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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 412: T-194: T-245

Papers of Pauli Murray, 1827-1985


Correspondence, writings, photographs, etc., of Pauli Murray, lawyer, activist, and first African-American woman ordained as an Episcopal priest.


  • Creation: 1827-1985


Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Some case files in Series II, subseries A are closed as noted. Welfare records in Series II, subseries H 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 II, subseries D.

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.


62.55 linear feet ((135 file boxes, 5 half file boxes, 4 folio boxes, 1 folio+ box) plus 12 folio folders, 13 folio folders, 5 oversize folders, 1 supersize folder, 2 oversize volumes, 122 photograph folders, 2 photograph albums, 120 audiocassettes)

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 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 Irene Barlow's illness, death, and funeral arrangements. This series also includes materials related to Murray's questioning of and thoughts surrounding her gender and sexuality. Folder #71 includes Murray's notes and correspondence describing her feelings of gender dysphoria, her efforts to seek medical help, and her attempts at psychological self-analysis. While some scholars of Murray's life and work have defined her gender identity as transgender and some have applied male or gender-neutral pronouns when referring to Murray, within this finding aid the archivists chose not to add any terminology that Murray did not use to describe herself or her relationships. 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 work. 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, Other work, 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. Files on speeches may contain correspondence, drafts, and Murray's notes. Material is arranged in the following order: Murray's books, listed chronologically; other writings, published and unpublished, listed chronologically; and speeches, listed chronologically.

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.


Pauli Murray was born Anna Pauline Murray on November 20, 1910, in Baltimore, Maryland, 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. Throughout her life Pauli Murray was gender non-conforming and favored a masculine presentation. While there is evidence that she questioned her sexuality and gender, she did not publicly self-identify. Murray 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 Workers' Defense League 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, South Carolina. 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, DC, 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, DC, 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:

  1. I. Personal and biographical
  2. II. Work
  3. III. Writings and speeches
  4. IV. Correspondence
  5. V. Subject files
  6. VI. Audiotapes

Correspondence Index

An index to the correspondence in Pauli Murray's papers was created by Schlesinger Library staff and volunteers and can found here: Pauli Murray Correspondence Index.

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.


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:

  1. Roger Baldwin Foundation: annual reports, financial materials, 1968-69 and American Civil Liberties Union: financial materials, 1968-72. Sent to Dept. of Rare Books and Special Collections, Firestone Library, Princeton University, December 1991
  2. League for Mutual Aid: anniversary dinner programs, 1950-52. Sent to Archieves of labor History and urban Affairs, Wayne State University, December 1991
  3. 2 cartons of unwanted/duplicate materials. Returned to Karen Watson, July 1993
  4. 1 issue of the Whetstone, 26:1, North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company, 1949. Sent to Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture Manuscripts Department, July 1993
  5. 2 reel-to-reel audiotapes of a radio show on sexuality. Sent to Human Sexuality Collection, Cornell University, June 1997
  6. 5 blank picture postcards. To MacDowell Colony, June 1997
  7. 4 audiocassettes of CHN meetings. Sent to Church of the Holy Nativity, June 1997
  8. 1/2 file box of audiotapes of seminary classes. Sent to Harvard Divinity School, January 1997


  1. Box 1: Folders 1-28
  2. Folio Box 1A: Folder 24af
  3. Box 2: Folders 29v-41
  4. Box 3: Folders 42-70
  5. Box 4: Folders 71-111
  6. Box 5: Folders 113-150
  7. Box 6: Folders 151-178
  8. Box 7: Folders 179-199
  9. Box 8: Folders 200-221
  10. Box 9: Memorabilia
  11. Box 10: Folders 222-264
  12. Box 11: Folders 265-301
  13. Box 12: Folders 302-332
  14. Box 13: Folders 333-344
  15. Folio Box 14: Folder 313vf
  16. Box 15: Folders 365-386
  17. Box 16: Folders 387v-390v
  18. Box 17: Folders 391v-394v
  19. Box 18: Folders 395-419
  20. Box 19: Folders 420-427
  21. Box 20: Folders 428-445
  22. Box 21: Folders 446v-447v
  23. Box 22: Folders 448v-463
  24. Box 23: Folders 464-478
  25. Box 24: Folders 479-495
  26. Box 25: Folders 496-506
  27. Box 26: Folders 507-518
  28. Box 27: Folders 519-538
  29. Box 28: Folders 540-558
  30. Box 29: Folders 559-573
  31. Box 30: Folders 574-587
  32. Box 31: Folders 588-605
  33. Folio+ Box 142: 103mf+
  34. Box 33: Folders 621-641
  35. Box 34: Folders 642v-645v
  36. Box 35: Folders 646v-652
  37. Box 36: Folders 653-664
  38. Box 37: Folders 665-671
  39. Box 38: Folders 672-683
  40. Box 39: Folders 684-699
  41. Box 40: Folders 700-706
  42. Box 41: Folders 707-731
  43. Box 42: Folders 732-742
  44. Box 43: Folders 743-761
  45. Box 44: Folders 762-786
  46. Box 45: Folders 787-816
  47. Box 46: Folders 817-839
  48. Box 47: Folders 840-853
  49. Box 48: Folders 854-874
  50. Box 49: Folders 875-886
  51. Box 50: Folders 887-896
  52. Box 51: Folders 897-911
  53. Box 52: Folders 912-922
  54. Box 53: Folders 923-933
  55. Box 54: Folders 934-946
  56. Box 55: Folders 947-959
  57. Box 56: Folders 960-971
  58. Box 57: Folders 972-984
  59. Box 58: Folders 985-998
  60. Box 59: Folders 999-1010
  61. Box 60: Folders 1011-1024
  62. Box 61: Folders 1025-1038
  63. Box 62: Folders 1039-1064
  64. Box 63: Folders 1065-1088
  65. Box 64: Folders 1089-1102
  66. Box 65: Folders 1103-1119
  67. Box 66: Folders 1120-1138
  68. Box 67: Folders 1139-1162
  69. Box 68: Folders 1163-1184
  70. Box 69: Folders 1185-1207
  71. Box 70: Folders 1208v-1213
  72. Box 71: Folders 1214-1233
  73. Box 72: Folders 1235-1267
  74. Box 73: Folders 1268-1298
  75. Box 74: Folders 1299-1320
  76. Box 75: Folders 1322-1342
  77. Box 76: Folders 1343-1356
  78. Box 77: Folders 1357-1369v
  79. Box 78: Folders 1370v-1379
  80. Box 79: Folders 1380-1394
  81. Box 80: Folders 1395-1415
  82. Box 81: Folders 1417-1430
  83. Box 82: Folders 1431-1439
  84. Box 83: Folders 1440-1455
  85. Box 84: Folders 1456-1468
  86. Box 85: Folders 1469-1485
  87. Box 86: Folders 1486-1501
  88. Box 87: Folders 1502-1522
  89. Box 88: Folders 1523-1541
  90. Box 89: Folders 1542v-1558
  91. Box 90: Folders 1559-1573
  92. Box 91: Folders 1574-1593
  93. Box 92: Folders 1594-1607
  94. Box 93 Folders 1609-1632
  95. Box 94: Folders 1633-1654
  96. Box 95: Folders 1655-1681
  97. Box 96: Folders 1682-1705
  98. Box 97: Folders 1706-1738
  99. Box 98: Folders 1739-1764
  100. Box 99: Folders 1765-1784
  101. Box 100: Folders 1785-1806
  102. Box 101: Folders 1807-1825
  103. Box 102: Folders 1827-1851
  104. Box 103: Folders 1852-1871
  105. Box 104: Folders 1872-1882
  106. Box 105: Folders 1883-1897
  107. Box 106: Folders 1898-1911
  108. Box 107: Folders 1912-1926
  109. Box 108: Folders 1927-1940
  110. Box 109: Folders 1941-1958
  111. Box 110: Folders 1959-1981
  112. Box 111: Folders 1982-2002
  113. Box 112: Folders 2003-2021
  114. Box 113: Folders 2022-2039
  115. Box 114: Folders 2040-2056
  116. Box 115: Folders 2057-2073
  117. Box 116: Folders 2074-2089
  118. Box 117: Folders 2090-2096
  119. Box 118: Folders 2097-2116
  120. Box 119: Folders 2117-2138
  121. Box 120: Folders 2139-2163
  122. Box 121: Folders 2164-2184
  123. Box 122: Folders 2185-2198
  124. Box 123: Folders 2199-2216
  125. Box 124: Folders 2217-2246
  126. Box 125: Folders 2247-2271
  127. Box 126: Folders 2272-2294
  128. Box 127: Folders 2295-2317
  129. Box 128: Folders 2318-2334
  130. Box 129: Folders 2335-2354
  131. Box 130: Folders 2355-2375f
  132. Box 131: Folders 2376-2395
  133. Box 132: Folders 2397-2415
  134. Box 133: Folders 2416-2430
  135. Box 134: Folders 2432-2451
  136. Box 135: Folders 2452-2473
  137. Box 136: Folders 2474-2490
  138. Box 137: Folders 2491-2514
  139. Box 138: Folders 2515-2530
  140. Box 139: Folders 2531-2544
  141. Box 140: Folders 2545-2562
  142. Box 141: Folders 2563-2573

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.

In November 2022 Laura Peimer revised this finding aid by adding description addressing Pauli Murray's gender and sexuality. This additional explanatory text can be found within the first paragraph of the Biography, in the Scope and Content note for Series I, and in the Scope and Content note for folder #71. She also added the subject heading "LGBTQ+ People." A previous version of this finding aid has been maintained for transparency around the descriptive process. Please contact the Schlesinger Library for details.

For more information on reparative archival description at Harvard, see Harvard Library's Statement on Harmful Language in Archival Description.

Genre / Form



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
Language of description
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.

Repository Details

Part of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute Repository

The preeminent research library on the history of women in the United States, the Schlesinger Library documents women's lives from the past and present for the future. In addition to its traditional strengths in the history of feminisms, women’s health, and women’s activism, the Schlesinger collections document the intersectional workings of race and ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and class in American history.

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