Emma Guffey Miller has left a long-lasting legacy on Slippery Rock University’s campus, in large part due to her national political affiliations. Mrs. Miller was tied to the Democratic Party at an early age as her older brother, Joseph Guffey, was a United States Senator from 1935-1947. After attending Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania and graduated with a degree in History and Political Science in 1899, she went to Japan on a trip and met her husband Carroll Miller in 1902. They stayed in Japan until the end of Carroll’s five-year job stint. After teaching and living in Osaka, Japan, Mrs. Miller and her husband returned home in 1907, and she increasingly focused her attention on United States politics and the Democratic Party. Mrs. Miller’s political activism and passion for women’s rights led her down an unintended path to service as the “Grand Old Lady” of the Democratic Party.
In 1924, at the age of fifty, Mrs. Miller was elected to the Democratic National Convention as a delegate for women’s rights and was given the honor of becoming the first woman to ever receive a nomination to the United States Presidency. She spent her political life as an advocate for women’s rights; she was a very active supporter for the League of Women Voters, and she worked towards the establishment of an equal rights amendment to the U.S. Constitution until her death in 1970.
Miller made good friends with many big names in the Democratic Party, most notably with Eleanor and Franklin D. Roosevelt. This friendship marked her solidification in the Democratic Party, as she was asked to deliver a number of seconding speeches for Presidents and other influential people. Her illustrious political career and long-cemented passion for education eventually led her to become a member, and eventually President, of the Slippery Rock State College Board of Trustees from 1933 to 1968.
Mrs. Miller came to Slippery Rock State College in 1933 with intentions to upgrade the aging campus and bring more life to the university through one of the biggest building initiatives in school history. Miller’s deep political connections and skills of negotiation proved to be irreplaceable in getting the necessary funding to construct two new class buildings, a new library, a President's home, and the removal of the structurally unsafe wing of North Hall. The institution of the New Deal in 1933 provided the school the opportunity to utilize government funds as a way to pull out of the Great Depression. The New Deal provided the context to which the Board of Trustees could seek national funding for education as it regarded health and safety of students. When a fire completely consumed North Hall, a women’s dormitory, in 1937, Miller took action to secure the funds needed to finish the original plan and to build a new North Hall. (After the first one burnt down in a fire in 1937.) The construction of most of the buildings on the original campus was made possible by Mrs. Miller and the Board of trustees.
In recognition of her substantial contributions to the campus landscape, Slippery Rock University designated the new theater and performing arts building Miller Auditorium. The dedication took place in 1960, where she was an honored guest speaker. She was an honored guest at a number of events that took place in the auditorium until her death on February 23, 1970.
Infamous tales of ghostly appearances in Miller Auditorium have long been a part of campus lore. A professionally-conducted experiment has even concluded that there is a paranormal presence in the auditorium. Many suggest that this presence is perhaps Miller herself,keeping watch over her legacy and the building that bears her name.