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Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

BIGHAM, STELLA GODFREY WHITE

BIGHAM, STELLA GODFREY WHITE

BIGHAM, STELLA GODFREY WHITE (September 24, 1907-August 3, 1991) was a community activist, columnist for the Cleveland PLAIN DEALER, and the first woman to serve on the board of the Cleveland Transit System (later GREATER CLEVELAND REGIONAL TRANSIT AUTHORITY). Bigham was born in Charlotte Court House, Virginia, to Henry B. Godfrey and Louise C. Read, the middle child of a family of eight. She was raised in New York City and completed her high school education at Flushing High School in Flushing, New York. Bigham attended Hampton Institute for three years before marrying C. Arthur Garvin in 1931. She took courses at New York University and Teacher's College, as well as at Columbia University and Western Reserve University (now CASE WESTERN RESERVE UNIVERSITY) in Cleveland.

Bigham taught grade school at Hughes School in Keysville, Virginia, and served as a social worker at the New York State Training School for Boys in Warwick, New York. During the early 1940s, she worked in Harlem, New York, where she helped to organize a rent strike. In 1941, she enlisted in the U.S. Women's Army Corps, and was commissioned a First Lieutenant in 1943. During her time with the army, Bigham served as a Civilian Personnel Officer at the Quartermaster Depot in New York City. She also worked to establish anti-discriminatory policies for the Stage Door Canteen. Bigham was honorably discharged from the army in 1945.

Bigham was divorced in 1947 and moved to Cleveland two years later. She married lawyer and appellate Judge CHARLES W. WHITE in November 1951. Bigham joined the Episcopal Church in 1964 and was a member of TRINITY CATHEDRAL.

The same year, Bigham was appointed by Mayor Ralph S. Locher (see RALPH S. LOCHER) to the Board of Ethics for CLEVELAND CITY COUNCIL, where she served for six years. She wrote weekly columns for the Plain Dealer, focusing on race and class issues, from 1969-1973. In 1970, Bigham won an award for the Best Single Column of the Year from the PRESS CLUB OF CLEVELAND. She also wrote for the CLEVELAND PRESS from 1973-1974. Bigham was active in several community organizations, including the LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS (LWV) OF CLEVELAND, the YOUNG WOMEN'S CHRISTIAN ASSN. (YWCA), the United Negro College Fund, the Council on Human Relations, Citizens for Safe Housing, and WOMAN'S GENERAL HOSPITAL.

Four months after her husband's death in August 1970, Bigham was appointed by Mayor CARL B. STOKES to the board of the Cleveland Transit System (CTS), and was the only woman to serve on the board. During her years with CTS, Bigham testified before the Transportation Subcommittee in the House of Representatives. In 1973, she was appointed chair of the Advisory Committee on Minority Affairs for the American Transit Association. Bigham's service on the CTS Board ended in January 1975, when CTS turned over its authority to the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority.

Bigham moved to Riverdale, New York in 1977 and worked as a free-lance writer. Two years later, she moved to Smyrna, Georgia. On September 2, 1980, she married Curtis Lamar Bigham and moved to Dawsonville, Georgia. Bigham continued to write for several newspapers, including The Times (Gainesville, Georgia), The Forum (Forsyth, Georgia), and the Dawson County Advertiser. Bigham died on August 3, 1991. Her funeral service was held five days later at the First Baptist Church of Dawsonville. Bigham was survived by her husband and four siblings.


Stella G. White Papers, Charles W. White Family Papers, WRHS.