Maya Miller was as an inspiration and mentor to an entire generation of political activists, progressive thinkers, feminists, and those interested in social justice. Her papers are a representation of her commitment to the rights and well-being of the disadvantaged and disenfranchised in her home state of Nevada and abroad. In 2014, the last of Maya Miller’s papers were donated to the University of Nevada, Reno’s Special Collections, along with a generous grant from the family’s Orchard House Foundation in order to prepare the collection for use.
The papers cover the years 1954-2003 and consist of a variety of materials including correspondence, meeting agendas, newsletters, audio/visual resources, and photographs. Of particular interest are the oral history interviews conducted by Maya’s daughter, Kit Miller between 1993 and 1994. Presented here is only a small selection of materials from her collection that have been digitized and organized by themes to reflect Maya’s life and passions.
While additional information about Maya Miller can be found in the guide to her papers, a brief biographical description of her full and interesting life is as follows: Maya was born on June 29, 1915 in Los Angeles, California. She grew up and attended elementary school in Beverly Hills and later attended high school in St. Louis, Missouri, and then college in Elsah, Illinois. She went on to earn a Master’s degree in English from Cornell and subsequently began work on her doctoral degree at Stanford. In the early 1950s, Maya and her husband, Dr. Richard Gordon Miller, chose to settle in Northern Nevada.
In 1961, Maya and Richard purchased the historic Washoe Pines Ranch in Washoe Valley, Nevada, and soon afterward founded the Foresta Institute, a non-profit center for the study of social and ecological problems. Maya was interested in environmental issues, social justice, feminism, and progressive politics. As the result of an inheritance, Maya’s financial independence allowed her to support philanthropic causes of public interest without fear of economic pressure and without owing favors.
Throughout much of the 1960s, Maya served in varying capacities with the Nevada and national branches of the League of Women Voters. Beginning in the early 1970s, Maya was also an integral part of the Nevada welfare rights movement, where she, along with her friend and colleague Ruby Duncan, lobbied on behalf of welfare mothers in the Nevada Legislature. It was during this time that she gained a reputation as a fierce and unapologetic opponent of the state’s welfare laws. From the mid-1970s to the early 1990s, Maya worked as the Chairperson on the Board of Trustees for Operation Life Community Development Corporation in Las Vegas, Nevada.
In 1974, Maya became the first woman in Nevada since Anne Martin to run for the U.S. Senate. Although she lost in the Democratic primary to then Lieutenant Governor Harry Reid, she still managed to receive 38% of the votes, and her campaign revealed that there was a strong base of women’s electoral groups willing to support a woman candidate.
Following her Senate campaign, Maya turned her attention back to lobbying efforts—this time on the national level. She became involved with the Women’s National Political Caucus, Women’s Lobby, Inc., and was selected as a delegate for the 1976 Democratic National Convention in New York City.
Maya's other notable accomplishments included helping to establish Sand Harbor State Park at Lake Tahoe in 1971, assisting with mediation between the Sandinista National Liberation Front and the Miskito Indians in Nicaragua throughout the 1980s, delivering aid to Iraq following the conclusion of the Persian Gulf War in 1991, and providing leadership and funding for numerous other initiatives and causes.
Throughout her lifetime, Maya received abundant recognition and awards for her service, including the Distinguished Nevadan citation bestowed upon her by the University of Nevada, Reno in 1981. Maya passed away at 90 years old on May 31, 2006 at her ranch in Washoe Valley. However, her legacy perseveres through her papers and the lives of the many people she aided and inspired.
Listed below are links to Maya’s papers and other additional and useful resources: