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Ellen Mowrer Miller papers

Identifier: IWA0298
The Ellen Mowrer Miller papers date from 1856 to 1916 and measure 10 linear inches. The papers are organized in four series: Genealogy and family history, Correspondence, Writings, and Ledger.

The Genealogy and family history series (1930, 1937, 1949, 1950, 1994) consists of the following: two written statements by Albert Miller, Senior, dictated in 1930 and 1937 describing his Union army experience in the 67th Pennsylvania regiment; Ellen Mowrer and Albert Miller's marriage license and certificate of marriage, 1879; genealogy notes by Albert A. Miller, 1949; a genealogy of the Mowrer family; an extensive genealogy "Miller Family History" compiled in 1950 by Albert A. Miller, son of Albert and Ellen Mowrer Miller, which traces the family back to 1761; and a memoir by Eva Donelson Wilson, granddaughter of Ellen and Albert Miller which describes the Miller homestead and its traditions, 1994. Wilson describes the house Albert Miller built when he and Ellen were newlyweds; the uses ascribed to each room; and the many parts and functions of the 200-acre farm. Wilson explains cooking and farming methods, crop rotation, the uses of machinery, the neighbors, church, school and chautauqua events. She mentions the place of newspapers and books in the home, the integral part music played in the family, the necessity and abundance of flowers in the home, and the clubs and organizations that revolved around rural life. An undated memoir written by Ellen Mowrer Miller describes her knowledge of the family history going back to her great grandfather, Peter Mowrer.

The Correspondence series (1856-1924) contains letters to Ellen Mowrer or her family members. The letters are arranged by birth order of Ellen's father and siblings, then chronologically. In 1856 Ellen's father Peter Mowrer wrote from Pennsylvania to her older brothers Peter and William Mowrer who were already living in Iowa. The senior Peter Mowrer was in the midst of selling his home in preparation to move the rest of the family to Iowa.

Correspondence to the younger Peter Mowrer, M.D., consists of several letters from Jonathan Ricketts, a friend who wrote from various Union Army posts during the Civil War describing skirmishes and relating his concern for his children, whom he asked Peter Mowrer to raise. Mowrer also received letters on various subjects: payment for taking care of sheep; dealings regarding the cost of a loom; a land boundary dispute; a report from James Harris in Philadelphia regarding the passage of many Union troops; (1861) and a request for medicine from a father describing his sick children.

William Mowrer received a letter dated 1864, from John P. Moore requesting information about land claims. An incomplete letter from William to Ellen appears to be written when William visited brother Milton in Philadelphia. A letter from William's wife, Melissa, 1905, to Ellen described a picnic in Des Moines with crowds requiring nine railroad coaches and nine street-cars to transport people from Valley Junction to Greenwood Park.

Sarah A. Mowrer Rhoad , Ellen's sister, wrote from her home in Rippey, Iowa, 1869-1905. Domesticity, farming, the church, her children, and the loneliness of solitude dominated her letters. Referring to the new telephone she wrote, "We have a phone it is on the south wall in the dining room a suitable place accessible at all times....I have never yet spoken in ours. We are on the Farmers line. Each patron of the line owns his own phone they bought the best the market offered they are good ones too. Can hear a loud whisper as well as a full voice." There is an unfinished letter from Ellen Mowrer to Sarah Rhoad, 1887, mourning the loss of Ellen's son, Edwin Earnest Miller.

Letters from Ellen's brother, Nathan , discussed life in the Union army: "The Camp of Drafted men is all hope and spirit, for the dawn of a brighter day in our National affairs all look prosperous at present, the drafted men are made up of bone and sinew and bravery the best country has, no beard-less boys among us." He wrote that ". . .the barracks is clean every morning, & the Indians required to pack all the rubbish and swill from camp under a negro guard & sich is life." He also wrote of the medical attention he received while hospitalized with typhoid fever in several army hospitals, 1864-65. ". . . I was vaccinated by the doctor & it took first rate on me, their was two cases of small-pox yesterday but they move them off to another building, they always give the patient a new suit of clothes when he gets well."

Ellen's brother, Milton , corresponded with her while a student at the University in Iowa City, 1865, then as a medical student in Philadelphia, 1866-68, and finally while practicing medicine in Russell, Kansas, 1878-79. From Iowa City he discussed the costs of boarding, the dirty streets and saloons, his first encounters with African-Americans, in particular freed slaves, the beautiful University building, and the following about a teacher of arithmetic: "Our teacher is a New Yorker, just ordered for teaching. She is a good specimen for a teacher, her lips have two long pieces of sticking plaster upon them, Hair is prettily tinged with a glossy red color, her eyes are always nearly shut when they are not closed entirely. Still I think the class will like her very well after she becomes more acquainted with their names,


  • 1856-1994


Conditions Governing Access

The papers are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright has been transferred to the University of Iowa.


10.00 linear inches


Correspondence of 19th century Iowa woman includes letters from brother in medical school and Civil War and from sister who raised a family and maintained a farm.

Biographical / Historical

Ellen Mowrer, born in Pennsylvania in 1848, moved to Union Township, Boone County, Iowa, in 1856 with her parents and six siblings. As one of two girls in the family, Mowrer's young womanhood was spent cleaning, washing, ironing, gardening, writing and going to church. In 1879 she married Albert Miller, a veteran of three and one-half years of fighting in the 67th Pennsylvania regiment for the Union in the Civil War. Mowrer and Miller may have met at church but courted mostly by mail for four years before marrying. Miller, born in 1843, came from Pennsylvania in 1866 and settled in Peoples Township in Boone County. They moved into a house built by Albert Miller, earning their livelihood by farming and carpentry. To this union were born Grace, Albert, Edwin, and Edith Miller. Upon retirement Ellen and Albert Miller moved to Ames and then to Perry, Iowa. Their daughter, Grace Miller, married Vernon Everett Donelson in 1902 and moved onto Ellen and Albert Miller's farm. Ellen Mowrer Miller died in 1922 and Albert Miller in 1938. A genealogy pertinent to the Ellen Mowrer Miller papers follows this finding aid.

Method of Acquisition

The papers were donated by Kenneth Donelson (donor no. 408), Eva Donelson (497), Steve Marsden (499), and Ethel Marsden (514) in 1997, 1998, and 2001.

Existence and Location of Originals

Civil War Diaries and Letters

Other Descriptive Information
Margaret Richardson, 1998. Elizabeth Engel, 2005.
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Iowa Women's Archives Repository

100 Main Library
University of Iowa Libraries
Iowa City IA 52242 IaU
319-335-5900 (Fax)