Hunter Hall of Famer and longtime History Department chair Naomi Churgin Miller, died Nov. 27 at her home in New York City. She was 97.
An authority on the Anglo-American political tradition who earned her doctorate at Columbia University, she joined the History Department in 1963 and headed it from 1975 to 1992.
She served as acting dean of the Division of Social Sciences from 1989–90 and was honored with the Presidential Award for Service to the college in 1990. She was a consistent donor to the Annual Fund who helped raise other scholarship money for Hunter students.
“The Hunter community mourns the passing of our dear friend and colleague Naomi C. Miller, who epitomized Hunter’s motto, “the care of the future is mine,” Hunter College President Jennifer J. Raab said. “She fostered decades of young scholars and set a high tone for the research at the department.”
At Miller's funeral, her former colleague Robert Seltzer eulogized her as “a remarkable presence in the educating of students and furthering the careers of colleagues — an inspiring presence, so highly respected, indeed, beloved.” Seltzer said that Miller, who was known for her devotion to Jewish tradition and the Jewish community as well as to teaching, had made the Hunter History Department “a model of respect for scholarly learning and Jewish values in the college and the New York community. It was an honor to have known her. We miss her profoundly.”
Miller came from and perpetuated an august academic lineage. She was a daughter of a famous Judaics professor who became the first president of Bar-Ilan University in Israel, Rabbi Pinkhos Churgin, and sister of Bathia Churgin, herself a Hunter graduate who founded the Music Department at Bar-Ilan. Miller’s son, Peter N. Miller, is a historian and dean at Bard College.
Professor Jonathan Sarna of Brandeis University, widely known as the “dean” of American Jewish historians, said that Miller “persevered” during a time when few doors were open for women in the history field and fewer still for American Jewish women.
“Hunter provided her with the opportunity to do what she loved to do, and what so many members of the Churgin family did in America: educate others,” he said.
He said that Miller is particularly remembered for a now-obscure historical controversy. She proved, in the prestigious periodical The Historical Journal of London, “that, contrary to what everyone (including she) had previously written, the British reformist John Cartwright was actually not a founder of the radical Hampden Clubs, and in fact opposed their creation. Only later did he join and come to dominate the Hampden Clubs movement that promoted social and political reforms in the wake of the Napoleonic wars.”
Miller was the loving wife for 33 years of the late Samuel R. Miller, grandmother of Livia Krohn Miller and Samuel Miller, and step-grandmother of Petra Capelli.