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Schnader Salutes Pauli Murray, an Unsung Woman Hero, in Honor of International Women’s Day

On March 13, 2020 by Schnader in News

In honor of International Women’s Day 2020, each day this week we will be sharing stories of unsung women who have made great changes in the world. You can see all the stories from the series here.

Anna Pauline Murray, who went by Pauli Murray, was born in 1910 in Baltimore. Her early life was shaped by tragedy, as her mother died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1914 and her father was murdered in 1923 by a guard in Crownsville State Hospital where he was confined for long-term effects of typhoid fever.

Murray moved to New York City in 1926 to pursue a degree at Hunter College, but had to drop out during the Great Depression. She got a job as a teacher through the Works Projects Administration, and began writing articles and poetry. In 1938, she attempted to enroll in the University of North Carolina with support of the NAACP, but was denied due to segregation laws. In 1940, she and a friend were arrested and jailed for violating segregation laws in Virginia for refusing to sit in the broken back seat of a bus, sitting in the whites-only section instead.

In 1941, she attended Howard University, where she graduated first in her class. Although the top graduate of Howard customarily received a Fellowship to complete graduate work at Harvard University, Murray was denied based on her sex despite a letter on her behalf from President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Murray wrote to Harvard, “I would gladly change my sex to meet your requirements, but since the way to such change has not been revealed to me, I have no recourse but to appeal to you to change your minds. Are you to tell me that one is as difficult as the other?”

She instead graduated from law school at Berkeley and went on to become a successful lawyer. Her 1950 book “States’ Laws on Race and Color” was called the “bible” of the civil rights movement by Thurgood Marshall. She fought against what she termed “Jane Crow,” arguing that Jim Crow laws also unfairly affected black women. In 1965, she became the first African American to earn a Doctor of the Science of Law degree from Yale Law School. Her work was so influential that Ruth Bader Ginsberg credited her as a co-author in her 1971 brief for Reed v. Reed, which extended the Equal Protection Clause to women.

In 1977, Murray became the first African American woman ordained as an Episcopal priest. She ministered to the sick until her death in 1985.

Schnader salutes Pauli Murray. We are inspired by her contributions to so many fields.

More information on Pauli Murray can be found here:

https://paulimurrayproject.org/pauli-murray/biography/

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/04/17/the-many-lives-of-pauli-murray