Betty Millard papers
Scope and Contents
- Millard, Betty (Person)
Language of Materials
Conditions Governing Access
This collection is open for use without restriction beyond the standard terms and conditions of Smith College Special Collections.
Conditions Governing Access
Conditions Governing Use
Elizabeth (Betty) Boynton Millard was born on October 12, 1911. She was born to a wealthy, conservative family in Highland Park, Illinois and lived there until she attended college. Her mother, Elizabeth (Bessie) Bell Boynton (1882-1980) was a Smith College student from 1900-1902 and studied painting, sculpture, and music. She became an artist. Her father, Everett Lee Millard (1877-1933) was an attorney. Betty was the second of four children; younger to Everett Lee (Chevy) Millard, Jr. (1909-2000); older to Malcolm (Mac) S. Millard (1914-1999), and Graham Millard (1921-1921). Malcolm’s first wife, Margaret Wentworth Owings, whose work focused on endangered species conservation, was a life-long friend to Betty Millard. Betty Millard remained close to her brother Malcolm throughout her life, despite their significant political and lifestyle differences. Her closest familial relationship for the latter half of her life was with her niece Olivia Millard, with whom she shared a love of nature, travel and conservation.
Millard first attended the University of Chicago from 1930-1932, but transferred to Barnard College in 1932. She briefly studied at the University of London and in Vienna during her college years. Her interest in political activism and social justice flourished during this time period and directed her professional interests for the continuation of her life. Millard was drawn to the on-campus activism at Barnard College, and marched against the U.S. government's support of Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War. She graduated from Barnard College in 1934 and enrolled at Columbia Law School, but left after one year in order to pursue her activism. In exploring her preferred ideals of equality and fairness, Betty joined the Young Communist League in 1936 and the Communist party in 1940. In 1935, she moved to Greenwich Village, where she was based for the rest of her life.
From 1943-1947, Betty Millard worked as an editor and writer at The New Masses, a publication focused on American Marxism. In 1947, during her time at The New Masses, Betty wrote the widely acclaimed, key feminist seminal, Woman Against Myth. It was published as a 24-page pamphlet in 1948 distributed with the magazine and was released by International later that year.Woman Against Myth examined the history of the women’s movement in the United States, in the socialist movement, and in the USSR.
From 1949-1951, Betty Millard worked in Paris, France and Berlin, Germany as the American Secretary in the directorate of the Women’s International Democratic Federation (WIDF). The WIDF was a post-war, radical feminist organization that aligned with the global Communist movement. Millard was also active in the Congress of American Women (CAW), an affiliate of WIDF. Her work for both organizations took her to France, Italy, the Soviet Union, Poland, Hungary, China, Finland, Denmark, Switzerland, and Germany. When she returned to the United States in 1951, her passport was lifted due to suspected Communist affiliation.
From 1951-1956, Betty Millard worked as an editor and writer at the magazine Latin America Today, reporting on the political and social developments south of the United States border. In April 1959, Millard was subpoenaed to testify as a hostile witness before the House of Un-American Activities Committee during the McCarthy trials. The House was investigating the Congress of American Women, Millard’s work for them, as well as her personal political views. Millard left the Communist Party in the late 1950’s – possibly as a result of the Khrushchev revelations, or possibly out of dissatisfaction with the Party’s hostile viewpoints on feminism, women’s rights and gay rights.
In 1960, Millard developed a passion for photography and installed a darkroom on the top floor of her Greenwich Village brownstone. Millard studied photography with Paul Caponigro, Lisa Modell, and Ansel Adams. She was interested in photography of nature, political struggles, and portraiture. Millard created “picture stories” while travelling including on trips up the Essequibo and Pomeroon Rivers in then-British Guiana; visiting the artist, David Alfaro Siqueiros, at work in his studio; and to Chile in 1970 to photograph Chilean mural art.
Betty Millard spent the remainder of her life travelling to various parts of the world, often in service of advocacy. Betty Millard supported many activist organizations, especially in Latin America. She worked on campaigns such as organizing a committee to free the Mexican muralist, David Siqueiros, from prison, movements that were against the Vietnam War, environmentalism, and later in her life, she joined the fight for lesbian and gay rights. Millard was also a philanthropist and supported various activist groups, including the North Star Fund, which worked to create a more equitable and democratic city for all New Yorkers. She attended the March on Washington in 1963.
Millard met, interviewed, and befriended a variety of political figures throughout her life including artists David Siqueiros and Diego Rivera, W. E. B. Du Bois, Ho Chi Minh, Zhou Enlai, Fidel Castro, Marie-Claude Vaillant-Couturier, Cheddi and Janet Jagan, Paul and Eslanda Robeson, Elizabeth Moos, and Bella Abzug. Millard and Janet Jagan met while they both attended the University of Chicago. Millard would continue to be close friends with the Jagans for the remainder of their lives.
Millard traveled through British Guiana with politician Cheddi Jagan as he campaigned for Chief Minister, and later, Premier. She spoke alongside Jagan at an event in New York City shortly after he was elected President of independent Guyana on December 5, 1992. In this, her last public speaking appearance, she eloquently compared Jagan’s early campaign-trail appeal to that of the recently-elected U.S. President, Bill Clinton.
Despite privately writing about her struggles with her sexual orientation in journals, Millard did not come out as gay until her late 80s except to close family and friends. Millard often referenced her crushes on schoolmates in her journals and described her younger self as bisexual. Due to the social implications of being gay and the explicit homophobia of the Communist Party, Millard took measures to reject this part of her life by seeking conversion therapy from 1942-1948; she was hospitalized in 1956 for a breakdown related to her struggles with her sexuality. Despite this, Millard had several important long-term relationships with women prior to, and after, coming out.
Millard enjoyed writing short stories and poetry, most of which were autobiographical. Some of Millard’s writing was anthologized, and others can be found in The Guardian. In 1960, Millard purchased a small farm in Dutchess County, upstate New York and regularly spent time there.
Millard passed away on March 6, 2010 at her home in New York City, New York.
35.542 linear feet (69 boxes)
Betty Millard was a writer, political and labor activist, and photographer. She was involved in Communism and Marxism and was interested in global social justice. Millard was the author of Woman Against Myth, a key feminist seminal that examined the history of the women’s movement in the United States, in the socialist movement, and in the USSR. The papers document Millard's personal and professional life. It includes writings and photos by, about, and collected by Millard, paper records of Millard's travels, and personal journals from the entirety of her life, some which document her personal exploration of, and struggle with, her sexuality.
Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements
Immediate Source of Acquisition
The papers were re-examined by Isabel Montesanto and Sky Karp (under the direction of Madison White) in 2019. Portions of the collection were reboxed to eliminate excess space, and the materials in the "Collected by" subseries in series IV, which had simply been alphabetized, were grouped by topic. Series V was re-examined and renamed, given a more detailed scope and contents note and folders were labeled by roll number and subject matter to increase accessibility for the researcher. The new arrangement of series IV and information about and organization of series V was added to the finding aid.
- Castro, Fidel, 1926-2016
- Congress of American Women
- Du Bois, W. E. B. (William Edward Burghardt), 1868-1963
- Jagan, Cheddi
- Jagan, Janet
- Latin America--Description and travel
- Lesbian activists
- Levit, Herschel
- Millard, Betty
- Siqueiros, David Alfaro
- Vaillant-Courturier, Marie-Claude
- Women and peace
- Women communists
- Women journalists--United States--Biography
- Women's International Democratic Federation
- Finding aid for the Betty Millard papers
- Legacy Finding Aid (Updated)
- Kate Sumner, Amanda Ferrara, Madison White, Isabel Montesanto, and Sky Karp
- Description rules
- Language of description
- 2017-07-26T17:48:24-04:00: This record was migrated from InMagic DB Textworks to ArchivesSpace.
- 2018-03-30: This record was edited by Amanda Ferrara.
- 2019-04-22: Updated to include processed series
Part of the Sophia Smith Collection of Women's History Repository
4 Tyler Drive
Northampton MA 01063