By 1892, Emilie Miller Treat was named the first female court stenographer for the 10th Judicial District of Missouri.
A review of Emilie Miller’s formative years suggests that this daughter of Jacksonville, Ill., was destined for a role of prominence. Born in the free state of Illinois during the Civil War, she grew up under the influence of her grandfather, Ebenezer T. Miller, who was one of the original trustees of the Presbyterian Female Academy in Jacksonville. Her father, Cicero Davis Miller, was educated in the early schools of Jacksonville, and then entered the preparatory department of Illinois College in 1848, and the college itself in 1849. His career emphasis was on banking, business and bookkeeping.
Emilie Miller followed in her father’s business vocation, garnering respect for her learned skills in shorthand and typewriting. She attained a respected job: teaching shorthand at the Brown Business College in Jacksonville.
At the age of 21, in the year 1884, she married George B. Treat of Hannibal, whose father, Cornelius A. Treat, operated a foundry at 1300 Collier. Early on in their marriage, George worked as a machinist for his father’s foundry, and the young couple made their home at 104 Grace Street.
Childless eight years after their marriage, both George and Emilie had dedicated themselves to their professions. By 1892, George had been named superintendent of the C.A. Treat Manufacturing Company. And that same year, Emilie Miller Treat was named the first female court stenographer for the 10th Judicial District of Missouri.
The concept of a woman using shorthand to record court proceedings was so novel in the day, that her mere presence in the courtroom generated prominent mention in the news venues of the day. In addition, her success opened doors for others of her gender. By 1908, there were 10 female court reporters working in Missouri.
A newspaper article titled “The Lady Reporters,” published in the July 25, 1908 edition of the Macon Republican (newspapers.com) carried the following dialogue:
“A woman court reporter!” gasped a genteel circuit judge of the old school when a young applicant in sailor-hat went after him.
“Sure! What one woman has done another can do,” she observed.
“But child, don’t you see, you’d have to be among big rough men, who smoke pipes and chew tobacco. It would be awful!”
“My father smokes and chews.”
The judge let her go on the job and she still holds it down.
Humor in the court
In December 1909, the St. Louis Post Dispatch published an in-depth story on Treat, during which time she elaborated on some of the ghastly — and amusing — incidents she had witnessed in her role of court reporter.
One case that she worked was the July 1900 a murder trial in which Alexander J. Jester was accused of killing Gilbert Gates nearly three decades prior. The three-week trial took place in New London.
Treat told the Post Dispatch reporter:
“I expect the Jester case contained more of what you call human interest than any other case I ever reported, but looking back over that exciting trial — it occurred in 1900 — I remember most the humorous things — not the ghastly.
“I guess you’ll smile at what I remember of the case, but this is what it was: That the little courtroom was full of women, who had babies that did more or less squalling, to the great discomfort of a very dignified attorney for the prosecution from Chicago. He seemed to think it a personal affront for those women to have babies that cried, and he spoke to our good-natured Judge (D.H.) Eby about it. The Judge just smiled and said:
“’We’ll try to make the witnesses talk louder than the babies.”
Another case of note that she worked involved depositions taken at Hannibal in the Dr. Joseph C. Hearn libel case against a San Francisco newspaper. The proceeding led to the arrest of Dr. Hearn for the murder of Amos Stillwell at Hannibal. Dr. Hearn was later acquitted.
As court reporter, it was Treat’s role to accurately record the words spoken in the courtroom, regardless of the circumstances. She told the Post Dispatch in 1909:
“It’s easier to report a case before an impressive United States court than before a justice of the peace. A reporter never gets scared where there’s plenty of dignity. Dignity means deliberation, precision in speed and conduct. You can hear well and write accurately. In a justice’s court there are times when the squire, both lawyers and litigants are talking at the same time, with the witness trying to mix in the melee.”
The largest case she had reported as of her 1909 interview was that of the Benezette Williams & Co., a Chicago engineering and contracting firm, against the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway.
“It was for $200,000, amount claimed to be due on final estimates for building a portion of the road through Missouri. The main issue was whether Northern Missouri soil was hard-pan or not. We were six weeks on the case and the transcript made about 10,000 pages. My fees in this case were a little over $2,000, but I had some assistance. It took a dray to haul the records.”
For her work as a court reporter, Treat was well compensated.
“Mrs. Treat began her career as official court reporter at Hannibal in 1892, since which time she has not had an idle day,” the Post Dispatch reported in 1909. “She has worked in nearly all the larger towns of the State in Federal, State and chancery courts. Previous to 1892 Mrs. Treat taught shorthand in a business college at Jacksonville, Ill. But since the courts commandeered her she has had no time to teach, as her annual income had nearly equaled that of a member of Congress.”
Treat was proud of her role as the leader of opportunity for women court reporters.
“I believe the courts will, in the days to come, offer a good field for women. It is a work to which they take naturally, and they seem to succeed very well. I know women who absolutely love the business. They are winning their way by sheer force of merit,” she told the Post Dispatch.
She died March 28, 1924, at the age of 60, at Levering Hospital. She is buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Hannibal.
Mary Lou Montgomery is a writer, speaker and researcher with a specialty in history. She is the former editor of the Hannibal Courier-Post.