By Gayle Converse and Pat Miller
“Her strongest characteristic was a love of justice, and this was what made her a champion for women’s enfranchisement.”
Fifteen years before the 1846 Retrocession Act returned 31 square miles of the Federal City to Alexandria and the surrounding Virginia countryside, and 30 years prior to the start of the American Civil War, Caroline Hallowell was born in what was recognized as Alexandria, D.C. on Aug. 20, 1831.
The daughter of Margaret Farquhar and her husband, Alexandria educator, Quaker and abolitionist Benjamin Hallowell, Caroline arrived soon after her parents had moved the family home – and Hallowell’s school – to the corner of North Washington and Queen streets, today known as the Lloyd House. The lot also contained the site of a former sugar house and tobacco warehouse. Margaret Hallowell, at the request of Alexandria Quaker Mary Stabler, opened the city’s first school for girls on the site.
Following in her parent’s footsteps, Caroline became a teacher and in 1852 married educator Francis Miller. The Millers had five children and the family eventually moved to the Quaker community of Sandy Spring, Maryland, where Caroline also started a girls’ school.
In the 1880s, as the movement for the enfranchisement of American women was regaining speed, Caroline earned a reputation as an excellent public speaker and delivered remarks at several national suffrage conventions.
In January 1883, suffragist pioneer Susan B. Anthony, a Quaker herself, introduced Miller to speak at the National Woman Suffrage Convention in Washington, D.C. During a persuasive speech, Miller shared many things she had observed in 18th century Alexandria. She revealed details of brutal treatment, often administered in public, to enslaved and poor women.
The Alexandria Gazette reported on Miller’s address: “Mrs. Miller is about medium height and over middle age. She was dressed with Quaker simplicity [and] spoke with much emphasis. Born and reared in a Virginia town noted for its slave pens and its intense conservatism … yet in that town she had seen women stripped to the waist and brutally beaten in public by order of the law. Their only offence was impertinence to young snips of dry goods clerks, whose improper conduct provoked the impertinence. Reared in such a cradle she yet, through the blessings of a good home, was able to appreciate the efforts of Susan B. Anthony and the other leaders of the great cause on behalf of women.”
Concluding her address, Miller stated her belief that Anthony and other suffragist trailblazers would improve the lives of women in Alexandria and throughout the United States. She predicted that “Coming generations would rise up and call them blessed … man would rise to a higher plane when he acknowledges equal rights for women before the law.”
In 1889, at her home in Sandy Spring, Miller assembled 13 of her allies. The meeting became the foundation of the Maryland Woman Suffrage Association. Coordinating her group’s work with that of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, she would send delegates, including her sister-in-law and her niece, to national suffrage conventions. At age 63, after serving one year as president of the organization, Miller retired in 1894.
Caroline Hallowell Miller died in 1905, 15 years short of the ratification of the 19th Amendment granting American women the right to vote.
Upon her death, the Quaker newspaper The Friends’ Intelligencer editorialized, “Her strongest characteristic was a love of justice, and this was what made her a champion for women’s enfranchisement.”
Today, the work of Miller and other Alexandria-based suffragists lives on. One distinctive location is the Office of Voter Registration and Elections, where women of distinction have been in charge of ensuring voter equality and election integrity in the city for many years.
Under the office’s three-person board, former General Registrar and Director of Elections Anna Leider held the post for 22 years before retiring in 2020. Angela Maniglia Turner currently serves in the position. Casey Leigh Clark is elections manager and Alyssa Myers has been brought onboard as assistant elections manager.
The writers are founders of Alexandria Celebrates Women, a nonprofit that highlights influential women throughout the city’s history. Contact them at [email protected].