Mina Miller Edison
It has been my privilege this year to learn about the dynamic Mina Miller Edison. Especially as a role model for aspiring young women just starting a career. Currently as a college senior as well as with my position as a social media intern, studying the life of Mina Miller Edison provided a positive impression and strong impact on me.
Mina Miller Edison lived an incredibly inspiring life. She thrived in numerous aspects. Especially since she played many roles throughout her impressive lifespan. Highly educated, confident, ambitious and determined represent the characteristics that describe Mina.
She displayed a deep committed to her family. This includes being the loving wife to inventor, entrepreneur and American icon Thomas Edison. She was also a loving and dedicated mother.
In addition, Mina demonstrated a strong passion for her community with the endless organizations that she contributed a tremendous amount of time and energy.
Mina was born into an entrepreneurial family on July 6, 1865. As the Miller family continued to grow, Mina was the seventh of eleven children born to inventor Lewis Miller and Mary Alexander. Her parents had a love for education. Mina attended and graduated from Akron High School in Ohio. After high school, she went on to study at a home and day school in Boston.
Mina’s Father the Inventor and Founder
Mina Miller Edison was born into a family that was used to being in the spotlight. Lewis Miller was a successful inventor. He also became one of the founders of Chautauqua Institution. The Miller family spent summers in their home along Chautauqua Lake. Her families love for Chautauqua was passed down to Mina. Therefore, when she had a family of her own she brought them to her family home at Chautauqua Institition.
Mina’s father and husband both had a passion for inventing. However, what they chose to invent was different from one another. While Thomas concentrated on technology and electronics, Lewis focused on farm equipment. They shared the common goal of making life easier with their inventions.
Chautauqua Institution sets on the shores of beautiful Chautauqua Lake in southwestern New York State. The Institution was originally called the Chautauqua Lake Sunday School Assembly. It was founded in 1874 as an educational experiment in out-of-school, vacation learning by industrialist Lewis Miller and Methodist Bishop John Heyl Vincent. Hence, a place where spirituality meets continuing education.
“The original scheme was a Christian educational resort . . . [where] pleasure, science, and all friends of true culture should go side by side with true religion.”
We call Chautauqua County home which is also the birthplace of the National Historic Landmark, Chautauqua Institution. Chautauqua Institution is a 750-acre community on Chautauqua Lake that attracts 100,000 visitors each summer who explore spirituality, philosophy, cultural vitality and the arts.
President Theodore Roosevelt once called Chautauqua Institution: “the most American thing in America“.
The mission of Chautauqua Institution (or as locals call it, CHQ):
CHQ is dedicated to the exploration of the best in human values and the enrichment of life through a program that explores the important religious, social and political issues of our times; stimulates provocative, thoughtful involvement of individuals and families in creative response to such issues; and promotes excellence and creativity in the appreciation, performance and teaching of the arts.
Each summer season celebrates four program areas: The Arts, Religion, Education and Recreation. A summer at Chautauqua is loaded with lectures, concerts, religious services and as well as amazing displays of literary and performing arts. Chautauqua Institution attracts world-class talent that performs ballet, theater, opera, symphony and dance. Click here to check out this season’s exciting events.
The Multiple Achievements of Mina Miller
Marriage to Thomas Edison
When Mina Miller met Thomas Edison, she was promised to her gentleman suitor, George Vincent, the son of Bishop Vincent. Edison learned that Mina would be staying the summer at Chautauqua, he arranged to spend time there to win her and meet her family. Thomas Edison’s hearing was badly compromised by this time from when he was a child so he taught Mina to send and receive Morse code. That summer, he used it to ask her to marry him. He tapped “Will you Marry Me?” on Mina’s hand, and she said “Yes.”
The next step was getting permission from Mina’s Father Lewis, to which Thomas wrote this:
“I trust you will not accuse me of egotism when I say that my life and history and standing are so well known as to call for no statement concerning myself. My reputation is so far made that I recognize I must be judged by it for good or ill. I need only add in conclusion that the step I have taken in asking your daughter to entrust her happiness into my keeping has been the result of mature deliberation, and with the full appreciation of the responsibility and the duty I have undertaken to fulfill. I do not deny that your answer will seriously affect my happiness, and I trust my suit will meet with your approval.”
This letter won the approval of Mr. Miller. The date for the wedding was set for February 24, 1886, hardly more than a year after they met. She was only 20 years old. Oak Place, the Miller home in Akron, was to be the site of the wedding. Father Miller and his Mary Valinda spared no expense in seeing that the nuptials were an occasion to be remembered.
Managing a Home Full of Staff and Children
When Mina and Thomas Edison got married she was much younger then her husband. She became the stepmother to his three children. Still being young herself she was not fully ready for motherhood. However, Mina Miller Edison took charge of the household. Often times Thomas was not around due to his work. This left Mina in charge of hiring the house staff as well as raising the children. Furthermore, she gave herself the title of “home executive”. Mina also held ownership of Glenmont. The home she shared with Thomas. Owning and managing her own home was the first of many successes for Mina.
Children of Her Own
Two years after their marriage Mina and Thomas added to their family with their first child, Madeleine. This started the same pattern of children Thomas had with his first wife. Their daughter was soon followed by two sons, Charles and Theodore.
Madeleine was born on May 31st, 1888, the first child born to Mina. She was born in Glenmont, the Edison Family home in New Jersey. Madeleine married John Eyre Sloane. She married him in the Drawing Room at Glenmont on June 17, 1914. Madeleine and John had four sons, who happened to be Thomas Edison’s only grandchildren from either marriage.
Madeleine briefly ran for Congress in 1938, she sadly lost. During World War II she gave much of her time to blood drives for the New Jersey Red Cross. She also administered the Edison Birthplace in Milan, Ohio after her mother’s death. She died on February 14, 1979.
Charles Edison was born into the Edison Family at the Glenmont on August 3, 1890. He married Carolyn Hawkins, whom he had met in 1912 then married on March 27, 1918. Finally, he became president of his father’s company, Thomas A. Edison, Incorporated, in 1927. He ran the company until it was sold in 1959.
Charles is the best known because of his second career, in public service. In the mid-1930s he served in the cabinet of President Franklin Roosevelt. First as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, then as Acting Secretary. New Jersey voters elected him as their governor in 1940. He also founded a charitable foundation that now bears his name, the Charles Edison Fund. He died on July 31, 1969
Theodore Miller Edison
Theodore Miller Edison was the last to be born at Glenmont on July 10, 1898. He attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, from which he earned his physics degree in 1923. He was the only member of the Edison family to graduate from college.
Theodore did work for his father’s company after graduation. After starting as an ordinary lab assistant, he worked his way up to technical director of research and engineering for Thomas A. Edison, Inc. He eventually founded his own company, Calibron Industries, Inc. Also, he built his own smaller laboratory in West Orange. Theodore earned over 80 patents in his career. In 1925 he married Anna Maria Osterhout, a graduate of Vassar. He became an ardent environmentalist. Theodore lived in West Orange with his wife Anna until his death on November 24, 1992.
With the marriage between Thomas and Mina, she took on his three children from the first marriage. Marion, twelve years old, Thomas, Jr. ten years old, and William Leslie eight years old. She continued to struggle with her relationship with her stepdaughter. Mina’s stepchildren did not take education as seriously as she did. They believed that Edison’s fame could make their future for them. Finally, due to this belief, Mina’s stepchildren went on to live less acclaimed lives as the other Edison children.
Marion Estelle Edison
Marion was the first born of Thomas Edison’s children. She was born on February 18, 1873, and gained the nickname “Dot” as a child after Morse Code. In 1895 she married Karl Oscar Oeser, a German army lieutenant. They lived in Germany through the First World War. Unfortunately, her marriage ended in divorce in 1921. Finally, she then returned to the United States, where she died on April 16, 1965.
Thomas Alva Edison Jr
Thomas Alva, Junior, was born on January 10, 1876. He had the nickname “Dash” after Morse Code like his sister. He went on to marry stage actress Marie Louise Toohey in 1899. However, the marriage ended within a year. He next married Beatrice Heyzer. Thomas Jr sold the use of his name to advertise “quack” medicines and dubious inventions. His father disapproved of this and eventually asked him to change his name. Thomas Jr. briefly went by the name of Thomas Willard. His efforts at inventing and starting a mushroom farm failed. Finally, he died on August 25, 1935.
William Leslie Edison
William Leslie was born on October 26, 1878. He went to school at St. Paul’s School, Concord, New Hampshire. Then also attended J.M.Hawkins School on Staten Island. He later studied at the Sheffield scientific school at Yale. William soon married Blanche Travers. William Edison served in the military during the Spanish-American War in 1898. He also served again in the First World War. Like his brother he turned to farm life, breeding chickens. Finally, he died on August 10, 1937.
Chautauqua Institute and Mina’s Influence
Mina’s father’s love for Chautauqua was passed down to his daughter. Mina dedicated herself to many organizations locally. She supported many land and wildlife conservation. Often times Mina would donate her own funds to projects for Chautauqua. Mina became a trustee of the institute. Others involved in Chautauqua held Mina in high regards. Also much like her father, Mina continued her involvement with her beloved Institute until her passing in 1947.
Mina was active in many different organizations and clubs including:
- The American Red Cross
- The Chautauqua Association
- West Orange Community League (President From 1912-1919)
- National Audubon Society
- Chautauqua Bird and Tree Club
- The John Burroughs Association
- The Daughters of the American Revolution
- The School Garden Association of America
The Thomas Alva Edison Foundation
After Thomas Edison passed away, Mina started The Thomas Alva Edison Foundation in his memory. The foundation combined both Thomas’s and Mina’s passions. Mina’s love for education and Thomas’s love for science. However, later on, the nature of the foundation changed. It was no longer dedicated to advancements in science and education. Finally, it became a foundation aimed at preserving Thomas Edison’s name and accomplishments
Professor Thomas Jeffery from Rutgers University graciously allowed us to interview him. We spoke with him about both Mina and Thomas Edison. This video includes our full interview:
We also interviewed Ted Arnn, the great-nephew of Thomas Edison and Mina Miller Edison. His mother was Mina’s sister. As a result of our interview with Ted, we learned a completely different side of Mina!
Finally, below includes our interview with Mr. Arnn:
Wrapping It Up
Lastly, Thank you for taking the time to read this post.
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