Charles White was born and educated in Manchester. He was the son of Thomas White, a surgeon and midwife, and was apprenticed to his father. He later studied in London with John Hunter, and also spent some time in Edinburgh. Returning to Manchester, White's experiences had convinced him that Manchester needed a hospital similar to those he had encountered in Edinburgh and London. He campaigned for such a hospital with the assistance of local businessmen. In 1752 the Manchester Public Infirmary (later MRI) was opened in Garden Street, Withy Grove, in Manchester town centre. White was to serve as a surgeon at the Infirmary until 1790.
In 1762 White was elected FRS and in 1781 he helped establish the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society. He delivered the first public lectures on anatomy in Manchester. In 1790, with his son Thomas, he set up the Manchester Lying-in Hospital, which later became St. Mary's Hospital, following his resignation from the Infirmary over a dispute about the appointment of additional medical staff. White was of the few men-midwives of the time, and at one stage early in his career had care of the entire parish poor of Manchester.
White was described by Thomas de Quincy as the most eminent surgeon in the north of England. He was particularly skilled in the area of conservative surgery; he was one of the first to practise excision of the shoulder-joint. He also enjoyed a reputation as a lithomomist and was one of the first to use sponges to treat haemorrhages. In 1782 White made a major discovery concerning 'white leg' or puerperal sepsis in pregnant and post-natal women. In 1773 he wrote an important book on The management of pregnant and lying-in women, which was very influential in reforming medical practice. He died at his country estate in Sale, Cheshire in 1813. White's impressive medical museum was donated to the Lying-in Hospital.