Emma Miller, VA’s First Female Employee

Mrs. Emma L. Miller was the first woman employee in VHA’s early history. She was officially appointed as the first matron of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers’ Central Branch NHDVS in Dayton in the fall of 1867.

During the Civil War she worked with the U.S. Sanitary Commission’s Cleveland and Cincinnati branches  and was appointed as matron of the Ohio Soldiers Home in Columbus in October 1865. When the U.S. government established additional branches of the National Asylum for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers (later named National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers/VHA’s origins), it initially took over the state home in Columbus, but later selected a site in Dayton as its permanent location. That site is known today as the Dayton VA Medical Center.

Mrs. Miller brought 16 disabled “boys in blue” with her to the new permanent site in Dayton in September 1867. She provided nursing care at the hospital and as the National Home grew, she oversaw laundry operations, ran the Home’s hotel, and was eventually elevated to Superintendent of the general depot, where much of the clothing and supplies for the entire system of National Homes were manufactured and distributed–a rare position to held by a woman in those days.

In the 1880 annual report, she reported that the “Matron’s Department” had washed, pressed, repaired, and reissued over 1,703,648 pieces of laundry and linens, averaging 32,762 pieces per week. Worn out linens were condemned, then washed and reused in the hospital as bandages and dressings, in the engineer’s department as wipers and wrappings for steam-pipes, and as wipers and mops elsewhere.

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Emma Miller was a fixture at the Dayton home for nearly 50 years and she lived on-site with her children in housing provided by the National Home. She spent her entire post-Civil War life at the home and grew old along with many of the men whom she originally cared for during the war. Emma Miller died in her quarters at the National Home on January 18, 1914 and is buried in the home’s cemetery, now known as the Dayton National Cemetery. A special service was held for her in the Protestant chapel and her grave was adorned with a special marker provided by the men and managers of the National Home.

 

 

Photos: top – Emma Miller (left) with her grand-daughter, Margaret around 1910; courtesy of Dayton VAMC; bottom- Emma Miller’s grave marker, 2007.

 

 

 

Historian, Veterans Health Administration

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

 

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