Martha Ann Miller, an Arlington resident for 80 years who worked to improve public schools here, died Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2017 at Sunrise at Bluemont. She had celebrated her 106th birthday 10 days earlier.
At age 101, Mrs. Miller self-published her autobiography, “The First Century and Not Ready for the Rocking Chair Yet,” to make her great-grandchildren aware of her legacy of community service and her faith in God. On her most recent birthday, friends from Clarendon United Methodist Church donated 106 boxes of cereal to the Arlington Food Assistance Center pantry at the church, where Mrs. Miller had been instrumental in strengthening the music ministry and other programs.
Martha Ann Riggs was born Aug. 6, 1911, in Evansville, Ind., where she honed her math skills by tracking the per-serving cost of baked goods she made and served to her family and farm hands. As part of that 4-H project, she baked a Blue Ribbon loaf of bread that, at age 14, earned her a four-year scholarship to Purdue University. She credited the scholarship, which she used for a home economics and math degree during the Great Depression, with providing the education she needed to excel later in life.
She moved to a friend’s porch in Washington to look for work and found it demonstrating gas ranges. She met her husband, Malcolm Drennan Miller, at Foundry Methodist Church, and they settled in Arlington’s Colonial Village. As their four children grew, they worked with many other newcomers to Arlington to improve public education and helped the county get its first elected school board.
Later, Mrs. Miller taught math at Stratford Junior High School and in 1959 defied the Commonwealth’s “massive resistance” to school integration ordered by the Supreme Court by welcoming black students to her classroom when other teachers refused and the school principal resisted. The General Assembly reacted to Arlington’s impertinence by rescinding permission for an elected school board until 1992, when elected boards were permitted statewide.
Mrs. Miller was an active supporter of the American Association of University Women, the Committee of 100, Wesley Seminary and WETA public television. Arlington’s Commission on the Status of Women honored her as a Person of Vision in 1997.
Survivors include her son, Malcolm R. Miller of Santa Rosa, Calif., and daughter, Meg (Phil) Filiatrault of Georgetown, S.C.; four grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren. Her husband, their son William, and daughter Winifred preceded Mrs. Miller in death.
Her funeral will be held at 11 a.m. Friday, Aug. 25, at Clarendon United Methodist Church, 606 N. Irving St., followed by burial at Columbia Gardens Cemetery, 3411 Arlington Blvd., and a reception at the church. The family will greet friends Thursday, Aug. 24, from 2-4 and 6-8 p.m. at Murphy Funeral Home, 4510 Wilson Blvd. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in her name to the Society of St. Andrew at endhunger.org.