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Sara Miller Papers

Identifier: MSS-529-BC

Scope and Content

The Sara Miller collection consists of four boxes, each housing one series. Series I consists of fifteen folders of Sara's personal papers from 1957 to 1989. Personal correspondence, creative writings, religious notes, teaching material, as well as Sara's medical and financial records make up the bulk of Series I. Thirty-two diaries and notebooks recording Sara's daily thoughts and experiences make up Series II, dating from 1959 to 1988.

Series III and IV both contain material on the mining town of Dawson, New Mexico. Specifically, Series III consists of the 1947, 1948, 1949, and 1950 editions of the Dawson High School yearbook, The Miner's Lamp. Also in Series III, is one folder of Dawson High School memorabilia dated 1933 to 1948. Three folders containing original photographs and layout material for the 1947 and 1948 editions of the Miner's Lamp also make up part of Series III. Two more folders of photographs of Dawson High School students and activities from the 1920's to the 1940's are included in Series III. These last two folders of photographs are located in the CSWR Pictorial Collections.

Series IV consists of five scrapbooks dating from 1938 to 1944 and three bound copies of The Dawson News from 1923 to 1929. The scrapbooks are filled with newspaper clippings, photographs and memorabilia; all concerned with Dawson High School activities and students. The Dawson News volumes cover both national and local events.


  • 1923-1989

Language of Materials


Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research.

Copy Restrictions

Limited duplication of CSWR material is allowed for research purposes. User is responsible for compliance with all copyright, privacy, and libel laws. Permission is required for publication or distribution.

Biographical Information

Sara Miller was born in Findlay, Ohio, on March 31, 1910. When Sara was eight years old her mother died of tuberculosis leaving Mr. Miller with two small daughters to raise. Sara was the older of the two girls. A year after his wife's death, Mr. Miller married a cleaning women named Rose. Years later Sara wrote of her fathers remarriage, "the real hell of our childhood began that night." Rose brought her two children to the marriage, who she favored at the expense of Sara and Margaret.

Other hardships marred Sara's childhood. At about the age of 14, she was diagnosed with a spinal condition which her doctor attributed to tuberculosis. Sara's treatment consisted of a series of body casts. At age 78, Sara wrote, " If I had a surgical spinal fusion, had spent time on a Bradford frame the result would have been a straight back." Instead, the body casts permanently left Sara with curvature of the spine.

In 1929, Sara graduated from high school in Canton, Ohio. Unfortunately, illness also plagued Sara's early adult years. At age 20, Sara was diagnosed with having a kidney ravaged by tuberculosis. Once the kidney was removed, she recovered fully. In March of 1940, while attending Wheaton College in Illinois, Sara suffered a serious bout of meningitis. Her sister Margaret, who had moved to New Mexico in 1938 and was a nurse, flew to Illinois and took Sara back to Raton, New Mexico. With medical attention and Margaret's care Sara regained her health.

Throughout her teaching career Sara taught high school in the small New Mexico towns of Belen, Des Moines, Dawson, and Raton as well as Gurnsey, Wyoming. At Dawson High School, she taught English, dramatics, sponsored the yearbook and worked as a school librarian from 1947 to 1950. In 1958, she landed a teaching job at Rio Grande High School in Albuquerque. During her last several years at Rio Grande High Sara was the head of the English Department. With a busy career, Sara never married or had children. In 1974, she retired from teaching. As an active member of the Albuquerque Retired Teachers Association, she remained intellectually active until her death in the fall of 1989.

A History of Dawson, New Mexico:

In the early twentieth century, the Phelps Dodge Corporation purchased the land holdings of the deceased J.C. Dawson in northern New Mexico. The company bought the 50,000 acres because the land contained the necessary elements for making coke. At the time the company needed a large supply of coke to operate its copper smelters in Arizona.

Just before World War I, the small town of Dawson was founded about a mile from the mines. From its beginnings, Dawson was not a stereotypical mining camp. Modern residences were built shortly after the town was established. Most of these homes had electricity as well as running water. Sidewalks and shade trees also lined the town's streets. Every aspect of the town was controlled by the corporation.

Dawson was a fairly cosmopolitan community. People from all over the country and the world came to Dawson to work in its mines. These peoples brought with them their diverse religions and traditions. Dawson's cosmopolitanism was further enhanced when a large mercantile department store was built by Phelps Dodge in 1914. Modern for the time, the store was fully equipped with a bakery and an ice plant. Ready made clothing, shoes, and groceries could be purchased at the store. With a total of three branches by 1919, the store employed more than sixty women and men.

The Dawson schools were founded between 1910 and 1925. During the town's most prosperous period, the schools employed more than forty teachers. Sara Miller taught at Dawson High School between 1947 - 1950. The school's athletic and music departments were outstanding. Dawsonites especially loved their high school's football and basketball teams.

Along with its public schools, Dawson maintained a modern hospital with a staff of five doctors and a dozen nurses, offering twenty-four hour a day service. There was also a dispensary which housed two dental offices. Every employee of Phelps Dodge paid a small fee to the company for medical coverage.

Even though Dawson did not fit the stereotype of the wild west mining camp, it did have its share of tragedies. October 22, 1913, an explosion in one mine shaft killed 263 miners and two rescuers. Ten years later in 1923, 125 miners were killed in an underground explosion. These were among the worst mining disasters ever recorded in U.S. history.

By the late 1940s the coal industry in the United States had begun to suffer serious financial losses. Unable to compete with other forms of fuel, Phelps Dodge announced it would be closing its Dawson mines. For Dawsonites the end of mining operations signaled the demise of the town. The corporation announced that on April 28, 1950 the town would be completely shut down. At the time Dawson had 1,250 residents and virtually all of these people were in some way directly dependent on the company for their livelihood. By the mid 1950s, few people remained in Dawson.

Dawson, in short, shared the same fate of many mining towns in the West. That is, the town sprang up quickly, experienced sustained economic boom, then declined and disappeared. Many former Dawsonites hold annual reunions, commemorating the town. Sara Miller regularly attended these gatherings in Dawson.


3 boxes (3 cu. ft.)

Separated Material

Photographs have been transferred to Sara Miller Photograph Collection

Relevant Secondary Sources

  • Anne Rehovic-Newman, a tentative biography of Sara Miller.
  • The Dawson, New Mexico Story, F. Stanley, Pantex, Texas, 1961.
  • The Dawson Tragedies, F. Stanley, Pep, Texas, 1964.

Processing Information

In March 2018, boxes 1 and 3 were combined into box 1; box 4 became box 3.
Finding Aid of the Sara Miller Papers, 1923-1989
Processed by CSWR Staff
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid is in English

Revision Statements

  • June 28, 2004: PUBLIC "-//University of New Mexico::Center for Southwest Research//TEXT (US::NmU::MSS 529 BC::Sara Miller Papers)//EN" "nmu1mss529bc.sgml" converted from EAD 1.0 to 2002 by v1to02.xsl (sy2003-10-15).
  • Monday, 20210524: Attribute normal is missing or blank.

Repository Details

Part of the UNM Center for Southwest Research & Special Collections Repository

University of New Mexico Center for Southwest Research & Special Collections
University Libraries, MSC05 3020
1 University of New Mexico
Albuquerque NM 87131