Mrs. Murphy considers an historic run for Congress
Eva Morley Murphy of Goodland opened a letter addressed to her husband, prominent attorney E.F. Murphy. Mr. Murphy was out of town, so she decided to answer the letter herself. The consequences were historic. Answering the letter led directly to her candidacy for Congress for the Sixth District. She became the first woman ever to run for Congress.
According to the Washington (D.C) Herald, the letter’s sender was William Allen White, Emporia Gazette Editor. He was a member of the Progressive Party‘s National Committee. The Washington Herald‘s March 8, 1913, edition told the story. Her letter answered him “in such a comprehensive … form that it won his admiration.” He wrote back, “… Announce yourself for candidate for Congress and there won’t be a man in the district presume to run against you for the nomination.”
White collected letters from party leaders encouraging her to run and sent them to the Murphys. “There’s your call,” White wrote (PDF). “You cannot fail to heed it.”
‘If you are beaten, it won’t kill you’
While she was considering White’s suggestion, her husband told her, “…Think it out for yourself.” He offered to help in every way he could. “If you are beaten, it won’t kill you — and you will have gained considerable experience. If you are elected, you will be the first woman Congressman ever sent to Washington.”
Mr. Murphy knew what he was talking about. He had been Sherman County’s first representative in the Kansas House.
In its Jan. 3, 1914 (PDF), issue, the Topeka Daily State Journal reported that she might run. The newspaper said, “Mrs. Murphy is not a stranger to the public, especially in the Sixth District.” She had been “an active worker for the cause of women’s suffrage and made several speeches in the western part of the state.”
‘Mrs. Murphy denies she has quit Congress race’
She had to be scaring other potential Sixth District candidates because someone pulled a dirty trick on her. The state went to the primary election polls in August, but her enemies did not wait that long to cause her trouble. The April 16, 1914, Topeka Capital said she had withdrawn from the race. She firmly rebutted the claim (PDF) in the April 18, 1914, State Journal. “This article is false in every particular,” she wrote. “and has no foundation except in the fertile brain” of the writer, “knowing it to be false when written.” She accused the writer(s) of “guerrilla politics.” She concluded, “It is my firm intention to be in the race for this office when the polls close in November and at all times between now and that date.”
The staff of The Journal expressed their opinion of Morley Murphy’s staying power four days later. “…Maybe she will (PDF)” be in the running until the polls close in November, the newspaper said.
An unopposed nomination
White’s prophecy came true. In August 1914, she was unopposed for her party’s nomination. She told (PDF) Harper’s Weekly, “I sincerely believe the fact that I am a woman, wife and mother will aid me, and not hinder, in truly representing all the people of the Sixth District.”
The magazine said, “As far as we can judge from Mrs. Murphy’s announcement and from what our friends in Kansas tell of her standing there, it would be hard to find anybody, man or woman, even in that state of evenly distributed wealth, general education and progressive feeling, who would have equipment superior to hers.”
The candidate’s qualifications
Morley Murphy was born Eva Maria Morley Nov. 22, 1856, in Macomb, Ill., the daughter of William Morley and Orpha Amelia (Hibbard) Morley. She married Eugene Franklin Murphy Dec. 20, 1877, in Cambridge, Ill. He was a land agent for the Union Pacific Railroad. They came to Sherman County in 1877 or 1878, where he set up his law practice.
Before she decided to run for Congress, Morley Murphy was very active in promoting beneficial changes in the lives of women and their communities. She held leadership posts in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, Federated Women’s Clubs and Day Clubs at the local, regional and state levels. She belonged to the Library Board when it brought the Carnegie Library to Goodland in 1909. Mr. Murphy was the City Attorney at that time and ruled that the library election qualified as a municipal election under Kansas law.
Morley Murphy was active in the Kansas Equal Suffrage Association, working hard for women’s right to vote. The 1914 election was the first election after Kansas became the eighth state to offer equal suffrage to women. The historic vote came Nov. 15, 1912.
Appropriately for someone from Goodland, she chaired the State Federation of Women’s Conservation Committee. At the Topeka Federation of Women’s April 1914 meeting, Morley Murphy advocated (PDF) for “a thorough study of the resources of the state and methods of irrigation and care of the water supply.”
A published author
Morley Murphy was also a published author. She wrote “Lois Morton’s Investment” and “The Miracle on the Smoky and Other Stories“. The Omaha Bee‘s Feb. 8, 1913, issue (PDF) said “Lois Morton” was a “problem novel dealing with the drink evil”, appropriate in a book written by a Prohibition advocate. “Lois Morton” later was listed In the Kansas State Historical Society’s 1916 edition of “A List of Books Indispensable to a Knowledge of Kansas History“. She belonged to the Kansas Authors Club.
The Dec. 17, 1908, Goodland Republic quoted (PDF) “The Miracle on the Smoky” author’s introduction. In contrast to “Lois Morton’s” serious purpose, she says the book’s purpose is solely to make readers smile.
The Herald‘s burning question: A woman Congressman or a Congresswoman?
The idea that a woman would run for Congress was a national sensation. Newspapers throughout the country covered the novel idea. Some merely reported the fact that a woman from Kansas was running for Congress. Some were not as supportive as Harper’s Weekly had been.
The Herald had a burning question to ask: Would she be a “woman Congressman if elected or merely a Congresswoman?”
“If they will just elect me to the office,” the candidate responded, “the title will follow, just as it does when a man is elected. I will be simply a member of Congress from the Sixth District, Kansas.”
‘The last woman in the world you would pick out for a politician’
The article describes Morley Murphy in terms that grate on 21st Century ears. “Mrs. Murphy is the last woman in the world you would pick out for a politician. … She looked rather like a comfortable, motherly little lady, ready to pat you on the head and give you a couple of cookies or a nice, fat brown doughnut for being good. And they say she can make both of them to perfection, too.”
The reporter asked what she would do in Congress.
The reporter wrote, “She smiled her pleasant womanly smile that is one of her greatest assets. ‘…I will stand for the Progressive platform — for the Prohibition laws — and more than anything else, I am for beneficial changes in the laws for women.'”
‘Membress of Congress’
The Tacoma (Wash.) Times was in unprecedented territory when it wrote about Morley Murphy. In their Oct. 27, 1914, Women’s Sphere (PDF) section, they devised their own title for her: “Eva Morley Murphy, Membress of Congress!” The article concluded, “But if Mrs. Murphy shows the same speed and efficiency at Washington that she has displayed in Kansas, well — look out for Membress Murphy.”
‘The New Nationalism gone mad’
While The Times and The Herald worried about Morley Murphy’s title, the (Juneau) Alaska Daily Empire was interested in Morley Murphy’s platform.
Former President Theodore Roosevelt was preaching The New Nationalism in the 1914 election. Roosevelt hoped to put human rights above property rights. Under the headline, “The New Nationalism Gone Mad” (PDF), The Empire said Morley Murphy’s platform “should bring joy to New Nationalists.” The newspaper listed national prohibition, women’s suffrage, workman’s compensation, minimum wages and anti-child labor laws as Morley Murphy’s favored stances. It continued, “… The disposition of some of our Progressive friends to take every reform to the national government is not in the issue of real progress.”
‘Campaigning like a man’
While the Alaska newspaper disagreed with Morley Murphy’s platform, her work ethic impressed theTopeka Daily State Journal. In its Oct. 26, 1914, issue, the newspaper said (PDF) she desired no favors because of her gender. She “wanted to work just as hard and make just as many speeches as anybody.” The newspaper marveled at her stamina. “She has made as high as 11 speeches in a single day and traveled 150 miles by train and motor car to do it.” She even rode a motorcycle, the newspaper said, but only for a short distance.
‘The road beds for the most part are dirt’
The newspaper had reason to marvel at her stamina. In the 21st Century world of paved roads and graded gravel, we may marvel at the stamina required to make 11 speeches a day. Travel in 1914 was more difficult. Morley Murphy rode passenger trains to many of her destinations. Rail travel was the easy part. Reaching destinations via road was another story.
The Sixth District stretched at least as far as Beloit (PDF) in the northeast and WaKeeney in the southeast, for Morley Murphy is recorded as campaigning in both towns. (The WaKeeney editor said [PDF] he’d vote for her if she weren’t running “on the wrong ticket.”) Goodland to Beloit on the current road network is 208 miles. In 1915, Road-Maker Magazine said (PDF), “From Kansas City westward until the [Pacific] coast is reached, the road beds for the most part are dirt.”
Road quality in Kansas varied widely. No statewide highway plan existed until 1929. The Kansas Constitution prohibited the state from funding internal improvements, including roads. To improve a road, the landowner had to petition the county or township. The county assessed the landowner three quarters of the road improvement costs. Under this cost-share requirement, few landowners would have had the means to improve their section of road.
Dusters and googles in a Northwest Kansas summer
Early automobiles were not enclosed. Both sexes usually wore hats. Women’s hats were huge and elaborate, plus they wore skirts to their ankles. In order to keep their hats on and keep dust off, both genders wore dusters and goggles when “motoring”. Imagine wearing all that in the heat and dust of a Northwest Kansas summer, while bouncing on rutted roads — even while riding a motorcycle.
‘A tremendous vote on Tuesday’
Even with all that work on the campaign trail, The State Journal said, her opponents “do not think or admit that she might win.” They did agree “that she has made a wonderful showing.” The newspaper concluded its article by saying, “All sides agree that she will get a tremendous vote next Tuesday.”
Morley Murphy’s share of the vote was not tremendous.
‘Woman vote may swing tide’
The day before the election, Nov. 3, 1914, the Wichita Beacon wrote under the headline “Woman vote may swing tide” (PDF), “Large numbers of women were rallying to her [Morley Murphy’s] support, and, if elected she would be the first woman to go to Congress.”
The tide ran against Morley Murphy.
‘A dire disappointment’
She placed third of four Sixth District candidates. Perhaps most cuttingly, she lost nearly 2-1 in Sherman County (PDF), according to the Nov. 6, 1914, Goodland Republic. Incumbent Democrat John R. Connelly of Colby tallied 622 votes to her 378. Republican John B. Dykes garnered 331 votes in Sherman County.
In its Nov. 8, 1914, edition, the Washington Herald used her loss to disparage women’s suffrage. The newspaper said (PDF) she had run in a state “where women vote” and was “defeated so completely that she was only third in the race, a dire disappointment to the suffragists who hoped to have a woman representative in the National House.”
The Herald‘s rival Washington Evening Star said, “Women’s suffrage suffered a setback (PDF)” with “woman candidates undergoing defeat at the polls.” The article said Morley Murphy had lost in spite of “a lively campaign.”
Many newspapers across the state cited (PDF) Morley Murphy’s reaction to her defeat. The (WaKeeney) Western Kansas World said, “According to a message from Goodland, Mrs. Eva Morley Murphy … expressed disappointment that she had not polled a larger vote than her standpat Republican opponent.” The newspaper went on to say she had had “no chance” to defeat Connelly.
Falling in line for the GOP
Despite her disappointing finish, Morley Murphy continued to be active. She continued her club leadership positions and continued to be active in politics — Republican politics. She campaigned for the GOP in the 1916 Presidential election, asking voters to “fall in line (PDF)” for Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes, the Republican Presidential candidate, and Otis L. Benton of Oberlin, Sixth District candidate for Congress. Both men lost.
E.F. and Eva Morley Murphy’s grave marker in Goodland Cemetery
A move to Topeka
Mr. Murphy passed away June 8, 1928. She moved to Topeka that year. After his death, Kansas Rep. Oscar A. Edwards, R-Edson, sponsored a resolution honoring him. She died Oct. 2, 1951, at Ingleside Home in Topeka.
Breaking through the glass ceiling
Jeannette Rankin, Republican of Montana, was the first woman elected to Congress. Montana, like Kansas, had given women the right to vote in national elections in 1914. Rankin was initially elected four years before the 19th Amendment was ratified. She had the privilege of voting for the amendment that gave all American women the right to vote. Kathryn Ellen O’Loughlin McCarthy of Hays was the first Kansas woman to be elected to Congress. She defeated Rep. Charles I. Sparks of Goodland in 1932.
Find Eva Morley Murphy in Goodland
The Murphys’ house at 524 Center still stands. The Murphys are buried in Goodland Cemetery in the Old Cemetery, Block 2, Lot 48, Plot 6. Their influence also lives at Goodland Carnegie Arts Center, heir to the Goodland Carnegie Library Building.