Women’s History Month (March) is quickly coming to an end, which prompts a look at Fairview’s women once again. One accomplished Fairview woman has been somewhat overlooked. Her parents’ home was the Nicholson farm in Fairview Township, although she attended Erie High School where her two brothers, Blaine (older) and Thomas (younger), also graduated. Both boys were bright enough to finish school at 15. She was just as bright but enjoyed the social life well enough to pass through school in the usual number of years.
Her name was Emma Adena Miller, called Adena by her family. She was born in 1888. Her mother was the half-sister of the four Lewis brothers who served in the Civil War. The monument in Fairview’s Cemetery that is the site of the Fairview American Legion’s services during the Memorial Day activities was a project of one of the brothers, Harry Lewis, and his GAR Post.
All three of the Miller children graduated from Oberlin College in Ohio as did their parents. Adena’s mother had planned to go into social work but married first. Somehow, social work became Adena’s goal as well. Blaine went directly from college into the US Coast and Geodetic Survey Service (now called NOAA), making history when he and his crew rescued another ship’s crew in the Aleutians.
When Adena graduated she received a fellowship to the Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy, then took additional advanced work in New York and Chicago. She moved to Chicago and in 1912 moved into Hull House where she worked with immigrants. It was there she met Jane Addams who had established Hull House in 1889.
All the members of the family were letter writers. Adena also enjoyed teasing her brothers, recommending books for them to read and perhaps revealing bits of her love life. She was pretty enough that she had suitors and in 1917 married one who also lived in Hull House, a Chicago stockbroker named Kenneth Rich.
However, in May 1915, the darkest event of her life occurred when the RMS Lusitania went down off the Irish Coast with the loss of nearly 1,200 lives, including her older brother Blaine. She was in New York attending a three-week class and was able to meet nearly every ship that returned from Europe carrying surviving American passengers who had been on board the Lusitania. She sought information about Blaine: had he been observed reading on deck, eating a meal, playing cards in the smoking room, strolling the deck, in the waters of the Irish Sea, helping others, anything? Had anyone seen him under any circumstances? She followed every lead. Eventually she learned through the US government officials that a steward had helped Blaine into his life jacket before he went up onto deck. When his body was found, there was no life jacket. The family, and the Erie newspapers proclaimed him as a hero, giving his life jacket to someone else. When his body was returned it was buried in the Fairview Cemetery.
Adena continued with her chosen career. From 1923 to 1926 she served as vice president of the Illinois League of Women Voters. She held the position of Director of the Immigrants’ Protective League from 1926 until 1954. She worked as Jane Addams secretary for several years and at Jane’s death she became Head Resident of Hull House from 1935 to 1937. She clashed with one of the board members and left Hull House at that time, lecturing at college campuses, and continuing to help immigrants. She spent her life in service to others. She and her parents as well as Kenneth, Thomas and his wife, plus his son and daughter-in-law are all buried in the Fairview Cemetery, near Blaine’ large, distinctive stone.