Bryan Miller

Author and Journalist for the New York Times

LINA MILLER Bryan Miller with his grandmother, Lina
As a journalist, my job is to take the imprecise and, with facts and anecdotes, discover the precise, or close to it. This is how I investigated the first woman in my family to enter the voting booth.

My grandmother, Lina Miller, always asserted that she was born in 1900, more or less. I like to believe it was in the nineteenth century — more exotic. Either way she would have been of voting age during a tumultuous time in American history: Prohibition, and the Great Depression, the New Deal. These were also periods of great patriotism. Lina’s parents emigrated from County Kerry in Ireland sometime during the administration of Chester A. Arthur (1881-1885). They settled in Waterbury, Connecticut, the “Brass City,” named for its major employer. It is quite likely that her father was employed in the brass industry, for there was little else.

Lina would have achieved the right to vote at age 21, a year after the ratified 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was signed into law.

At this time she was a nurse at Bellevue Hospital in New York City, a sprawling municipal institution near the East River in Kips Bay. Subsequently, and the year is uncertain although it is likely it was in the 1940’s, she moved uptown to Mount Sinai Hospital, on Fifth Avenue. While I have no hard facts regarding her voting record, I remain certain she did so, if not in 1920, a few years later.

Here is some anecdotal evidence.

Her formative years, from teenager to young woman, occurred during Prohibition, without the benefit of beer, which is almost unimaginable for the Irish. Men and women were galvanized when it came to voting for repeal. Lina was an impressive consumer of beer, and I can see her dashing to the polling station–along with any patients well enough to survive the trip–to expunge this the scourge upon the American populace. Maybe twice. Moreover, her son, my father, a graduate of Manhattan College, dabbled in collegiate politics, and was elected president of his senior class. Lina was not eligible to vote in this election. But she surely hosted a keg party.

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