Instrumental in the founding and stabilization of the IUGM, Clemme Ellis moved to New York City from her family’s farm at the age of 17. She went to teach school and study for a medical career.
Clemme Ellis became friends with Sidney and Emma Whittemore and soon started preaching the gospel one night a week at the Door of Hope Mission. Through this, she heard the voice of God and gave up her plans for a medical career, instead taking charge of the West Side Gospel Mission in Manhattan’s Theater District. She conducted open-air street meetings and preached the gospel in the mission’s chapel services in spite of the fact that young girls were steered away from that kind of Christian service in those days.
One night, in a street meeting, her speaking attracted the attention of Harry C. White, a salesman who had strayed from God. He followed Clemme back to the mission and made a commitment to Christ. Harry eventually became the assistant superintendent of the mission, and somewhere along the way, he married Clemme.
Clemme Ellis White was elected secretary of the IUGM in 1919 and served as the only woman on the executive committee for thirty years. Even though the association had an elected president, some would argue that Clemme functioned as the first executive director. One early association president commented that her office became the center of information regarding leadership vacancies, volunteer opportunities, new mission start-ups, and mission problems. She served the IUGM longer than any other person, and many believe her tact and wisdom during the early years saved the association from major problems and possible failure.