Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Belle Judith Miller, 1862-1944
Written by Donna Vega, Undergraduate, San Jose State University
Recording Secretary and Executive Secretary of the College Equal Suffrage League (Northern California Chapter)
Belle Judith Miller was born Isabelle Judith Miller in California in 1862 to parents Thomas S. Miller and Minerva C. Miller. She was the oldest daughter out of four siblings. Belle and her sister Estelle would be the only two to live long enough to see the suffrage movement succeed. In 1881, Miller began school at the University of California Berkeley, followed by her sisters Ida and Estelle. Before Thomas's death in 1892, he transferred ownership of a property in San Francisco to Miller, where she remained for most of her life. She was a music teacher in her community but spent her free time exploring the Sierra Nevadas with her sister Estelle and her college friend, Helen Gompertz.
Miller played an active role in the Northern California chapter of the College Equal Suffrage League. She was elected as an officer to the CESL board, first as the recording secretary and later as the executive secretary. Some of Miller's work included helping to spread information among the immigrant population. She gave a detailed account of the steps they took to reach as many voters as possible by providing literature in different languages. However, they felt that the leaflets and pamphlets were not reaching enough people and in order to reach a broader audience they decided to switch tactics. They bought ads in as many local immigrant newspapers as possible to reach a larger audience. A week before the 1911 referendum vote took place they made a final push running ads frequently in ten different papers. The campaign was successful in helping California women win the vote.
Miller was also connected to the conservationist movement through her friendship with the LeConte family. Joseph LeConte was a professor of geology and natural history at UC Berkeley and a charter member of the Sierra Club. His son Joseph N. LeConte became President of the Sierra Club. Miller may have met LeConte through her friendship with Helen Gompertz, another Sierra Club member and LeConte's future wife. On an expedition to Yosemite from Mt. Lyell in July of 1892, Joseph N. LeConte photographed his companions, George Stratton, Belle Miller and Helen Gompertz. In July of 1896, LeConte, Gompertz, Miller and her sister Estelle were the first to ascend University Peak in the Sierra Nevada. Later, it was documented that LeConte took a party of women up Mount Brewer. Subsequent hikers could still see the women's footprints months later in the mud along the trail.
Miller never married or had children. Instead, she devoted her life to her work as a teacher and activist. Miller passed away April 6, 1944. She is buried in her family's plot at Cypress Lawn Memorial Park in Colma, California.
1.) California, Death Index, 1940-1997. Sacramento, CA: State of California Department of Health Services, Center for Health Statistics
2.) College of Equal Suffrage League of Northern California. Winning Equal Suffrage in California. California: National College of Equal Suffering, 1913
3.) "Joseph N. LeConte Photo Collection." Sierra Club website. https://sierraclub.org/library/joseph-n-leconte-photo-collection
4.) Joseph N. LeConte Photograph Collection. 1880-1920. Bancroft Library. University of California Berkeley
5.) "Mountaineering in the High Sierra, at the Headwaters of Kings River." San Francisco Chronicle. 6 Sep 1896, 16
6.) "Real Estate Transfers." San Francisco Chronicle. March 17, 1892, 22
7.) University of California, Berkeley. The Blue and Gold, volume X. San Francisco, CA: Bacon & Company, 1884
8.) University of California, Berkeley. The Blue and Gold volume XI. San Francisco, CA: Dodge Brothers Steam Press, 1885
9.) University of California, Berkeley. The Blue and Gold, volume XII. San Francisco, CA: Pacific Press Publishing, 1886
10.) U.S. Bureau of the Census. Ninth Census of the United States, 1870
11.) U.S. Bureau of the Census. Tenth Census of the United States, 1880
12.) U.S. Bureau of the Census. Twelfth Census of the United States, 1900.