This biographical sketch first appeared on the Online Biographical Dictionary of the Woman Suffrage Movement in the United States and appears here by courtesy of the publisher, Alexander Street.
By Eileen W. Sateriale, freelance writer
Represented Montgomery County in Maryland Woman Suffrage Conventions and member of Sandy Spring Quaker Community
Sarah Bentley Thomas
4/12/1841 – 4/12/1924
Sarah B. Thomas was born on April 12, 1841 in Sandy Spring, Maryland, a Montgomery County Quaker farming community about twenty miles north of Washington, DC. She was one of eight children and her parents were members of the Society of Friends (Quaker) religion. On September 18, 1862, she married a farmer named Benjamin Hallowell Miller, also a devout Quaker. The couple had three girls: Rebecca Thomas Miller, Elizabeth Porter (Miller) Thom and Martha Thomas “Pattie” Miller. Rebecca was the only one who survived her parents. Sarah Miller died on April 12, 1924 and is buried in Sandy Spring Meeting House Cemetery. Benjamin died in 1928 and is buried next to her.
The Religious Society of Friends holds as the basis of its faith the belief that God endows each human being with a measure of the Divine Spirit. They believe that the gift of God’s presence and the light of God’s Truth have been available to all people at all times and in all ages. Their fellowship subscribes to common religious ideals and experiences rather than creed or liturgy. Quakers believe in traditional testimonies of pacifism, social equality, integrity, and simplicity. They hold advanced views on women’s rights and give women equal rights with men in the church.
Sarah Miller was an active suffragist during the later part the nineteenth century. In January 1889, thirteen members of the Sandy Spring community, including Sarah Miller, formed the Maryland Woman Suffrage Association. Later that year, Maryland was represented for the first time in a national suffrage convention by delegate Sarah T. Miller, who was also Superintendent of Franchise in the State Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. In 1892, at the urging of Susan B. Anthony, Sarah Miller also attended the national convention in Washington, DC.
During this time, Maryland had a strong suffragist organization active in Baltimore City which was thirty miles from Sandy Spring. In 1894, the Montgomery County group and the Baltimore Woman’s Suffrage Association united. The unification allowed for concentration of efforts in the state. Baltimore, being Maryland’s largest city, had more members and therefore, the state conventions were held annually in Baltimore. The combined organizations worked to coordinate with the national campaign, which began to view Maryland as an up-and-coming suffrage state.
In 1906, the National American Woman Suffrage Association was held in Baltimore drawing representatives from all over the country, including well known women such as Clara Barton, Julia Ward Howe, Jane Addams and Susan B. Anthony. The week-long convention consisted of speeches, musical performances, and prayer services. The Maryland suffragists, who organized this convention, claimed it as a success and expanded their suffrage work across the state. It was the last national convention that Susan B. Anthony attended before her death in March of that year.
Sarah Miller continued to represent Montgomery County in the Maryland State Conventions. Her eldest daughter, Rebecca, was also an active member of the Maryland Woman Suffrage Association. Sarah and Rebecca regularly attended conventions from the early twentieth century until the passage of the nineteenth amendment in 1920.
In order for the nineteenth amendment to become law, thirty-six states needed to ratify the amendment. Members of the Maryland movement tried multiple times by submitting petitions to the Maryland General Assembly in Annapolis during the early twentieth century. However, each time the assembly rejected the amendment. Maryland women did receive the right to vote in 1920 when the nineteenth amendment was ratified by thirty-six other states.
Sandy Spring, Maryland, the area where the Miller and Thomas families lived, has several historical resources that reflect the historical and architectural significance of the Quaker farming community. These are the 1817 Friends Meeting House, the Friends cemetery established in 1754 and the Lyceum, a wood frame structure used for education built in 1859. The meeting house is still used for worship services today and is listed on the National Register for Historical Places.
Anthony, Susan B, and Ida Husted Harper. The History Woman Suffrage Volume IV. New York, Fowler & Wells, 1889, p. 696. [LINK]
Buhle, Mari J. and Paul, The Concise History of Woman Suffrage, University of Illinois Press, Urbana, 1978, p. 371.
Farquhar, William Henry; Moore, Eliza Needles Bentley, Mrs., Miller, Rebecca Thomas, Thomas, Mary Moore, 1879-1925; Kirk, Annie B. Annals of Sandy Spring … History of a Rural community in Maryland, Baltimore, Cushings & Bailey, 1884-1929. New York Public Library; Vol 2. https://archive.org/details/annalsofsandyspr02farq/
Lantz, Emily Emerson. Demand the Right to Vote; National American Woman Suffrage Association Convention, Baltimore. Baltimore, Maryland, ante February 7, 1906. Manuscript/Mixed Material. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, www.loc.gov/item/rbcmiller002834.
Redding, Nicholas, The History of Women’s Suffrage in Maryland and Beyond. Episode 47 November 27,2017. Preservecast.org Kacy Rohr interview https://www.preservecast.org/2017/11/27/kacy-rohn-the-history-of-womens-suffrage-in-maryland-and-beyond/
Rohr, Kacy Remembering Maryland Women’s Fight for the Vote, March 19, 2017. The Maryland Historical Trust Blog. https://mdhistoricaltrust.wordpress.com/2017/03/16/remembering-maryland-womens-fight-for-the-vote/
Harper, Ida Husted, et al., eds. History of Woman Suffrage Volume VI. [LINK]
Sandy Spring Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends. Copyright 2018 https://www.sandyspring.org/about-quakerism/
Tipton, Jim, Find a Grave.
Wikipedia. Sandy Spring Friends Meetinghouse https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sandy_Spring_Friends_Meetinghouse