘worldly journalist with his finger on the pulse’. In 1881 his business partner purchased the New York Evening Post and Horace became part of a triumvirate editorship that ended with his sole charge role – Editor of the New York Evening Post. His editorials reflected his personal aims and opinions. He also became a noted writer and expert on money, currency and financial transactions. He read Greek and Latin and translated epic works. He chaired the Committee on Speculation in Securities and Commodities, known as the ‘Wall Street investigation’, and wrote vehemently in support of the allied forces against Germany (for its attack on Belgium, the sinking of the ‘Lusitania’, and other German atrocities) during World War 1.
Amelia and Martha travelled extensively. Amelia nursed wounded soldiers in France during WW1 from May to August 1916 and again from April 1917 to March 1919. Martha too undertook Red Cross work in France and Belgium in 1917.
During World War II, Amelia headed the Dogs for Defense Program in New Mexico and was also the first President of the Santa Fe Kennel Club. She gifted the first animal shelter in Santa Fe as a memorial.
Their sister Abby was a leading society matron living her 95 years in Kittery Point, York, Maine. Herself a talented artist and generous patron she had two sons (William White Howells and John Mead Howells) both of whom also owned land near the SAR in Santa Fe. At the time of Abby’s death in 1975 she also had three grand children and four great grand children.