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
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
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
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
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
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.
 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.