Biographical Sketch of Elizabeth Lea Miller (Henderson)

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Elizabeth Lea Miller (Henderson), 1885-1969

By Christine Lloyd, graduate student, University of North Carolina - Greensboro

First woman elected to the Tennessee General Assembly, one of the first female members of the Tennessee State Bar Association and Suffragist

Elizabeth Lea Miller, also called Lizzie, was born on April 8, 1885 in Bolivar, Tennessee, the daughter of Charles Austin Miller and Elizabeth Lee Unthank Miller. In 1890 Charles Miller was the Tennessee Secretary of State and compiled the Official and Political Manual of Tennessee. Her grandfather was Judge Austin Miller, a man who helped to establish the state line of Tennessee by making Memphis a part of Tennessee instead of Mississippi. Austin Miller was the first licensed lawyer in Bolivar in 1826. Enslaved people owned by Austin Miller built a house in Bolivar that three generations of Millers lived in until the 1970s. This same house, called Magnolia Manor, housed Generals Sherman and Grant during the Civil War. Lizzie died in March 1969 at age 83 and as buried in Polk Cemetery in Bolivar.

In 1902 Lizzie graduated from Saint Katherine's school in Bolivar. In 1904 she graduated from Peabody Normal College and completed one course at the University of Virginia before becoming a teacher for nine years. Lizzie was married in 1908 to Thurston Dudley Prewitt, however they were divorced fairly quickly as he remarried in 1910 to Laura Moody. In 1915, Lizzie was a founding member of the Woman's Suffrage League in Bolivar as part of the program committee. She studied law in her father's office to receive her license in 1918 with only a few other women in the state also having law licenses at the time. She was one of three women in Tennessee to pass the state bar exam..

Elizabeth Lea Miller is documented as one of "the first women members of the [State Bar] association" in 1918 and helped to endorse a strong resolution for the state Bar Association in support of women's suffrage by Federal Amendment. She was only 33 at this point. Only two years prior, the assembly had tried to hold a similar vote that failed by a majority. In 1924 she ran as a Democrat and won election to the state House of Representatives, making her only the second woman to serve in the Tennessee state legislature.

She served a single term in the legislature, 1925-1927. She cared a lot about the improvement of roads and schools. With her great grandfather General R. P. Neely, her grandfather Austin, and father Charles all involved in the legislature and law, it is unsurprising that Lizzie would have the opportunity to be one of the first female representatives. She had the connections and the knowledge to become a voice for other women.

By 1925, she was the practicing attorney for the Southern Railway and the Illinois Central Railroad, just as her father had been decades before. She was the only Democratic woman in the legislature in 1925, with the other female being a Republican. She occasionally voted against prohibition bills. She is quoted saying, "I think a woman is capable of holding almost any office in the gift of the state... such as congresswoman, clerk and master, legislator, etc." In March of 1925, she along with Mrs. Ann Davis of Knoxville attended a two-day meeting of the Tennessee League of Women Voters to show their support as well as twelve other women's organizations in the state. In 1927 she ran for chief engrossing clerk of the state senate against Miss Louise Cox. Also, in 1927 she remarried to Jere Clemens Henderson, a banker in Troy, Alabama, though he died in 1929. In 1934, she was a suggested candidate for the state Senate. In 1938 she was part of a group contesting the election of four supporters of Governor Gordon Browning.


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Former Secretary of State and Wife Hold Golden Wedding Celebration. (1924, December 20). The Nashville Tennessean. Retrieved from:

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Out of Town Weddings. (1908, November 27). The Tennessean(Nashville, TN). Retrieved from:

Politics. (1934, April 19). The NashvilleTennessean. Retrieved from:

Services held for State's First Woman Legislator (1969, March 4) Johnson City Press (Johnson City, TN)

"Tennessee, County Marriages, 1790-1950," database with images, FamilySearch ( : 21 September 2017), Jere C Henderson and Elizabeth L Miller, 28 Jul 1927; citing Hardeman, Tennessee, United States, Marriage, p. , Tennessee State Library and Archives, Nashville and county clerk offices from various counties; FHL microfilm 1,928,696.

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Alexander, T. H. (1925, February 8). Capitol Fellows. The Nashville Tennessean. * PHOTO SOURCE Retrieved from:


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