Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Mary Raoul Millis, 1870-1958
By Sarah H. Case, UC Santa Barbara
Mary Raoul was born in Livingston Parish, Louisiana, in 1870, and as a young girl moved with her family to Savannah, Georgia. She was the oldest of eleven children (ten survived infancy) born to William Greene Raoul (W. G.) and Mary (Wadley) Raoul. Her father was a wealthy railroad executive and her mother an active clubwoman, a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, United Daughters of the Confederacy, and literary clubs. Although she spent much of her childhood in Savannah, Mary spent considerable time outside of Georgia. She attended boarding school in Pennsylvania for two years, and the family lived for a few years in New York City where Mary had a formal debut in 1889. She then spent a year touring Europe. In the 1890s her family settled in Atlanta where she aided her mother in running their household until she married John Millis, an officer in the US Army Corps of Engineers. His work required the couple to move frequently and they lived in several places including New Orleans, Long Island, Seattle, Manila (Philippines) and Cleveland. Mary and John had three children, Ralph Millis (1894-1938), historical journalist Walter Millis (1899-1968), and Janet Millis (1903-1955).
While living in Cleveland, Mary became increasingly unhappy and disaffected with her marriage. In 1914, Mary left her husband and moved with her daughter to Atlanta; her sons were in school. In Atlanta, she, along with her recently widowed mother, became active in the woman suffrage movement and helped found the Equal Suffrage Party of Georgia in 1915, considered a more "aggressive" alternative to existing organizations. Raoul Millis served as auditor. Her sister, Eleonore Raoul, served as its president and became one of the most prominent suffrage supporters in the state.
Although active in suffrage, Raoul Millis was primarily dedicated to the Socialist Party, which she had joined in 1909. Raoul Millis grew up with wealth, elite status, and racial privilege, and would seem an unlikely socialist. She attributed her attraction to socialism to the influence of her brother William, who became a committed socialist around this time. In Atlanta, Raoul Millis served in party leadership as state secretary from 1915 to 1919, and as a presidential elector in of 1928. Although the Georgia party declined during the Red Scare following WWI, she helped to briefly revive it in the early 1930s, partially by embracing anticommunism. In the 1930s she was also active in the American Civil Liberties Union. Despite her commitment to both organizations, Mary clashed with national leadership in both the Socialist Party and the ACLU as she strongly did not support recruiting Black Georgians into either. This led to her refusal to serve as state chairman for the ACLU. At the same time, in 1933 she chaired the Angelo Herndon Freedom Csommittee, an organization dedicated to the support of a Black Communist arrested in Atlanta on charges of insurrection for attempting to organize an interracial group of unemployed workers. The case went to the Supreme Court, which found in Herndon's favor and invalidated the state's insurrection law.
In 1943, Raoul Millis wrote a memoir, The Family of Raoul, focused on her family's accomplishments. She died in 1958.
Raoul Family Papers, 1865-1985, finding guide, Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, Emory University
Steven R. Blankenship, "Reconfiguring Memories of Honor: William Raoul's Manipulation of Masculinities In the New South, 1872-1918" (Unpublished PhD diss., Georgia State University, 2007)
Brad Paul, "Rebels of the New South: The Socialist Party in Dixie, 1892-1920," (Unpublished PhD diss., University of Massachusetts, Amherst, 2014)
Mary Raoul Millis, The Family of Raoul: A Memoir (privately printed, 1943)