Mary Miller was a remarkable woman who made her mark in the history of Owen Sound as a dedicated teacher, athlete, a promoter of the CGIT, and many other youth-oriented groups and events.
This past week marked the beginning of another school year.
Children returning for another year look forward to seeing the familiar faces of their teachers and classmates. However, with early retirements and board transfers, teachers do not remain in the same school for the long periods of time that they which once did.
Few will probably match the record of one Owen Sound teacher who for 44 years marked each September with the opening of another school year. Mary Miller, a remarkable woman, began her teaching career in 1906, training as kindergarten assistant at Ryerson Public School.
After completing this mandatory session, she enrolled in the Toronto Kindergarten Normal School in 1907.
The following year she began her career as a teacher in earnest when she accepted a position as an assistant at Ryerson Public School. After two years as an assistant she was granted her certificate as a kindergarten teacher.
During the First World War, Mary became deeply involved in the war effort. Aside from her teaching duties she worked hard as a member of the Women’s' Patriotic League. This group knitted scarves and gloves and gathered other essentials for area men who were serving in the armed forces.
She also played in an orchestra which gave concerts to raise money to help the war effort. During the war the Farm Service was organized to help farmers bring in their crops. Mary jumped into this cause and travelled to the Niagara Region to pick fruit.
This remarkable woman's life did not slow down after the war. She went back to spending her leisure hours at one of her favourite pastimes, tennis.
Mary Miller was not just an average tennis player. She captured the Women’s' Singles Championship for Grey County and from 1921-24 she combined with Ralph Cochrane to win the County Doubles title.
Because of her role as a teacher, and the fact that she was an outstanding athlete she was the logical choice for the position of head of the sports program at the newly established YWCA. She directed programs for tennis, hockey, gymnastics, bowling, hiking, handicrafts, softball and as well, a social club.
This was an after-school position for this remarkable woman, but probably a full-time job for anyone else.
As if the energetic kindergarten teacher did not have enough to do, in 1920 she added another interest to her life. She became involved in the Canadian Girls in Training.
Mary created sports and social events for C.G.I.T. camps, and her efforts brought her recognition from C.G.I.T. groups across the province resulting in her being named the director of camps for the region from Sarnia as far north as New Liskeard. She held this position from 1930 until 1940.
Despite all of her leisure time activities she still found time to fulfill her passion for teaching.
Beginning in 1919 she taught kindergarten in the morning at Dufferin Public School and in the afternoon at Victoria. Later in her career she spent her afternoons teaching at Alexandra Community School.
The outbreak of the Second World War brought Mary another challenge. Although she was deeply involved in the war effort, when her nephew, Tom Miller, became a prisoner of war she got involved in a new project. She organized the Prisoners of War Association branch in Owen Sound.
She worked tirelessly for this cause until the end of the war. Mary also served as the president of the Women Teachers' Association and when she retired in 1952 after 44 years of teaching this remarkable woman had only missed thirty days of school!
A version of "Mary Miller: a Remarkable Woman," first appeared in my Local History column in the September 18, 2000 edition of the Owen Sound Sun Times.