This post was written by Reference Assistant, Mike Rynearson.
Emilie Miller was a trailblazing woman in Virginia politics. Being the first female senator to represent Fairfax in 1983, Miller took the lead on many social issues of the time. She served on committees and advocated for those within the field of mental health and women’s rights. In her first term, Miller also endorsed and passed legislation that protected the rights of the mentally disabled, and established substance abuse programs in Virginia.
Miller’s most famous accomplishment is her role in the admittance of women to the Virginia Military Institute. For the entirety of its existence, the Virginia Military Institute had a male-only admittance policy. In 1991, VMI was the only all-male university left in the United States. Miller was able to use her position as a member of the Virginia Senate to bring light to this issue. Not only did she view the principle of male-only admittance as a sexist policy, but the fact that the school was a publicly funded university made the policy unconstitutional. While the case was moving its way up through the court systems, Miller helped pass legislation to prevent policies like these from continuing in Virginia. The law stated, “all public institutions of higher education shall admit qualified students without regard to race, sex, religion, national origin, or political affiliation.” The case would finally reach the Supreme Court where the policy was considered unconstitutional, and any policies similar would receive the same ruling. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in her majority opinion, stated that a policy or law such as VMI’s male-only policy is not compatible with equal protection as it “denies to women, simply because they are women, full citizenship stature-equal opportunity to aspire, achieve, participate in and contribute to society based on their individual talents and capacities.”
If it was not for Emilie Miller’s persistence on the issue, even after losing re-election in 1991, it is hard to imagine when this monumental change would have come. If you would like to learn more about Emilie Miller’s career, we invite you to visit the Special Collections Research Center to view her collection.
United States v. Virginia, 518 U.S. 515 (1996)
Hsu, Spencer. “Fairfax Senator Decries Coeducation at VMI”, The Washington Post. Jan. 10, 1997
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