Alice Duer Miller had a very privileged upbringing, but her family’s fortunes turned at about the time she entered college. Even though she was on a limited budget, she became a member of the Beta Epsilon Chapter of Kappa Kappa Gamma while a student at Barnard College. A Phi Beta Kappa, she graduated in 1899 and did graduate work in mathematics at Columbia University.
She married Henry Wise Miller in October 1899. After a stint in Costa Rica where her husband worked unsuccessfully trying to cultivate rubber, they, along with their young son, returned to New York City. During this time, the Millers struggled a bit financially and she worked as a teacher while he built his business working in the Stock Exchange.
An ardent suffragist, in the years when women were trying to gain the right to vote, she wrote a column, Are Women People? devoted to the cause of equal suffrage. In 1915 she penned:
“Mother, what is a feminist?”
“A feminist, my daughter,
Is any woman now who cares
to think about her own affairs
As men don’t think she oughter.”
Another entry, Why We Oppose Votes for Men, included these pertinent points:
1. Because man’s place in the armory.
2. Because no really manly man wants to settle any question otherwise than by fighting about it.
3. Because if men should adapt peaceable methods women will no longer look up to them.
4, Because men will lose their charm if they step out of their natural sphere and interest themselves in other matters than feats of arms, uniforms and drums.
5. Because men are too emotional to vote. Their conduct at baseball games and political conventions show this, while their innate tendency to appeal to force renders them peculiarity unfit for the task of government.
Barnard College, the women’s college that was the coordinate to the then all-male Columbia University, was founded in 1889.* It is one of the Seven Sister Colleges. Barnard College remained a part of Miller’s life. She served as a Barnard trustee from 1922-1942 and she co-authored the 1939 history, Barnard College: The First Fifty Years.
Miller played an integral role in the Panhellenic House, the fraternity women’s residence hotel that was built in the 1920s (see the links on the sidebar for more information about it). She headed the women’s committee that sold stock in the Panhellenic House. Later in 1935, she was a judge in the Panhellenic Essay contest whose prize was week’s stay at the Beekman Tower (Panhellenic) Hotel and $50.
In addition to short stories, Miller wrote poetry, screenplays and novels. Her columns were published as Are Women People? and Women are People! A novel, Come Out of the Kitchen, was published in 1916. Her fiction was often adapted to stage and film. Her poem, the White Cliffs of Dover was adapted into a film. She took on the role of an actress when she appeared in Soak the Rich. She was listed as an “advisory editor” in the first issue of The New Yorker. She died in 1942.
*The short-lived women’s fraternity system at Barnard will be chronicled in a later post. Virginia Gildersleeve, who is seated next to Miller in the picture above, played a major role, whether willingly or unwillingly, in the demise of the women’s fraternity system at Barnard College. Two National Panhellenic Conference organizations, Alpha Omicron Pi (1897) and Alpha Epsilon Phi (1909), were founded there.