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Washington Society Chronicler Hope Ridings Miller Dies at 99

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By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 5, 2005

Hope Ridings Miller, who observed life in the capital for more than 70 years as society editor of The Washington Post and as a magazine editor and author, died April 29 of congestive heart failure at the Washington Home. Her age, long a well-guarded secret, was 99.

Mrs. Miller epitomized the genteel, white-glove style of society reporting that once prevailed at America's newspapers, in which reporters were observers of the social scene as well as participants. Mrs. Miller, a friend of Eleanor Roosevelt, hostess Perle Mesta and longtime Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn, had connections at Washington's highest levels. Yet during her years as society editor of The Post from 1937 to 1944, she transformed the way the paper reported on the people, politics and parties of the capital.

Stung by criticism from throughout the country about the constant round of parties in Washington during the early months of World War II, Mrs. Miller startled her readers July 19, 1942, by rejecting the standard formulas of society coverage in a column headlined "Farewell to Society":

"Perhaps far too many paragraphs have been written about who was there (generally the same persons, time after time); what they wore; and the paper-thin sandwiches and cocktails they consumed.

"We propose to reverse the treatment -- to play up people rather than parties. . . . In other words . . . we are finished with society-as-such. . . . Therefore, for the present we are forgetting that there has ever been such a word as 'society.' "

For the duration of the war, she refocused the paper's society coverage more toward volunteers, military life and behind-the-scenes efforts. In his book "Washington Goes to War," David Brinkley titled a chapter "Parties for a Purpose," a phrase Mrs. Miller first used in The Post.

At The Post and as editor of the glossy magazine Diplomat from 1954 to 1966, Mrs. Miller was credited with furthering the careers of other women in journalism.

In later years, she looked behind the doors of Washington's corridors of power in three books, "Embassy Row: The Life and Times of Diplomatic Washington" (1969), "Great Houses of Washington, D.C." (1969) and "Scandals in the Highest Office: Facts and Fictions in the Private Lives of Our Presidents" (1973).

When her book on presidential scandals was published, Mrs. Miller -- always discreet in her own disclosures -- said she was surprised by the number of women who claimed to have had liaisons with John F. Kennedy.

"If all the women who told me they had had affairs with John Kennedy were in this room," she told The Post, "they would stretch from one end to the other."

Hope Deupree Ridings was born in Bonham, Tex., and grew up in the small Texas city of Sherman. Her father, a boyhood friend of Rayburn's, was a physician who, in 1918, delivered William Jefferson Blythe III, the father of former president Bill Clinton.

Mrs. Miller graduated from high school at 15 and hoped for a life on the stage, but her parents insisted she attend college. After two years at Austin College in Sherman, she attended the University of Texas, graduating at 19 with a major in English. She received a master's degree in English from Columbia University in New York.

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