Little, Edward Herman

The fifth of 12 children born to George W. and Ella Howie Little, Edward Herman Little.[1] was born April 10th, 1881, in Long Creek North Carolina. As a child, he worked on his parents’ farm (Powell 72). As a young teenager, in the 1890s, he would take his older brother, Charles Little, who was studying to be a minister, to Davidson College (Sailstad 1). Little attended high school in Newell, North Carolina, and at Grey’s Academy in Huntersville, but did not attend Davidson College, as his brother had, due to insufficient funds (Powell 72).

In his later teens, Little, worked as a grocery clerk and assistant to J. S. Withers of Charlotte, the official cotton weigher of Mecklenberg County (Gary 2B). Shortly after, in 1902, Little began working for the Colgate Company as a sales representative, selling soap. His area of commerce included both North and South Carolina1. By 1906, he had been promoted to district manager and moved to Memphis, Tennessee (Powell 72).

Mr. and Mrs. E. H. Little

Mr. and Mrs. E. H. Little

While in Memphis, Little, began to court Suzanne Heyward Trezevant, who belonged to an old and prominent family of lawyers, judges, and colonels (Sailstad 6). Before the two could marry, Little contracted tuberculosis and had to move to Denver, Colorado. Against her parents’ wishes, Suzanne took a train to Denver to with be with Little (Powell 72). She arrived the Thanksgiving of 1910 and they were married the same afternoon. Little’s health improved slowly. He contracted pneumonia twice and appendicitis, but during the time he was ill, Suzanne only left his side twice [2]. The couple was happily married for 50 years, until Suzanne’s death in 1964 (Park).

Little began to work for the Palmolive Company in Los Angeles [3]. In a year, he was the west coast manager for the company (Gary, 2B). “By the next year, under Little’s construction, the territory west of Denver was the highest per capita market for Palmolive products” (Gary, 2B). Little then moved to New York to help with the merger between Palmolive and Colgate [4]. He developed a method of culturally specific advertisement that drastically increased Colgate-Palmolive’s foreign sector [5]. In less than 2 years, Little had expanded Colgate-Palmolive’s markets to every European country and eventually doubled the company’s business, with markets in 100 countries (Gary, 2B).

E.H. Little at Convocation in 1953, receiving his Doctor of Laws degree

E.H. Little at Convocation

During his time as an executive for Colgate-Palmolive, Little also fought for worker’s rights in the company’s factories. In 1938, he visited a company plant in New Jersey to wish the workers Merry Christmas. He was astonished and ashamed of the conditions he saw in the factory: “I left without [wishing them Merry Christmas]. I was ashamed and I told my wife I’d never go back until things changed. Employees had no paid holidays, no retirement, no benefits, no incentives. The plant was old, in a bad way. Some of those people had been working there for 50 years” (Gary, 2B). This began Little’s campaign for better working conditions and benefits throughout Colgate-Palmolive’s factories. Returning to the factory next Christmas he said: “We had made the changes. I wasn’t ashamed anymore” (Gary, 2B).

Throughout his life, Little did not lose his ties to Davidson College. Little provided leadership for the 1948-1951 Davidson Development Program, the Dana Challenge Program, the Ford Challenge Program, and helped acquire investment for the John R. Cunningham Arts Center. He served on the Board of Visitor’s starting in 1956 and was the chairmen of the organization in 1962 (Sailstad, 10). Little received an honorary doctor of laws degree from the college in 1953 (Powell, 72). In 1973, in memory of Suzanne and his mother, Little donated 1 million dollars to the construction of Davidson College’s new library.

On July 12, 1981, at the age of 100, E. H. Little passed away in Memphis, Tennessee. In his will he bequeathed 1 million dollars to the upkeep of library at Davidson College (Martin, Tate, Morrow, &Marston P.C.). The library bears his name in honor of his generous donation and contribution of time. [6]


1 For more information concerning Little’s early career with Colgate see Park, Sailstad 1, Gary 2B.

2 Several articles give a more in-depth account of Mr. and Mrs. E. H. Little’s time in Denver, Colorado. Powell 72, Sailstad 7, Gary 2B.

3 For more information about Little’s west coast career with Palmolive see Powell 72, Sailstad 1, Gary 2B.

4 The merger between Colgate and Palmolive, as well as Little’s time in New York are discussed in Powell 72, Sailstad 1, Gary 2B and Park.

5 For more information about the expansion of Colgate-Palmolive’s European sector see Park, Sailstad 2, Gary 2B.

6 Information about Little’s donations to Davidson College are included in Park, Sailstad, 10, Martin, Tate, Morrow, &Marston P.C. letters.

Works Cited

A Dinner Honoring E.H. Little. The Board of Visitors at Davidson College. December 6th 1969. Booklet. Benefactors of Davidson College. Davidson College Archives, Davidson College, NC.

E.H Little Honored His Home. The Charlotte Observer. July 15, 1981. Benefactors of Davidson College. Davidson College Archives, Davidson College.

Gary, Kays. “Ed Little, Classic Success Story, Coming Home”. The Charlotte Observer. April 3, 1977. Benefactors of Davidson College. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

Martin, Tate, Morrow, &Marston P.C. August 7, 1981. Letters. Benefactors of Davidson College. Davidson College Archives, Davidson College.

Park, Leland. “Goodbye, E.H. Little”. Davidson College Update. August 1981. Benefactors of Davidson College. Davidson College Archives, Davidson College.

Powell, William. “E.H. Little”. Dictionary of North Carolina Biography. Vol. 4. 1991. Print.

Sailstad, J. “E.H. Little”. The Davidson Bulletin. July 1968. Benefactors of Davidson College. Davidson College Archives, Davidson College.

Authors:  Marcus Begley, Natalie Casabonne, Brianne Lazevnick, and Laigha Young
Date:  October 2011
Cite as:  Begley Marcus, Natalie Casabonne, Brianne Lazevnick, and Laigha Young. “Edward Herman Little.” Davidson Encyclopedia, October 2011.

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