Part of the American History & Genealogy Project

Mary E. Miller 1864 ~

 

Miss Miller, a distinguished woman lawyer of Chicago, is a farmer's daughter, and was born on a Michigan farm, in Calhoun County, December 28, 1864. Her early education was obtained in a country district school. She afterwards attended the Marshall High School, and graduated in the Latin course. She then attended the Michigan State Normal School located at Ypsilanti, from which she graduated in 1886. The following year she taught school at Portland, Michigan. The next summer she entered the office of the county clerk, of Calhoun County, and there learned to use the typewriter. In the winter of 1888, Miss Miller went to Chicago, and entered a shorthand school, and in the following autumn took a position as stenographer and typewriter with A. C. McGurg & Co., publishers, remaining with them until the following spring. She followed the occupation of a stenographer until 1894, occupying places during that period in the offices of some of the most prominent lawyers in the city of Chicago.

Miss Miller began the study of law about the 1st of October, 1893, attending the Chicago College of Law, from which college she received her diploma in June, 1896, being admitted to the bar at that date. She afterwards took a post graduate course in law, and received the degree of B.L, from the Lake Forest University. She commenced the practice of law about the 1st of July, 1895, and opened her office in Chicago.

It is something to have earned a $30,000 fee, but what Miss Mary E. Miller has done for the poor is of far more importance to the public Miss Miller, who has been practicing law in the Chicago courts for thirteen years, received her largest fee for winning a suit in behalf of the heirs of a millionaire and secured a court order for the immediate distribution of $3,000,000. It was a triumph that attracted attention to her, but what she considers her real success at the bar was in a suit in which she received no fee whatever. Miss Miller possesses a high sense of eternal justice of right, and when she discovered that the Illinois courts had deprived the poor of their rights of "a day in court," she forthwith took up the cause of the pauper and fought to restore to him equal rights before the law with the rich. The case which brought her into the white light was a petition for mandamus, compelling the judge to examine the relator, and certain documents presented by her, and to determine whether she could sue as a "poor person" under the Illinois statutes. The judges of the Superior Court had enacted a rule regulating suits brought under the statute as poor persons, whom the rule styled "paupers," which was so burdensome and oppressive both to the lawyer and the client that it was naturally impossible to comply with it conscientiously. The rule worked to the benefit of the corporations, traction companies, and others against whom personal injury suits were brought, as it deprived many of the opportunity of going into court Miss Miller won her case for the "poor person," and the Supreme Court held the unjust rule null and void, overruling the law enacted by the eleven judges of the Superior Court. Miss Miller thereupon brought suit for her client, a "poor person," and won damages of $1,000, the verdict, however, was set aside and a second trial called.

Miss Miller's fee in this case was less than nothing, her client being a poor Negress born a slave, but the suit established the right of so-styled "poor persons" to fight in court for their right against the rich. "It restored," says Miss Miller, "the rights of the poor to sue, a right of which the court had shamelessly deprived them."

She has always been very much interested in procuring suffrage for women, and has devoted more or less time to that purpose. For a short time in 1806 she published a little suffrage paper in Chicago. For a number of years she was also connected with various women's clubs, but has dropped her membership in all save the Chicago Political Equality League. She is the organizer of Cook County for the Illinois Equal Suffrage Association, and has devoted considerable time to that work.

Through her acquaintance obtained in the suffrage work, she became interested in the Norwegian Danish Young Women's Christian Home, and is now vice-president of the executive committee which has this home in charge. The home was instituted for the purpose of furnishing Norwegian and Danish servant girls in Chicago a safe, clean, and attractive residence. There is also connected with it a free employment bureau, which investigates the applications for servant girls by employers and ascertains whether they are desirable and safe positions. By this means it is hoped to save numerous girls from white slavery, as they are frequently lured into dens through the employment agencies.

Miss Miller has spoken for suffrage in the automobile tours through Illinois, and at the parlor and hall meetings in the city of Chicago.

Women of America

Source: The Part Taken by Women in American History, By Mrs. John A. Logan, Published by The Perry-Nalle Publishing Company, Wilmington, Delaware, 1912.

 

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