|The Name Behind The Name:
By Candice Lynn Buchanan
Aptly named, labeled, and referred to often – the namesake of Miller Hall, the main building on the Waynesburg College campus, seems commemorated and obvious. Those who know the biography of Alfred Brashear Miller know his life was so intertwined in the College history that it is impossible, in good conscience, to separate the two.
Standing in Alumni Hall, on the third floor of Miller, not long ago, I pointed out to a few local students and parents, the incredible portrait of A. B. Miller hanging proudly on the wall. The universal “Who was he?” responses about drove me to tears. We were standing in Miller Hall after all, but they failed to make the connection.
Alfred Brashear Miller was the husband of Margaret Bell Miller. Explaining this connection first usually brings nods from locals. Not that her story is generally known any better. But because her full name instead of her surname only graces the building named for her, at least her name strikes a familiar chord.
Alfred Brashear & Margaret Bell Miller were a powerful pair. Margaret was the principal of the Female Seminary (later the Female Department) of Waynesburg College in its first year and A. B. was a student of Waynesburg College in its first year. Present from the opening day of class to the first graduation day for male students, 28 September 1853, A. B. had the honor of being the first young man to deliver a graduation speech. Soon after finishing his education at Waynesburg he became a professor there. In 1855, he married Margaret and established the partnership that would ensure the survival of Waynesburg College.
Margaret’s career as principal and teacher did not end with her marriage, and when A. B. became president of the college a few years later, they led the school together, surviving the Civil War years and bad economics that destroyed numbers of similar colleges across the country. In fact, when A. B. Miller was made Waynesburg College President in the fall of 1859, the board of trustees and leaders of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church (the body which had established the college in 1849) had lost all hope and only asked A. B. to see the college through to its end. Even then, A. B. and Margaret were encouraged to abandon the college, which foresaw no ability to pay their salaries.
Of course, the Millers did not give up so easily. During the difficult years, A. B. went without salary from the college, and used his small earnings as a pastor at the Cumberland Presbyterian Church to pay the salaries of other educators at the college and county levels.
The Millers oversaw the merger of the Female Department into the body of Waynesburg College establishing one of the earliest successes of a co-educational institution.
The growth of the student population, curriculum and campus life over the years, eventually resulted in a new building, now the familiar Miller Hall, built under A. B.’s watch. Regrettably, Margaret, who had shared so diligently the work that brought the college’s success, did not live to see the campus expansion as this grand building took form.
Margaret had continued as a leader in the college and as a teacher conducting classes at least six hours each day, while at the same time running a home and raising eight children. Ultimately she sacrificed herself for the success of the college and the progression of female education. Only 47 years old, she suffered a stroke that left her paralyzed and speechless. She passed away in April 1874, her oldest child just eighteen years old, and her youngest not yet two.
A. B. Miller continued on until his own death which took place in his beloved “Old College” known to us as Hannah Hall, in early 1902. He had been President of the college for over 40 years and continued as President Emeritus until his death.
Dr. Paul Rich “Prexy” Stewart, another great President of Waynesburg College, wrote of A. B. Miller, “Of him it has rightfully been said that had he not lived, Waynesburg College would not be in existence. For fifty years Dr. Miller was associated with Waynesburg College, and for forty of these years he led her destinies as President, by a beautiful coincidence the same number of years Moses led the children of Israel through the wilderness.”
At Margaret’s death, a gravestone was placed in Green Mount Cemetery by the Waynesburg College Alumni Association. The words of devotion and gratitude inscribed in her honor were equally fitting for her husband when the day came to add his name. Carefully positioned on the corner of a central lot, the Millers’ gravestone is surrounded by those of their students and colleagues’ – all of whom chose to be memorialized in a location conveniently overlooking their beloved college.
The worn stone is difficult to read today and in years soon to come the heartfelt language of appreciative alumni will be illegible. The Millers’ graves, no doubt once faithfully attended to by grateful students and college faculty, have been seemingly forgotten by their successors. Locked gates affirm the disconnect between the precious college campus and the grounds where its faithful ancestors rest.
As of my last visit to the lifelike painting that began this message, no name plate was attached and A. B. was passed by without notice by most.
But, perhaps, now that you are aware….if you happen to be in Alumni Hall, on the third floor of Miller, anytime soon, you will take a fresh look at the fine portrait of A. B. Miller standing proud and present. Some of us may have forgotten him, but his legacy has not forgotten us.
(Candice Buchanan, third-generation Waynesburg College graduate, Class of 2003.)
All material within this
web site has been compiled by Candice Buchanan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
(63 W. Franklin St.; Waynesburg, PA 15370).
Data sources documented whenever possible. Contributors credited for shared information. Questions, feedback and contributions welcome.
Copyright © 2003-2008 Candice Buchanan. All rights reserved.