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Miller, Dorothy June Chrisman [Chris] (1926–1995)

Whitney Wheeler Biography Entry

Dorothy June Chrisman “Chris” Miller, Texas legislator, women’s rights advocate, and daughter of Charles Dana Chrisman, Sr., and Dorothy Evelyn (Noyce) Chrisman, was born on June 15, 1926, in Boston, Massachusetts. Her grandfather, Francis Leon Chrisman, was a noted newspaper syndicate owner in New York during the turn of the twentieth century. Miller’s father attended Harvard University, pursued a path in academia, and was a chaplain for the U. S. Navy. His career placed their family of four in New York and Pennsylvania when she young.

Dorothy Chrisman, who went by the name of Chris, attended Spring Valley High School in Spring Valley, New York, and was the financial secretary of her class in 1942. Upon graduating in 1943, she attended Mills College in Oakland, California, but did not receive a degree. She married Clarence Louis Miller on June 22, 1944, in Oakland, California, where she attended school. The couple moved to Texas in 1948, so Clarence could pursue a degree at the University of Texas at Austin. They had two sons, Jerry and Louis.

While married, Chris Miller owned a public relations firm, and she was a moderator on Voter’s Digest, a local television program on Fort Worth’s KTVT station. She frequently volunteered for organizations like the League of Women Voters, the Human Relations Commission, and the Minorities Cultural Arts Association. In 1965 the couple divorced and Miller devoted most of her time to advocating women’s rights by forming the Texas Women’s Political Caucus in 1971.

Miller was never embarrassed to be labeled a champion of “women’s lib,” despite the negative connotations that often accompanied the phrase during the height of the movement. She became the first woman to represent Tarrant County in the House in 1972 when she was elected to the Sixty-third Texas Legislature. During her three terms in office, Miller continued her advocacy for women’s rights, worked to reform laws pertaining to rape, supported the formation of the Texas Commission on the Status of Women (see GOVERNOR’S COMMISSION FOR WOMEN), and opposed those in the legislature who favored the state’s rescission of the Equal Rights Amendment. Additionally, she championed efforts such as water quality control, prison reform, utility regulation, and financing public education through a corporate tax. During her almost decade-long term in office, Miller authored bills that focused on tax reform, allowed more federal funding to get to urban counties, and penalized those charged with hit-and-run accidents on the water. She unsuccessfully backed bills that would have provided funding for day-care facilities and the reformation of the state’s system of school finance. She argued that improving these areas of public life would allow more women to be employed.

Miller served on more than twenty-two committees and subcommittees during her term, including service as the vice chair of the Environmental Affairs Subcommittee on Pollution Control during the Sixty-third legislature and the Constitutional Revision Committee during the Sixty-fourth legislature. During the Sixty-fifth legislature, she served as the chair of two Rules Committee subcommittees: the Subcommittee on Resolutions and the Subcommittee on Reorganization of House Rules. In that same session she also chaired the Health and Welfare Committee’s Subcommittee on Health, and she served as the vice chair of the Rules Committee. As a delegate to the state Constitutional Convention of 1974, she sought to incorporate an expanded vision of women’s rights into the new document; however, after months of fervent support, she ultimately voted against the document. Miller believed that it was corrupted due to the distractions of an election year and union conflicts. In 1977 Texas Monthly magazine named her one of the worst legislators of year and accused her of being “unarmed for intellectual combat” and “the archetypical ineffectual liberal . . . [because] she has less concept of what is going on than [an] eight-year old.” The article charged her with being uninformed on pertinent topics of discussion, being overly combative when it came to women’s issues, and having difficulty understanding or passing legislation that “anybody else could have passed.”

Although she would have run unopposed for reelection in the 1978 Democratic primary, the United States Supreme Court mandated the enforcement of the Gladden Plan, which redrew county lines to increase minority representation in the state House. The new district lines threw Miller into the same district as her colleague Gibson D. “Gib” Lewis. The two were supported by differing constituencies—Lewis’s came from deep-pocketed banks and the medical industry, while Miller’s backing came from more modestly-funded sources such as the Fort Worth Police Department and environmental groups. Miller lost the election by a margin of almost three to one. While she took the loss gracefully and swore to keep fighting for the causes she held dear, she never sought public office again.

When Miller returned to her private life she started a travel agency and explored the world. She also continued to support women’s issues. She donated the use of her former legislative office to house the newly-established Women’s Center of Tarrant County. After it moved to new quarters, she continued to support the organization financially by donating funds to pay its rent.

In 1979 Miller married Dwayne Jose, an executive with Bell Helicopter. The marriage lasted until Miller’s death. Toward the end of her life, Miller’s health began to deteriorate. She suffered from back issues that required surgery and other age-related ailments. She died at the age of sixty-eight in Fort Worth on March 12, 1995, after suffering from the effects of a stroke two years earlier.  She was buried in Greenwood Memorial Park in Fort Worth.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram, March 13, 1995. Nancy Baker Jones and Ruth Weingarten, Capitol Women: Texas Female Legislators, 1923–1999 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2000). Legislative Reference Library of Texas: Chris Miller (https://lrl.texas.gov/legeLeaders/members/memberDisplay.cfm?memberID=676&searchparams=chamber=~city=~countyID=0~RcountyID=~district=~first=~gender=~last=miller~leaderNote=~leg=~party=~roleDesc=~Committee=), accessed September 17, 2020.

Categories:

  • Activism and Social Reform
  • Civic Leaders
  • Politics and Government
  • Civic and Community Leaders
  • Government Officials
  • House
  • State Legislators
  • Sixty-fifth Legislature (1977-1978)
  • Sixty-fourth Legislature (1975)
  • Sixty-third Legislature (1973)
  • Women

Time Periods:

  • Texas Post World War II

Places:

  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Fort Worth
  • North Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Whitney Wheeler, “Miller, Dorothy June Chrisman [Chris],” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed March 06, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/miller-dorothy-june-chrisman-chris.

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