2009/04/17:State Journal: Midge Miller, giant in liberal politics, dead at 86

Midge Miller, giant in liberal politics, dead at 86
Wisconsin State Journal


HENRY A. KOSHOLLEK -- The Capital Times

Former Madison lawmaker Marjorie “Midge” Miller, who spent a lifetime working for women’s rights, peace and a family of nine children and step-children including state Sen. Mark Miller, D-Monona, has died at 86.

“As a woman who also had some political firsts, she was a role model for me,” said U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison.

A self-described progressive, Miller got her start in politics in the 1960s opposing the Vietnam War and working in Wisconsin on anti-war Democrat Eugene McCarthy’s presidential campaign.

In 1970, she was elected to the first of seven two-year terms in the state Assembly, where she shepherded the nation’s first nuclear weapons freeze referendum, approved by voters in 1982, and pushed the state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.

Miller helped found the National Women’s Political Caucus in 1971, served nine years on the Democratic National Committee, and helped create the progressive group the Madison Institute.

She was unconcerned about the male-dominated Legislature, saying in 1970, “I’ve got seven sons and a husband, so I’m used to men.”

Sen. Judy Robson, D-Beloit, remembered that Miller covered the bumper and trunk of her car with stickers for liberal causes. “She was smart. She was very savvy. She knew how to build consensus.”

Miller was born in Morgantown, W. Va., in 1922.

She was pregnant with her fourth child when her first husband, Dean Leeper, died in September 1954 in a shipwreck during a typhoon near Japan while the couple worked as missionaries there.

Miller moved back to the United States and ended up in Madison in 1957 for graduate school at UW-Madison, becoming an assistant dean there in 1960.

In 1963, she married physics professor Ed Miller, who was widowed with five children.

Her son, David Leeper, 58, said being forced to provide for four children on her own for those years helped form Miller’s ideas of women’s equality.

When she was still a single mother, Miller returned $2,500 that a bank had credited to her by mistake, Leeper said.

“She told us I could use that money but I wouldn’t be doing right by you if I used money that wasn’t mine,” Leeper said. “She taught us that integrity was the highest value.”

— State Journal reporter Mark Pitsch contributed to this report.