Ola Babcock Miller Building (State Library of Iowa)
The Ola Babcock Miller Building, which is home to the State Library of Iowa, was built in stages between 1899 and 1910. The west wing was the first section to be completed followed by the central and eastern sections. Des Moines architect Oliver O. Smith designed it in the Beaux Arts style and features a portico, two Ionic columns, a dome, and numerous other architectural features. The building's original purpose was to house the State Historical Department, which was founded in 1892 and for the first few years was located in the State Capitol building across the street. The department moved to finished west wing of the Ola Babcock Miller Building in 1900. The building is named after politician Ola Babcock Miller (1871-1937), who was the elected Iowa Secretary of State in 1932, the first woman in the state to serve in this role. She is best known for creating Iowa Highway Patrol, which significantly reduced accidents on highways.
Backstory and Context
Ola Babcock Miller was born on March 1, 1871 in Washington County, Iowa. She and her family moved to the city of Washington where she spent the rest of her childhood. She attended Wesleyan College and became a teacher. she married newspaper editor Alex Miller who was also active in the Democratic Party. They raised two daughters (sadly, a son died as a baby) and Ola took up painting as a hobby. She also became an active supporter of the suffrage movement (which championed women's right to vote), was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, and was active in the Democratic Party and continued to do so after Alex died in 1927.
In 1932, the Democratic Party named her as a candidate for the Iowa Secretary of State as a reward for her long-time support. Her association with Alex gave her notoriety and name recognition. She won by a slim margin, just under 3,000 votes, but was easily reelected in 1934 and 1936. The death of a good friend's son in a car accident prompted her to advocate for the establishment of a state road patrol. In 1935, the governor signed legislation that established a 50-member patrol within Iowa's motor vehicle department, which was under Miller's jurisdiction. The patrol was very successful.
Interestingly, Miller's son-in-law, George Gallup, would establish the Gallup Poll, which is one of the more famous national polls today.
Miller worked extremely hard and was constantly on the road to give lectures around the state. This took a toll on her health and she died of pneumonia on January 25, 1937. In 1975, she was one of the first women to be inducted into the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame.
In 1999, the building was renamed after her to honor her legacy and contributions to Iowa. It was renovated in 2002 and houses other state offices in addition to the State Library.
Musgrove, Jack D. "Ola Babcock Miller Building." November 14, 1978. https://npgallery.nps.gov/NRHP/GetAsset/NRHP/78001251_text.
"Ola Babcock Miller." State Library of Iowa. Accessed April 11, 2019. https://www.statelibraryofiowa.org/about/history/miller.
Photo of buidling: Wikimedia Commons