In June 1915 a young woman met the ships arriving in New York that might be carrying passengers from the ill-fated British Passenger Liner RMS Lusitania. She arranged for dock officials to contact her each time a possible ship was to arrive. Emma Adena Miller (called Adena by the family) interviewed every returning person who was on the Lusitania, which had been torpedoed by a German sub early in the month before. She carried a photo of her older brother, James Blaine Miller (called Blaine by the family).
Blaine was a fine young man who had served in the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey Service (C&GS), literally from the moment he graduated from Oberlin College in 1903. He was on leave to travel to Glasgow, Scotland to attend the university there and study for an advanced degree in engineer. Just minutes before departure on another British liner, the Cameronia, from New York to Glasgow, it was commandeered by the British government and Blaine was transferred to the Lusitania, which was departing for Liverpool, England. Had anyone of the returning passengers seen him? Observed what he did? Tell her something about his last week of life?
In case her father came to continue the search after she left she wrote him full instructions as to her procedure in tracking down possible witnesses.
Adena was born in 1888, the only daughter in a family of three children. Adena was named for her mother Emma Lewis Miller who was related to Fairview’s Lewis family of whom so many served in the Civil War. Adena pursued a career in social work as her mother had intended for herself. She, her siblings and her parents were all letter writers and kept in close touch with each other, no matter how far they traveled.
After graduating from Oberlin Adena moved to Chicago and into Hull House, a settlement home for immigrants where Jane Addams was the Head Resident. Adena served from time to time as Miss Addams’ secretary.
Now, just a few weeks after the tragedy, Adena was attending conferences in New York and took advantage of her proximity to the piers to try to piece together the last week of Blaine’s life.
Actually she discovered very little, except for one person who had seen Blaine more than once reading while sitting in a deck chair near the division between First and Second Class. All the Millers were great readers, and Adena was comforted to know that he had been able to pursue that interest.
She later learned that the last person to see Blaine was the steward who helped him on with his life jacket. When Blaine’s body was found the life jacket was not there, affirming the belief his family, friends and even distance acquaintances held that he died a hero, having given up his life jacket to help someone else.
Somehow Adena, her remaining brother (Thomas II) and her parents survived this terrible loss. Blaine’s body was recovered in late July and returned home for burial in the Fairview Cemetery. She married Kenneth Rich in 1917 and saw him go off to war with the rank of Captain in the Infantry. Her brother Thomas II joined the army and served as Sergeant 1st Class in the Army’s Topographical Section. She spent the rest of her life serving the underprivileged and women, first as the Director of the Girls’ Protective Bureau, an agency for the protection of young girls living near training camps. After the war she became involved in women’s suffrage and actively supported the League of Women Voters. In 1926 she became Director of the Immigrant’s Protective League and remained so until she retired. When Jane Addams died in 1935 she was chosen by the Hull House Board of Directors to take Jane’s place, holding the latter office for two years. She continued to lecture at colleges and universities in the Chicago area until her retirement in 1954. She died in 1967. Kenneth had died five years earlier. The couple had no children.
To find Blaine’s monument in the Fairview Cemetery, enter at the chapel entrance, take the first right turn and continue until you see the large square monument that looks like waves lapping in the bay near one of the left bends. (Photo at right shows the monument from the front along with the gravestones of other family members.) Here lie the remains of Adena, Kenneth, her parents, her brother Thomas II and his wife, her nephew Thomas Miller III and his wife, plus Blaine.
Blaine was regarded as “one of Erie’s best and noblest sons” by Prof. John C. Diehl at the Erie High School. Adena surely qualifies for the women’s title.