MC 412; T-194; T-245

Murray, Pauli, 1910-1985. Papers of Pauli Murray, 1827-1985: A Finding Aid

Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University


Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University

© President and Fellows of Harvard College

The collection was processed with funds provided by the Ford Foundation. The Esther Margaret Ridder Preservation Fund provided funding for preservation work on some of the audiotapes.

Descriptive Summary

Call No.: MC 412; T-194; T-245
Repository: Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University
Title: Papers of Pauli Murray, 1827-1985
Date(s): 1827-1985
Quantity: 60.63 linear feet (135 file boxes, 5 half file boxes, 2 folio boxes, 1 folio+ box) plus 12 folio folders, 13 folio folders, 5 oversize folders, 1 supersize folder, 3 oversize volumes, 122 photograph folders, 2 photograph albums, 120 audiocassettes)
Language of materials: Materials in English.
Abstract: Correspondence, writings, photographs, etc., of Pauli Murray, lawyer, activist, and first African-American woman ordained as an Episcopal priest.

Immediate Source of Acquisition:

Accession numbers: 70-123, 73-15, 73-86, 73-90, 82-M3, 86-M219, 87-M11, 87-M66, 87-M74, 91- M226, 92-M61, 92-M119, 92-M128
The papers of Pauli Murray were given to the Schlesinger Library by Pauli Murray in October 1970, and in February, July, and August 1973. Materials were added in January 1982 by Lillian Nelson; in November 1986 by Marie T. Monahan; in January 1987 by Karen Watson, executor; in April 1987 by Frances Collin; and in May 1987 by Harper & Row.

Processing Information:

Processed: August 1992
By: Susan von Salis; index completed October 2011 by Bert Hartry, Janet Garfield, Winifred Campbell, Tish Upton, and Jean Humez.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Some case files in subseries IIA are closed as noted. Welfare records in subseries IIH are closed for 80 years after their creation. Two folders in series V are closed as indicated. Other papers are open to research.
As of December 2015, written permission of the National Organization for Women (NOW) is no longer required for access to Series IID.

Conditions Governing Use:

Copyright. Copyright is held by Murray's grandneice, Karen Watson.
Copying. There are no restrictions on copying materials from the open portion of the collection.

Preferred Citation:

Pauli Murray Papers, 1827-1985; item description, dates. MC 412, folder #. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.


Donors: Pauli Murray, Frances Collin, Harper & Row, Lillian Nelson, Karen Watson
Accession numbers: 70-123, 73-15, 73-86, 73-90, 82-M3, 87-M11, 87-M66, 87-M74, 91-M226, 92-M61, 92-M119, 92-M128
Processed by: Susan von Salis
The following items have been removed from the collection:


Pauli Murray was born Anna Pauline Murray on November 20, 1910, in Baltimore, Md., to the middle-class African American family of nurse Agnes Fitzgerald and high school teacher and principal William Henry Murray. Over the course of her life, Murray's experiences and interests would lead her to many places (California, New York City, Massachusetts, Sweden, and Ghana) and through many careers: worker's rights and education, civil rights and women's rights activism, writing, the law, college teaching and administration, and the Episcopal priesthood. Murray was married briefly in the 1930's, but her most important and lasting relationships were with women. She died of pancreatic cancer on July 1, 1985 in the house she owned with a lifelong friend, Maida Springer Kemp, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
When Murray was three and a half years old her mother died of a cerebral hemorrhage, and the little girl was sent to Durham, North Carolina, to live with her maternal grandparents, Cornelia Smith and Robert G. Fitzgerald, and her aunt, Pauline Fitzgerald Dame (after whom Murray had been named), who later legally adopted her. The importance of education was stressed in the Fitzgerald household, and Murray grew up loving, and excelling at, academic challenge. Coming of age in the South instilled in her a hatred of racial discrimination, particularly Jim Crow segregation, evils that she combated for much of her life.
After graduating from high school, Murray moved to New York City to attend Hunter College. Though struggling financially, she graduated in 1933, and held a variety of jobs in New York, among them teaching in a Remedial Reading Project and a Workers' Education Project for the Works Progress Administration. When the demise of the WPA seemed imminent, and job prospects looked bleak for anyone without an advanced degree, Murray decided that she should pursue graduate study. Her growing interest in race relations led to her decision to apply to the Sociology Department at the all-white University of North Carolina. After being refused entry because of her race, Murray contacted the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) for legal counsel, but the organization refused to take her case because of a technicality. Discouraged, Murray gave up the idea of school and began once again to look for employment.
When she began her job with the Workers' Defense League in 1939, her knowledge of Jim Crow and other forms of discrimination proved useful. She became involved with the case of Odell Waller, an African American sharecropper who had killed his white landlord in self-defense during a dispute over his crops. Waller had been sentenced to death in the electric chair, after being convicted of murder by an all-white jury. Murray was sent out to lecture about the case, to raise funds for an appeal of the conviction, and to establish a local defense committee in each city and town in which she spoke. Despite Murray's many lecture and fund-raising tours, some with Waller's foster mother, Annie, the WDL was not able to win an appeal on Waller's behalf; he was put to death on July 2, 1942. Murray's unsuccessful efforts to combat the poll tax, combined with her arrest for violating segregation laws in Virginia while working on the Waller case, ignited her interest in civil rights law. She entered Howard University Law School in the fall of 1941.
Academic training by such brilliant and influential African Americans as William H. Hastie, Leon A. Ransom, and Spottswood W. Robinson III served as excellent preparation for Murray's students activities with the Howard chapter of the NAACP, especially the student's non-violent, direct action sit-in campaigns to desegregate downtown Washington lunch counters. Upon graduating from Howard, Murray attempted to enroll to Harvard Law School for graduate study. Again her efforts were thwarted by discrimination: Harvard did not admit women. This experience awakened Murray's feminist consciousness.
After attending school and working briefly in California, Murray returned to New York to open her own law office, when she remained until she was hired as associate attorney in the law offices of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton, and Garrison in 1956. She worked there until she accepted a position teaching law in Ghana in 1960, a move that she apparently intended to be permanent.
The situation in Ghana proved disappointing, however. Murray found the country's legal system cumbersome and inefficient; in addition, the lack of a legal journal or professional organization severely limited opportunities for academic discussion and growth. Furthermore, the country was in political turmoil, manifested in limits on freedom of speech and movement for foreigners and Ghanaians alike, government surveillance of Murray's classes, and a grossly inadequate budget for the law school. As the year wore on, and United States relations with Ghana worsened, President Kwame Nkrumah began to perceive Murray's teaching of constitutional law as a threat to his power, and she knew it was only a matter of time before she would be expelled from the country. This situation prodded her to look for opportunities to return to the United States as soon as possible. A little over a year after her arrival in Africa, Murray arrived in New Haven, Connecticut, to pursue graduate studies at Yale Law School.
In the mid 1960s, Murray served on the Committee on Civil and Political Rights, a study committee of the President's Commission on the Status of Women, earned a J.D.S. from Yale Law School, was a founding member of the National Organization for Women, and served as a vice-president and professor of political science at Benedict College in Columbia, S.C. In 1968 she secured a teaching position at Brandeis University (Waltham, Massachusetts), where she remained until the death of her close friend, Renee Barlow, in 1973.
Murray, an Episcopalian, was deeply affected by the fact that, not being a priest, she had not been able to administer the last rites to her devout friend, and felt compelled to devote the remainder of her life to the church. In 1976 she received a Master of Divinity degree from General Theological Seminary in New York City. Her ordination in the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., on January 8, 1977, was the first ordination of an African American woman as an Episcopal priest. Before her retirement in 1984, she served first as a priest at the Church of the Atonement in Washington, D.C., and later at the Church of the Holy Nativity in Baltimore.
In addition to her varied employment, Murray was also a writer. Her poem, "Dark Testament," was first published in 1943, and later included in her collection, Dark Testament and Other Poems (1970). She was the author of four other books: States' Law on Race and Color (1951), Proud Shoes: The story of an American Family (1956), The Constitution and Government of Ghana (1961), and an autobiography, Song in a Weary Throat (published posthumously in 1987), as well as many articles.


The collection is arranged in six series:


The collection documents many aspects of Murray's professional and unpaid work, as well as some areas of her personal life. Information about areas in which the professional and personal aspects of Murray's life intersected can be sometimes be found in two different series. For example, in addition to the papers about Murray's ancestors in the family section of Series I, Personal and biographical, family materials that Murray assembled while doing research for Proud Shoes and Song in A Weary Throat are in Series III, Writings and speeches. These materials are significant because they illuminate the lives of some 19th century middle-class African American families.
Murray's personal life is less well documented. While there is much incoming correspondence from her many friends, there are few personal letters by Murray or materials written by her about herself; notable exceptions are the drafts of Song in a Weary Throat--information that she intended to make public. Nevertheless, the collection is rich in documenting most aspects of Murray's work, travels, and activist interests.
The arrangement reflects Murray's filing system as closely as possible. Murray clearly kept alphabetical and chronological correspondence files, employment files, and files containing personal and autobiographical information (see Series I, II, and IV). When the collection arrived at the Schlesinger Library, it was in some disarray; it was therefore impossible to determine the original location of certain folders, especially among the correspondence and subject files. In such cases, the processor attempted to reconstruct Murray's original order, with the following exemption: Murray apparently kept a number of separate alphabetical grouping within her subject files; because it was impossible to determine which grouping certain folders had belonged to, and also for ease of research use, these separate groupings have been interfiled in one alphabetical sequence. Materials about religion, women in the priesthood, are related subjects that Murray collected prior to her ordination as a priest are filed in Series V, Subject files; those that date from after January 1977 are in Series II, Work. Folders containing only materials about specific individuals are filed in the subject series; those containing only correspondence, or both correspondence and papers about a person are filed in Series IV, Correspondence.
Photographs are filed, and must be requested, separately. Fragile materials have been photocopied and the originals filed separately; only the copies, filed in place of the originals, are available to researchers. With the exception of Series V, Subject files, folder headings used by Murray appear in quotation marks. Folder headings for #559-705 were created by Murray.
Series I, Personal and biographical, #1-539. Biographical materials include resumes, clippings, photographs, etc.; financial records (income tax returns, check registers, and account books); information about awards; and school records: grades, course materials, notes, and papers. There are also materials about Murray's ancestors, correspondence with and materials about relatives, and papers of Irene Barlow, as well as Murray's records about IB's illness, death, and funeral arrangements.
Series II, Work, #540-1320, is divided into eight subseries: Law, Education, President's Commission on the Status of Women, National Organization for Women, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, American Civil Liberties Union, Religion, and Other. Included are case notes; correspondence; photographs; texts of lectures, speeches, and sermons; meeting minutes; notes; memoranda; and printed materials. Subseries A, Law, contains case files, some of which are closed for specified periods, as noted. Subseries D, National Organization for Women, is restricted in accordance with NOW's agreement with the Schlesinger Library. Subseries H, Others, contains files about welfare recipients; these records are closed for 80 years from their dates of creation.
Series III, Writings and speeches, #1321-1608, contains drafts of published and unpublished works and speeches, photographs and research materials for Murray's books, correspondence with publishers and others about her writings and about speaking engagements, and copies of published articles.
Series IV, Correspondence, #1609-2039, contains two subseries, Alphabetical and Chronological, and reflects Murray's filing system. Unlabelled folders of correspondence and letters found loose were interfiled in the chronological subseries, unless the correspondent appeared in the alphabetical subseries. There are copies of most of Murray's correspondence with Eleanor Roosevelt. Murray had a long, although not especially close, relationship with Roosevelt, beginning when Murray wrote to the first lady in 1939, and continuing until Roosevelt's death in 1962. Although Murray was occasionally a guest at the White House or at Valkill Cottage, Roosevelt's house at Hyde Park, New York, the relationship was carried on largely by letter. While there are some original letters in this collection, most are housed at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Library in Hyde Park.
Series V, Subject files, #2040-2573, contains files, arranged alphabetically, on a variety of subjects that Murray found of interest. Clippings and other printed materials found loose by the processor were interfiled in this series. Wherever discernible, Murray's arrangement was maintained, as were her folder headings. Most of the folders contain undated material. In some cases Murray created multiple folders with identical titles; these materials were consolidated. Murray subdivided many subjects into more specific categories or filed them in more than one place. For example, materials about African Americans are filed under "Blacks, Civil Rights, etc.," "News--Colored, Negro, Black," and "Black family"; materials about African American women can be found, among other places, in "Liberation of the Black Woman," "Black/Negro Women," and "Negro/Black Women." Researchers interested in pursuing specific topics should scan the folder list for the entire series. Folder #2233 for which original restrictions have expired was added to the collection in November 2009.
Series VI, Audiotapes, #2574at-2664at, includes recordings of interviews with Murray, mostly about her life and work. Other subjects include Eleanor Roosevelt, William H. Hastie, and student protests in which Murray participated while she was at Howard University. There are also recordings of her ordination to the priesthood; meetings of the Episcopal Women's Caucus and other groups; Murray giving addresses, public and class lectures and sermons, and reading from her writings; Caroline Ware's comments on early drafts of Song in A Weary Throat ; and an interview Murray conducted with Maida Springer Kemp.



This index includes the names of writers and recipients. A small number of writers could not be identified, or are identified only by first name. Information about persons and subjects is not systematically indexed. [Note: some correspondents also have separate files elsewhere in collection.]


Container List