Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890–1920
Biography of Mary Eva Miller, 1865-1914
By Erin Hvizdak, Reference and Instruction Librarian, Washington State University
Mary Eva Miller was born December 27, 1865, in Calhoun County, Michigan, to Charles A. Miller and Ellen Barker. In the 1880 census, her father is listed as a farmer and her mother a housekeeper. This census lists four siblings: Louis, Charles, Nellie, and Carrie. After completing her post-secondary education at the Ypsilanti State Normal School in Michigan and going on to become a teacher in the Portland (Michigan) public school, Miller moved to Chicago about 1888 and worked as a stenographer in the publisher McClurg & Company. She studied law beginning in 1893 while serving as a court reporter, graduating from what is now Chicago-Kent Law School at the Illinois Institute of Technology (then Old Chicago College of Law). She was admitted to the Illinois Bar in the year of her graduation, 1895, and ended her career working with attorneys Frank E. Makeel and Elmer E. Rogers in Chicago. Her residence in the 1910 census and at the time of her death is listed as 4516 Indiana Avenue, Chicago, which she owned, along with other properties. The 1910 census lists several women living with her, including her sister Carrie, and three women boarders, one of whom was a journalist and another a lawyer. She owned this property along with others around the country. Miller died March 17, 1914 of complications from pneumonia and heart trouble.
Miller was involved in numerous suffrage and political organizations in various capacities. Most significantly, she served as President of the Chicago Human Rights Party. In 1911, she worked with the Illinois Equal Suffrage League by being in charge of "organization without dues by political districts" in Cook County. The League's constitution had been recently "changed to admit one delegate for every twenty-five enrolled group in any political district, on the payment of two dollars." Miller also traveled regionally and nationally, promoting women's suffrage. In the summer of 1910, she traveled around the Midwest with Myra Strawn Hartshorn of the Illinois Equal Suffrage Association to talk about suffrage, while in March 1911, MIller joined 500 women (under the charge of lawyer Catherine Waugh McCulloch) on a march to Springfield, Illinois to promote women's suffrage, with the Chicago Tribune citing that the women were ready for "direct attack, flank movements, and guerilla scrimmages." Also in this year, at the state convention of the Illinois Equal Suffrage Association, Miller formed clubs for political discussion for Cook County.
After serving as chair of the Entertainment Committee of the Woman's Party, in May of 1912, Miller was elected chairman of "Woman's Party of Illinois" in May of 1912 after about thirty women were expelled according to new bylaws that stated that the women members could not be a part of any other suffrage organization. Women were expelled after starting the "Woman's Party of Cook County" due to the "steam roller methods" of the chair Myra Strawn Hartshorn. Later that year, Miller ran for Municipal Judge on the socialist ticket. Miller also gained fame for raising money for British suffrage activist Emmeline Pankhurst. Pankhurst gave a talk to a primarily African-American audience of about 800, after a luncheon with the Human Rights Party. Miller called upon the audience to donate to her cause and provided $5 up front, eventually raising $67.
In addition, as early as 1897, Miller was giving talks to women's organizations on suffrage and the processes of government, for example speaking to the Chicago Political Equality League in December of that year on "Some Leading Changes in Illinois Laws Made by the Last Legislature." In 1901, she spoke to the Council of Jewish Women on the difficulties women face in applying for the legal profession, and in 1907, she addressed the Catholic Women's League, explaining that corruption in government can only be prevented by granting women universal suffrage. Listed as chairman of the Sixth Ward Organization Club, in April 1911 she gave a speech on suffrage to the 60th and 61st districts of the sixth ward gathering of women, explaining that in districts where an alderman is not in favor of suffrage, the women of equal suffrage organizations needed to "get busy with your house to house canvass, see the women in that ward, and explain the situation. That is the beginning of organization. When we get the women we will get the ballot. Newspaper accounts also indicate that she wrote letters to officials on the topics of suffrage and women's rights. In 1912, Miller read a letter before a meeting of the Human Rights Party of Cook County that she had sent to Governor-Elect Edward F. Dunne. This letter asked him to encourage the Legislature to submit an amendment to article VII, section 1 of the state constitution, which would strike out the word "male," thereby giving women the right to vote in Illinois. In another example, Miller wrote a letter to the Commissioners of the Board of Elections, protesting the fact that women had to state their ages when registering to vote, believing that they should only have to indicate that they are of age.
As an accomplished practicing attorney, Miller participated in numerous high-profile legal cases. After graduating from law school in 1895, she opened her own practice in the Monadnock Building that same year. A 1913 publication lists her offices as 1644 Unity Building in Chicago. The Chicago Legal News stated in her obituary that "No woman at the Chicago bar has had more cases in the upper courts than Miss Miller," while The Green Bag indicated that she had represented suits in every grade of court in the United States except for the Supreme Court. Most famously, she was known in 1908 for receiving $30,000 for settling a case, the highest attorney fee that a woman had ever received at that time. In this case, she settled on behalf of the grandchildren of the late William Bross for the distribution of his $3,000,000 estate; the stipulation was that the money was not to be distributed until the youngest grandchild was 30, but Miller argued that if any others died before this, there would be an injustice. She also succeeded in a case where she volunteered as an attorney for the Chicago Pressmen Strike of 1912, where she protected the interests of newsboys. Miller argued numerous other cases, including representing the Illinois Society of the Daughters of the Revolution, who were denied membership in the State Federation of Women's Clubs. She also worked with Antoinette Funk, another lawyer, to change rules making it easier for poor people to sue. The rules as they stood required a person to pay legal fees to appear in court, denying many the opportunity; the case was won in the Supreme Court. She also held membership in the Chicago Law Institute, Illinois State Bar Association, Chicago Chamber of Commerce, and Women Lawyers' Association.
Miller also served as President of the Illinois chapter of the National Business Woman's League and fought for numerous other causes on a local level. In 1906 she challenged the Postmaster General, asking why there were not more women working at the Post Office, and in 1913, the Human Rights Party (at which time Miller was chair of the Social Economic club of the party) took issue with the City Council's proposed move to metered/measured water from a flat rate as it would limit low-income individuals' access to water. Also in 1913, she was appointed with several other women to a "vigilance committee" to investigate the conditions of police stations of the city following reports of inhumane conditions for the prisoners; the women called for better solutions and attempts to find better, permanent housing.
Collections consulted on FamilySearch (familysearch.org):
United States Census, 1880, 1910
Illinois, Cook County Deaths, 1878-1994. FamilySearch https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:N7VX-MXJ.
"Suffraget Army Invades Capital," Chicago Tribune, March 7, 1911
"Woman's Party in Charge of Household Exhibition," The Inter Ocean, May 5, 1912
"Woman Lawyer Noted for Big Fee Dies in Chicago," Belvidere Daily Republican, May 17, 1914
"Women Shout as Party is Split," Chicago Tribune, May 25, 1912
"Give Mrs. Pankhurst Golden Trinkets," The Inter Ocean, November 5, 1913
"Assails Men as Rulers," Chicago Tribune, March 10, 1907
"Among the Clubs," Chicago Tribune, April 8, 1911
"Woman earns $30,000 Fee," New York Times, June 30, 1908
"Suffragists Here," Woodford County Journal, August 5, 1910
"Women Won't Tell Ages," Moline Daily Dispatch, January 29, 1914
"Women Off To Club War," Chicago Tribune, October 14, 1902
"Dr. Mary Walker Charges Graft Against Suffragists," The Inter Ocean, December 16, 1912
"Officers of Business Women's League Which Meets in Chicago Tonight," Chicago Tribune, June 6, 1906
"Ask Ruling on Women at P.O." Chicago Tribune, June 27, 1906
"Organizations Protest Metered Water Service." Chicago Tribune, October 10, 1913
"Women Fix Plans to Close City Jails," The Inter Ocean, September 16, 1913
"Review Positions of Women," Chicago Tribune, February 25, 1901
"Political Equality League Meets," Chicago Tribune, December 4, 1897
"Says Courts are Unjust," Chicago Tribune, February 1, 1907
"Save Your Home Government," The Inter Ocean, October 30, 1912
"Give Mrs. Pankhurst Golden Trinkets." The Inter Ocean, November 5, 1913
"Officers of Business Women's League Which Meets in Chicago Tonight," Chicago Tribune, June 6, 1906
Mary Eva Miller. The Green Bag: An Entertaining Magazine of the Law. Edited by Arthur W Spencer. Volume XXVI, 1914. The Riverdale Press, Publishers: Brookline, Boston, MA.
Annual Report of the National-American Woman Suffrage Association. 1911-1914
Proceedings of the Annual Convention of the National Woman Suffrage Association, Volumes 43-45, 1911-1913.
Miss Mary E. Miller of Chicago. The Lawyer & Banker and Southern Bench & Bar Review. Lawyers and Bankers' Corporation, Volume 6, 1913
History of Woman Suffrage: 1900-1920. Edited by: Ida Husted Harper. J.J. Little and Ives Company, NY, 1922 [LINK].
Water Meterage and Human Rights. Water and Gas Review, Vol. 24-25, p. 9, 1913
Mary Eva Miller. Girls Want to Study Law: 100 Years of Women Graduates. Online Exhibit. IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. Retrieved from: https://scholarship.kentlaw.iit.edu/womeninlaw/5/
Obituary: Mary E. Miller. The Chicago Legal News: A Journal of Legal Intelligence. Volume 46, 1914