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Ellen Mowrer Miller papers

Identifier: IWA0298

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Scope and Contents

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

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, and the Indians required to pack all the rubbish and swill from camp under a negro guard and 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 and 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, etc."

Milton's letters from Philadelphia revealed a growing maturity as he explained book and boarding prices, church attendance, the treatment of city sharpees to green countrymen, and the operation of streetcars. He took advantage of the city, attended concerts, visited the menagerie, paid 75 cents to hear Henry Ward Beecher discuss Universal Suffrage, and bought a melodion for fifty dollars which he sent to his family in Iowa. In one letter to brother Nathan, 1867, Milton wrote he had joined the Young Men's Christian Association in Philadelphia, stating that "the hall is a pleasant resort for recreation [;] has over three thousand volumes in library, all the leading papers, etc.etc. besides every Friday evening some scientific lecture."

Milton's letters from Russell, Kansas, 1878-79, were full of hope. "I shall try my luck here and grow up with the country." In another undated letter, "The emigration has ceased and a great many of the emigrants that have taken up Homesteads in the Southwest part of the state are returning. Been burnt out by the drought. That is the drawback to that portion of the state and not the grasshoppers but it is frequently better to give the new Countries a bad name from some imaginary evil than from a real one."

The courting letters of Ellen Mowrer and Albert Miller, 1875-1878 , reveal a deepening understanding, trust and love. They frequently discussed weather, roads, crops, church, and sermons; quoted poetry; and eventually looked to a future together. In 1877 Albert wrote, "I wish I had my little house built 'which you and I could call our own,NULL and ready to move into it for I believe you and I could live as happy together in a nice little house as any ever have lived or ever will, don't you?" In a final letter written in 1903, Albert wrote to Ellen from Ames, Iowa where he tended the house, hens, and strawberries while she visited a few days with family in Ogden, Iowa.

Ellen received several letters from family in Pennsylvania, South Dakota and Iowa from 1865 through 1887. Of special interest is an 1886 letter from a niece, Maud R. Rhoad, who described Iowa State Normal School in Cedar Falls, and the classes she attended while a student. She also received letters dated 1868 through 1887 from a variety of friends. Carrie wrote from Perry, Iowa on August 8, 1887 and told of a Mr. Mills who "invited me to a buggy ride last Sunday he came with a very nice rig took me out to his farm the family had dinner prepared we spent a very pleasant day. result We are to be married Wednesday the 17th of August at four o'clock in the afternoon he will come with a carriage take me to Squire Lunts house where the ceremony will be performed and his for Home Sweet Home." She enclosed a swatch from the forthcoming wedding dress.

Albert Miller received a few letters from family, friends, business associates, and colleagues in his 67th Pennsylvania Regiment. One regimental colleague referred tothe sixteen months he spent as a prisoner of war, captured with Miller at the "unfortunate battle of Winchester when Lee struck us on his Pennsylvania Campaign." Another colleague wrote requesting Albert Miller write an afadavit to prove that the writer's lung disease began during his service in the Union Army.

There is a copy of a letter from Albert A. Miller, Ellen's son, to Henry A Wallace, 1924, on the death of Wallace's father. Miller wrote words of sympathy and described his feelings at the death of his own mother, Ellen Mowrer Miller. A copy of the reply from Wallace is attached.

In 1856, a letter written to Sallie J. Mowrer (a cousin?) from Yale student Benjamin F. Barge, described a hectic academic schedule, his dismay that Sallie would soon move to Iowa, and a wedding in an Episcopal Church in New Haven at which he was groomsman.

The Correspondence series also contains a letter written circa 1854 by David Wykoff to Clarissa Ann Atherton, shortly after leaving Ohio to move west to Iowa, as well as a wedding announcement of Ellen's niece, Lettie Mowrer to Archibald Newport in 1884.

The Writings series contains a diary by Ellen Mowrer, 1868-69, in which she reflected on religion, nature, weather, illness, and the many domestic obligations in her world. She described a townsman, "He is very hard against woman voting, 'because, because'- The only argument he could put forth. was a little tickled at him in the evening. When it was a raining he said, 'Well, Miss Mowrer, now how would you like to be out in the rain at a woman's rights convention.' 'O I said the rain is pure. It comes down from heaven you know refreshes and serves all things.'" There is also an essay, a penmanship exercise, a hymn and some copied poetry.

The series also contains an undated essay on industry written by William Mowrer an undated party game of questions and answers written by Nathan Mowrer and an unsigned essay or piece of oratory written in 1861, concerning the coming of the war between the states.

The Ledger of the Missionary Society of the Second Methodist Church of Peoples Township, dated 1892-1897 includes the Society's constitution, by-laws, roll and dues lists, meeting minutes and annual reports. It reveals active participation by many members of the Miller family.

Also included in the collection is a wedding photograph of Albert A. Miller and Edna Esther Viola Johnson Miller who were married on December 28, 1910.

The book Portraits and Principles of the World's Great Men and Women (1989) which was owned and used by Ellen Mowrer Miller completes the collection.


  • Creation: 1856-1994


Conditions Governing Access

The papers are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright held by the donor has been transferred to the University of Iowa.

However, copyright status for some collection materials may be unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owner. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility and potential liability based on copyright infringement for any use rests exclusively and solely with the user. Users must properly acknowledge the Iowa Women’s Archives, The University of Iowa Libraries, as the source of the material. For further information, visit

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.


10.00 linear inches

Language of Materials



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.

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:

Margaret Richardson, 1998. Elizabeth Engel, 2005.
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

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)