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The Murray Family[1

Getting Acquainted with the Murray Family
by Jane Kim

In the basement of the Stuart Memorial Library, I found myself heading toward this lonely, isolated corner known as the archives.  Usually it is a dark place.  Today it was not.  Not many people at Coe visit the archives, but today there were four other students already there, for the same reason I was, I suspected.  I glanced around at the old photos, the plaques, the books on the shelves.  I chatted briefly with one of the other students before settling myself down to my task.  I sat at a table, pulled out a list, and began searching. 

Here at Coe, I live on the ninth floor of Murray Hall, Coe’s tallest structure.  I had always suspected it was named after somebody, but in the process of every day life, I never stopped to really think of who it was.  Somehow, from being at Coe, I knew that the Murray family had been connected with Coe for a long time.  I didn't know, however, how or why or even who they were in the first place.  Interested in discovering who they were, I decided to research the Murray family, a decision that prompted my visit to the archives. 

It was surprising for me to learn that no one had written anything about the Murrays.  They were important enough to have a hall named after them, but the only documentation I found of them were various and assorted scrapbooks and writings.  There was no one place you could go to read and learn about the Murrays.  So I decided to take a stab at this project, and create a place where I could introduce people to the Murray family.

At the start of my search, I found very little personal information about the Murrays.  The only things I found were books they had published.  Some conclusions I drew were blatantly obvious, while some were not, but all were deduced: Janette Stevenson Murray was fond of writing; she was involved with parenting techniques and child development, writing several pamphlets and books on the subject; the family was interested in the history of Iowa and the history of their family; Frederick and Janette wrote The History of Cedar Rapids; Janette's ancestors had come to the Tama area in Iowa from Scotland.  These were interesting observations, but they were rather impersonal; I didn't learn much about who the Murrays were.  I looked further.

With the help of the reference librarians, I discovered the existence of boxes and boxes of old Murray scrapbooks.  I also gained access to their personal file and a folder of Janette and Frederick's Coe recollections.  In the first book of scrapbooks, however, I found what I was looking for: an autobiography of Janette Stevenson Murray.  It hadn't been published, probably because it hadn't been finished, but it existed.  I began reading, and became acquainted with the Murrays.

Janette's autobiography was quite extensive.  In it, she discussed everything from her grandparents' emigration to North America to her memories of Coe, from the births of her children to their marriages.  In fact, almost every moment she remembered from life was included, it seems.  She led a rather productive and happy life, judging from her autobiography.

Janette's grandfather John Stevenson and his family arrived from Ayr, Scotland to settle in Canada.  They soon found the soil poor and unable to make a living, decided to move to Buckingham, a Scottish settlement in North Tama, Iowa, to join their friends from Scotland, the Youngs, who were already in Tama.  All the land in Buckingham was taken, but they found good land near Baker's Grove.  John's son William bought land and built a farm in 1873, and married Elizabeth Young.  Janette Lindsay Stevenson was born in 1874.

Janette, known as Nettie during her childhood, was to see the installment of high school, which added four more years to a child'’s schooling .  She attended high school in Traer, and was uncertain of where she wanted to go for college.  She vaguely mentioned the possibility of attending Grinnell, along with many of her friends, but was deterred by her father, who was adamant that she attend Coe College.  Janette, happy with the prospect of living in a larger town, did not mind going to Cedar Rapids to attend Coe.  She took the midafternoon train from Traer with some other girls from her town, and they were met in Cedar Rapids by the Matron of Williston Hall, the girls' dormitory building .

She gave a little history of Coe, describing Coe during the "Gay Nineties," as Janette put it.  The hall she lived in, Williston Hall, had plumbing and central heating but no electricity, so they had to carry around kerosene lamps, which weren't always the safest things to have around.  Janette recalls an incident involving one such lamp.  She and several other girls were in her room measuring Margaret Mills's new skirt when somehow, Janette's lamp, which was set on the floor, was knocked over.  The oil spilled out on to the carpet and caught fire, burning the carpet.  Janette quickly grabbed the lamp and tossed it out the window, almost directly onto a group of boys who were gathered while waiting for dinner.  Dinner was served in the basement of Williston Hall, part of the excitement of being at Coe, according to Janette, because the boys joined them at dinner.  She found it interesting that no one ever mentioned the incident of the burning lamp, neither the boys or the hall officials.

Janette Stevenson and Frederick Murray met in an interesting way.  Every year, a local banker, Sampson Cicero Bever, offered a prize for students in the freshman and sophomore classes, $25 to the best oration and $15 to the second best oration.  Traditional rivalries between the freshmen and the sophomores made the Bever oratorical competition a popular event, and this year was no exception.  Eight orations were selected, of which Fred's and Janette's were two.  Janette's friend Grace Conn, along with other friends, repeatedly stated their predictions of Fred Murray's victory.  Janette decided that "a desire to defeat these sophomore girls overcame my timidity," and so she took three lessons from the noted Mrs. Lucia Gale Barber, who had a reputation of being the best elocution teacher in town, having been abroad several times for additional training.  Despite the girls' predictions of Fred Murray's victory, he had to settle for second place.  Janette took first.  Later, at the All-College Picnic the next day at Linn Junction, Janette noticed Fred regarding her thoughtfully.

Another incident Janette remembered from her years at Coe also involved fire.  In the fall, after the girls' "prayers," they discussed the annual Halloween Party to be held this year in Williston's parlor.  "Prayers," Janette explained, functioned as a sort of meeting, which included such things as planning events, memorizing a poem, admonitions, instructions in etiquette, and "general imbibing of the ideals of our cultured and highly intelligent Lady Principal."  The girls were cheerfully instructed not to dress as grandmothers this year, as there happened to be an abundance of them the year before.  The party was going well, with no grandmothers, and the traditional fall games, such as bobbing for apples, were being played.   One game involved snatching raisins from burning alcohol.  A girl, Lola Condit, dressed in "sparkling cotton batting", was representing Winter.  She grabbed a handful of raisins, caught her cuff in the flames, rubbed it against herself, and was in moments engulfed in flames.  She ran from the front parlor to the back parlor before some boys tripped her and wrapped heavy curtains around her.  She was carried to a back room, and someone called a doctor .  Lola lay in a room during all of the winter, attended by doctors and nurses.  Her face was not damaged but her arms needed skin grafts, so the students helped by donating little patches of skin.  She eventually recovered, but she didn’t remain at Coe.

Janette also remembered sitting with Fred on a corner settee, chatting with him for a long while.  Not long after that night, she was invited by Fred to attend a lecture in Greene's opera house.  She never forgot the two of them standing just inside the west door of Old Main.

During her years at Coe, football was introduced into Midwestern colleges.  George Bryant, whom Janette admired, was the first captain of the team.  As Fred Murray recalled over 70 years later, "We had no headgear so we simply grew a very thick head of hair."  At this time, Cornell had more students and a stronger team.  Cornell and Upper Iowa were two of their bitterest enemies.  After Bryant graduated in 1894, Fred became the next captain of the team.  Coe never managed to win a game against Cornell until the fall of 1894, Fred’s senior year, when they defeated Cornell 28-6.  Janette admitted that the girls were more interested in watching the players than watching the game, and recalled that Fred was carried off the field with a sprained ankle.

Janette and Fred led interesting lives at Coe, and continued to do so after Coe.  Fred attended Rush Medical College in Chicago.  In 1898 he enlisted in the medical corps to serve in the Spanish-American War.  When he came back, he found Rush Medical to be a different place.  The school had just two rules when he left: you can't set fire to any of the school buildings and you can't shoot any of the professors.  Everything else was fair game, and people took advantage of that .  There were constantly riots and other violent occurrences.  Rush Medical was taken over by Chicago University in 1899, however, and everything changed, instilling a greater sense of order.  Fred graduated from Rush in 1900, and immediately began work as a doctor, interning at Presbyterian Hospital for two years.  He married Janette on June 19, 1902.

Fred was busy with his work as a doctor, and Janette was busy with a number of other things.  For one, Fred and Janette eventually had five children.  William Gordon, their first son, was born on July 15, 1903.  Janette was pleased that her first child was a boy, especially since her father had four daughters and no sons, and immediately wanted to name her child William, after her father.  Fred quickly agreed, and Janette was happy to hear that Fred's grandfather had also been a William.  Eleanor Haines was born on June 17, 1906, and Edward on February 14, 1909.  Janet Steele was born on November 23, 1912.  There was some confusion over what to name her:  Margaret, from the Murray side, or Janet, from the Stevenson side.  After six months, they finally decided to call her Janet Steele, after the Stevenson side.  Winifred, the youngest, was born in Hawaii.

Janette had a number of interests.  After leaving college, she continued to write.  She was especially interested in child development and read up on the newest theories.  She served on the Board of Education in Cedar Rapids, wrote books about her family history, wrote a book with her husband on the history of Cedar Rapids, and was selected as the American Mother of the Year in 1947.  She was a member of the Ladies Literary Club, President of the Coe Alumni Association, and in her third year of service on the Board of Education, was elected President of the Board–the first woman to hold this position.  She also managed to write a weekly article in the Gazette for a year and wrote a pamphlet for the Iowa Equal Suffrage Association arguing for women's right to vote.

The Murray family, for the most part, lived in Cedar Rapids, but for two years they did live in Hawaii, returning to Cedar Rapids in 1919.  The Murray children also led interesting lives.  All five children attended Coe College.  Bill went on to Harvard, where he studied economics.  Eleanor, while attending Coe, was encouraged by Ethel Outland, teacher of journalism, to take an examination for civil service.  Eleanor passed and accepted a job in the State Department position.  Edward, following in his father’s footsteps, went into medicine.  He had a fascination with Turkey, having spent a year at Robert College in Istanbul as an instructor for one year of his three year term.  He spent a year traveling in Chinese Turkistan, coming home by India.  He admired the progressivism of Turkish leader Mustapha Kemal.  Edward returned and attended Iowa University Medical College.  Janet started off with teaching , but she became interested in studying French.  She eventually found herself in the University of Lille, where she also taught two children English.  However, they were ill-behaved, so when she received another offer, she decided to take that position.  She tutored a girl in Athens, Greece, attending the school there.  She eventually attended Columbia University in New York, obtaining a degree in French.  Winifred, wanting to go "where no Murray had ever been before", studied music at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

The Murray children continued to be involved in international affairs.  Edward was sent back to Turkey for three weeks in 1936 by National Geographic to take pictures and get additional material for an article that was published in December.  Winifred served in the communications department of the WAVES in San Francisco until 1944.  William, who became the head of the economics department at Iowa State and was a Republican candidate for governor, traveled with his wife and lectured on economics throughout Southeast Asia, India, Pakistan, Thailand, Indonesia, the Phillippines, and Japan.  Janet and John spent some years in Dacca, East Pakistan, and also in Germany.  The Shepherds, Eleanor and Geoffrey, lived in Japan and Burma.  Edward, who eventually became a professor in microbiology, also worked in Yugoslavia, Newfoundland, Arabia, Spain, Ethiopia, and India, serving in public health.

All were eventually married as well.  Janet met John Fiske, her brother Edward's friend and her future husband, in Istanbul, Turkey.  William married Mildred Furniss and  Eleanor married Geoffrey Shepherd.  Winifred married Robb Kelley on June 21, 1951 in a ceremony conducted by Coe’s President Gage.  Ten years later Edward married Gordana Maglic from Yugoslavia.

On a plaque just inside of Murray Hall, I learned that three generations of Murrays have graduated from Coe College.  Dr. Fred Murray served as an active member of the Coe College Board of Trustees from 1913 to 1960, after which he became a life member.  His son also became a life member in 1960.  In a newspaper article, I learned that the Murrays established an international relations scholarship at Coe--not surprising, considering their children's interests in international affairs.  In another article, I learned that Janette died in 1967 at the age of 93, and that Fred died 

In the course of a few weeks, the Murray family has gone from nonexistent in my life to good acquaintances.  I've met the Murrays, and I've learned a great deal about them.  It is unfortunate that Janette's autobiography hasn't been published so that others may have easy access to it.  In the process of learning about the Murrays, I've discovered that I also learned a lot about Coe, and I feel a greater sense of personal history with Coe.  I hope I proceed to make my own place for Coe, and I hope that my own recollections of my years at Coe are as enjoyable as Janette and Fred's.


            [1]  An unabridged version of this essay with notes and documentation was originally published in Profiles of a College: An Anthology of Essays on the History of Coe College, 1997.

 

 
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