San Francisco County
HERSCHEL B. M. MILLER
Among the attorneys who are practicing with notable success in the city of San Francisco is Herschel B. M. Miller, whose offices are located in suite 2812 of the Russ building. He was born in London, in the province of Ontario, Canada, January 31, 1860, a son of the late Rev. Joseph A. and Eliza Jane (McClellan) Miller. Members of this branch of the Miller family left their native Germany for Canada in a very early day. Rev. Joseph A. Miller, a native of Toronto, migrated with his family to the frontier settlement of Sedalia, Missouri, in 1866 but about a year later made his way to Oswego, Kansas, whence he removed to Denver, Colorado, in 1870. Three years thereafter, in 1873, he came to California and in this state spent the remainder of his life, passing away at Brawley in 1920, when he had attained the advanced age of ninety-one. His wife, Eliza Jane (McClellan) Miller, was of Scotch descent and was born in Norwichville, Canada. Her father was a cousin of General George B. McClellan, leader of the Army of the Potomac during the first year of the Civil war. Mrs. Miller died in Los Angeles in 1917, at the age of seventy-eight.
On arriving in California in 1873 with his father, Mr. Miller attended the grammar school at San Leandro for about one year, when at the age of fourteen he went to San Francisco and obtained a position as a messenger boy in the American District Telegraph Company’s office. He remained there but a short time, when for the purpose of making more money he went to work in a box factory and remained in this latter position until he was fifteen years of age. Being of a studious trend of mind and being extremely desirous of obtaining an education, he then obtained a position in Oakland, where he took care of the horses of his employer and attended to his garden and went to the Oakland high school. At that school he remained for about two years preparing himself to take the examination which would permit him to teach school. When he was eighteen years of age he passed the teachers’ examination and obtained a first grade state’s certificate entitling him to teach in any of the grammar schools of the state, and shortly thereafter secured a position in the Temescal school (Temescal is now a part of the city of Oakland), where he taught for about two years—in the meantime preparing himself for entrance in the California State University, and upon being successful in the examination therefor, entered the class of 1884, where he remained for about one year, when his money gave out and he was compelled to seek employment.
While in the University he studied shorthand, and on leaving there obtained a position as a stenographer in a law office in the city of Stockton. After working there for about one year he obtained a position in San Francisco as private secretary to the superintendent of Railway Mail Service, where he remained until the death of his employer about one year later. The next position he took was that of a stenographer in the office of the Southern Pacific Railway Company in San Francisco. There he made arrangements with his new employer to work an hour later in the afternoons and to go to work an hour later in the mornings, which enabled him to attend the lectures in the Hastings Law College in San Francisco. This continued for about two years, when his work in his position in the railway company increased to such an extent that he was unable to complete his course in the law college. He still kept on with his studies, however, and on the 2d of May, 1887, was admitted to practice law by the supreme court of the state of California.
While working in the law office and on the 20th of October, 1886, Mr. Miller married Miss Agness Hume Martin, who was born in Milton, Canada, a descendant of an old Canadian family. Through this marriage there was born in Oakland in 1892 a son, Roswell Miller, who also studied law and was admitted to practice law by the supreme court of the state of California in 1915.
In 1893 Mr. Miller was elected a member of the legislature of the state of California from the city of Oakland, and at that session introduced the first woman suffrage bill that had ever been presented to that body, but it suffered defeat, however, as similar bills did in other states during the first years of the movement.
In 1897 came the discovery of gold in the Klondike country and the great rush to Dawson as the result thereof. Mr. Miller got the fever of adventure, as many others did in these exciting times, and left San Francisco for Dawson on the 4th of August, 1897, arriving there on the first day of November of that year—the last day that the Yukon river was opened for navigation. On this trip, while he started out well equipped, by reason of his being wrecked on the way down the Yukon river, he arrived in Dawson without money, or food, (with only the clothes on his back) and at a time when a famine was on to such an extent that while he could get all the work he wanted for thirty dollars a day he could not get anyone to give him his board for his work.
Shortly after Mr. Miller’s arrival at Dawson he came in contact with the manager of the Alaska Commercial Company, of that place, the largest business institution in the country, and succeeded in obtaining from him a position as cashier for said company. He had not been long in that position when his services as a lawyer became much more valuable to said manager than his services as cashier and the result was that it was not long before he became attorney for the Alaska Commercial Company. His association soon resulted in bringing him a large clientele and an exceedingly remunerative business, and by the time he left Dawson in the latter part of the summer in 1900 he was generally recognized as one of the leading lawyers of the place. He became dissatisfied in Dawson, however, because of the restrictions under which he, as an American lawyer, was permitted to practice law, Dawson being a Canadian country, and in the summer of 1900 left for Nome, Alaska, and was also admitted to practice law in the territory of Alaska. For about one year he remained there, when the longing for home became so strong that in the latter part of the summer in 1901 he left for San Francisco, where he has been engaged in the practice of law ever since.
After the great conflagration in San Francisco in April, 1906, Mr. Miller was employed by T. C. Van Ness, the leading insurance lawyer at that time, to represent him as attorney for many insurance companies in the trying of insurance cases arising out of that fire. For about seven years Mr. Miller’s entire time was given to these trials and ever since those trials were completed he has been, and now is, making a specialty of insurance law. He represents many insurance companies operating in San Francisco and is generally looked on by insurance people and by the legal profession as one of the leading lawyers on the Pacific coast in that line of the business.
Mr. Miller’s wife died in the city of Oakland on the 28th of August, 1918; and on the 14th of June, 1925, he married his present wife, formerly Mrs. Adelaide S. Thurman.
While Mr. Miller has always taken an active interest in politics, not only state and city, but also national, he has never sought or held any political position other than as a member of the legislature of the state of California in 1893.
Transcribed by: Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.
Source: Byington, Lewis Francis, “History of San Francisco 3 Vols”, S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., Chicago, 1931. Vol. 2 Pages 314-317.
© 2007 Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.