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Alice Duer Miller (July 28, 1874 – August 22, 1942) was a writer from the U.S. whose poetry actively influenced political opinion. Her feminist verses made an impact on the suffrage issue, and her verse novel The White Cliffs encouraged U.S. entry into World War II. She also wrote novels and screenplays. She was a member of the Heterodoxy Club and of the Algonquin Hotel’s Round Table.
Alice Duer was born in New York City on July 28, 1874, into a wealthy family. She was the daughter of James Gore King Duer and Elizabeth Wilson Meads, the daughter of Orlando Meads of Albany, New York. Her great-grandfather was William Alexander Duer, President of Columbia College. Her great-great-grandfather was William Duer, an American lawyer, developer, and speculator from New York City. He had served in the Continental Congress and the convention that framed the New York Constitution. In 1778, he signed the United States Articles of Confederation. Her great-great-great-grandfather was William Alexander, who claimed the disputed title of Earl of Stirling and was an American Major-General during the American Revolutionary War. She was also a descendant of Senator Rufus King, who was an American lawyer, politician, and diplomat. He was a delegate for Massachusetts to the Continental Congress. He also attended the Constitutional Convention and was one of the signers of the United States Constitution on September 17, 1787. By the time of her entrance into society, her family had lost most of its fortune. She entered Barnard College in 1895, studying Mathematics and Astronomy. She helped to pay for her studies by selling novels and short essays. She and her sister Caroline jointly published a book of poems.
On October 5, 1899, she married Henry Wise Miller at Grace Church Chapel in New York City. He was born in 1877, the son of Lt. Commander Jacob Miller in Nice, France, where his father had been serving with the U.S. Navy. They moved to Costa Rica, where he attempted to develop rubber cultivation, which eventually failed. In 1903, she, Miller and their young son returned to New York. Her marriage lasted to the end of her life, but it was not tranquil.
She became known as a campaigner for women's suffrage and published a brilliant series of satirical poems in the New York Tribune. These were published subsequently as Are Women People?. These words became a catchphrase of the suffrage movement. It reads: "FATHER, what is a Legislature?/ A representative body elected by the people of the state./ Are women people?/ No, my son, criminals, lunatics and women are not people./ Do legislators legislate for nothing?/ Oh, no; they are paid a salary./ By whom?/ By the people./ Are women people?/ Of course, my son, just as much as men are."  She followed this collection with Women Are People! (1917). As a novelist, she scored her first success with Come Out of the Kitchen in 1916. The story was made into a play and later the 1948 film Spring in Park Lane. She followed it with a series of other short novels, many of which were staged and (increasingly) made into films.  Her novel in verse Forsaking All Others (1933) about a tragic love affair, and many consider her greatest work. In the 1920s and 1930s, many of her stories were used for motion pictures, such as Are Parents People? (1925), Roberta (1935), and Irene (1940), taking her to Hollywood. She also became involved in a number of motion picture screenplays, including Wife vs. Secretary (1936). Her name appears in the very first issue of The New Yorker as an advisory editor.
In 1940, she wrote the verse novel The White Cliffs, about an American girl who coming to London as a tourist, meets and marries a young upper-class Englishman in the period just before World War I. The war begins and he goes to the front. He is killed just before the end of the War, leaving her with a young son. Her son is the heir to the family estate. Despite the pull of her own country and the impoverished condition of the estate, she decides to stay and live the traditional life of a member of the English upper class. The story concludes as World War II commences, and she worries that her son, like his father, will be killed fighting for the country he loves. The poem ends with the lines: ...I am American bred I have seen much to hate here – much to forgive, But in a world in which England is finished and dead, I do not wish to live. The poem was spectacularly successful on both sides of the Atlantic, selling nearly one million copies – an unheard of number for a book of verse. It was broadcast and recorded by British-American actress Lynn Fontanne (with a symphonic accompaniment), and the story was made into the 1944 film The White Cliffs of Dover.
Alice Duer Miller died in 1942 and was interred at Evergreen Cemetery in Morristown, New Jersey.
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