Elizabeth Smith Miller
The first child born to Ann Carroll Fitzhugh Smith and Gerrit Smith on September 20, 1822 was Elizabeth Smith (1822-1911). She would live to be almost 90 as one of the two Smith children out of seven who survived to adulthood.
Elizabeth's early education occurred at home with the aid of the hired tutors Abigail Wickham and Caroline Freedom King. Further formal education was pursued at Rev. Dr. Hiram H. Kellogg's Young Ladies Domestic Seminary in Clinton, NY where she studied French, philosophy, and arithmetic. In 1839, Elizabeth enrolled in Hannah Witall’s Quaker School in Philadelphia, PA for classes in composition, grammar, geometry, chemistry, arithmetic, and history.
With formal education, Elizabeth was to become an unusual female in early nineteenth century society. According to the men who led most social institutions, women did not need formal education to be able to perform the domestic roles that they were expected to fulfill. To counteract this bias, Elizabeth became a very active lifelong supporter of education for women. She developed local educational opportunities for women, funded scholarships for women, and contributed thousands of dollars to the establishment of William Smith College for women in Geneva, NY.
Elizabeth carried on the social reform efforts of her parents by becoming involved in both dress reform and woman suffrage work. Although an apolitical person, in 1851 she adopted the wearing of a dress reform costume that became called "bloomers." Whereas her reason for adopting it was practical, it made a loud political statement because of her social status. As the wearing of this pants and skirt costume spread to other leaders of the fledgling women's rights movement, men feared the loss of their dominance and power, and squelched the movement by vilifying the women.
In the late 1860s, Elizabeth was drawn to support the woman suffrage movement through the interests of her daughter Anne Fitzhugh Miller (1856-1912). Together, they founded what became the largest and most active Political Equality Club in New York State in Geneva, and operated study efforts for the enlightenment of women of all ages regarding political issues.
On the personal side, Elizabeth married Cazenovia banker Charles Dudley Miller in 1843. They lived in Peterboro until 1869 when they moved to the 64 acre Lochland Estate in Geneva on the west shore of Seneca Lake. While in Peterboro, Elizabeth and Charles had four children. Gerrit Smith Miller (1845-1937) became a nationally known herdsman, having imported from Holland the original stock of registered Holstein Friesian cattle that became the foundation of the current Holstein milk production herd. His brother Charles Dudley Miller, II (1847-1894) helped in establishing the original Holstein herd, and worked at several businesses before his early death due to a streetcar accident in Syracuse. William Fitzhugh Miller (1850-1876) was besieged with illness during his short life. Although the exact nature of the illness is difficult to determine, he was often treated for inflammatory rheumatism. At Geneva, he developed the hobby of raising chickens, although seemed to be possessed by "some devil." Anne Fitzhugh Miller (1856-1911) became politically active in the woman suffrage movement, and a close companion to her mother Elizabeth. Anne developed a personal interest in religious philosophy, and participated in Elizabeth's efforts to educate women.
One of Elizabeth's major concerns in life was domestic elegance. She believed that cleanliness, neatness and order in the domestic setting contributed positively to family communication and peace. In her 1875 publication "In the Kitchen," she outlined what she saw as proper physical settings and social behavior for successful family life, and proposed over 1300 recipes for cooks to try.
Elizabeth Smith Miller died at Lochland on May 22, 1911.
-Norman K. Dann PhD, Author