A longtime Arlington educator and resident, who helped secure the county’s ability to elect its School Board and self-published her memoirs at the age of 101, died last week.
Martha Ann Miller died at the Sunrise at Bluemont Park senior living facility on Wednesday, August 16. She was 106.
Along with her husband, Malcolm D. Miller, she helped lead a group in Arlington called the Citizens Committee for School Improvement, who wanted to improve the standard of Arlington Public Schools just after World War II by letting the county elect its own School Board.
Before, a county electoral board appointed School Board members, but the group lobbied hard in Richmond. State law changed in 1947 to allow Arlington to elect its School Board.
Meg Filiatrault, one of the Millers’ two surviving children, said it was inspiring as a child to see the group in action. From the basement of their home in Arlington, volunteers worked to send out campaign literature and prepared to testify before state bodies.
“It was a real community effort, just normal people doing what they felt they had to do to get what they wanted for their children,” Filiatrault said. “My parents were extremely well-invested in good schools and in public schools, and so were a lot of the committee.”
Miller taught math at what was then known as Stratford Junior High School, now the H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program. And in 1959, just four years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled segregation in schools unconstitutional in “Brown vs. Board of Education,” she was one of the first teachers in the county to volunteer to teach black students.
Four students began a math class with her on February 2, 1959, and Filiatrault said she remembered no instances of violence, even amid tension and a large police presence.
Miller had her first taste of the Washington, D.C. area as a child. As a 14-year-old living in Evansville, Ind. in a family of farmers, she won a bread baking competition at the Indiana State Fair, with the prize of a scholarship to Purdue University and a trip to D.C.
On that trip in 1925, she met then-President Calvin Coolidge, then returned to D.C. after graduating from Purdue with a major in Home Economics and a minor in Math. She met her husband at Foundry United Methodist Church in D.C., then the pair settled in Arlington.
Despite losing most of her sight to macular degeneration in her 90s, Miller wrote her autobiography, “The First Century and Not Ready for the Rocking Chair Yet,” and independently published it at the age of 101.
She wrote with the help of cousin and editor Jo Allen. Miller typed some of the work herself then dictated the rest, all because of her desire to tell her descendants about her life. The book has sold more than 800 copies.
“She was a very tenacious person, and she really wanted to leave this as a legacy for her great-grandchildren,” Allen said. “Her grandchildren pretty much knew the stories, but the great-grandchildren were too young to know that much about her life. She thought it was important to leave them a legacy.”
Beyond education, Allen remembered Miller for her love of the board game bridge, as well as her support of public television, including WETA, founded in 1961 and now based in Shirlington. She was also active in the American Association of University Women, the local Teachers’ Association and Clarendon United Methodist Church, where until recently she was head of the music committee.
Miller was born in 1911 in Indiana, and had three brothers. She put her long life down to super B complex vitamins, which she initially took for knee pain in the 1960s.
Miller is survived by two children, Malcolm R. Miller and Meg Filiatrault, and predeceased by two children and her husband Malcolm D. Miller. She is also survived by four grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
Visitation is scheduled for Thursday, August 24 at 2-4 p.m. and again at 6-8 p.m. The funeral will be on Friday, August 25 at 11 a.m. at Clarendon United Methodist Church (606 N. Irving Street).
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