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social sciences

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Murphy, Frank (1890-1949)  
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When the commonwealth went into effect in November 1935, Murphy's new post as United States High Commissioner was largely one of a figurehead. He therefore decided to return to Michigan and enter the gubernatorial race of 1936. With Kemp on his team as his speechwriter, he won both the hotly contested Democratic primary and the general election.

Murphy took office in the midst of strikes that had turned violent at automobile plants. Determined to achieve a peaceful solution to the labor strife, Murphy, with Kemp again serving as his legal adviser, intervened in the negotiations.

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Of the skillful work in this difficult crisis, an obituarist for the New York Times wrote, "it is doubtful if any act of [Murphy's] brought greater comment than his handling of the situation that arose from the strike of workers at the General Motors plant, . . . nor . . . afforded him more pleasure than the simple statement he made at 2:40 A.M. on Feb. 11, 1937, when he emerged from a hotel conference room in Detroit and said: 'Gentlemen, an agreement has been reached.'"

As governor of Michigan, Murphy instituted many important reforms, notably in the areas of the civil service code, unemployment compensation, and public health. Nevertheless, he was defeated in his bid for re-election in 1938.

Rewarding Murphy's loyalty to him, Roosevelt appointed him Attorney General in January 1939. Murphy brought Kemp with him as his assistant in the office.

Murphy served a single but eventful year as Attorney General, earning a reputation as a crusader against corruption as he pursued investigations and prosecutions of "Boss" Tom Pendergast of Kansas City and the Long political machine in Louisiana, among others.

When Supreme Court Justice Pierce Butler died in late 1939, Roosevelt named Murphy to succeed him. He took his seat on the bench in February 1940.

On the Supreme Court Murphy became known as a champion of social justice, a fighter against racial discrimination, and a vigorous defender of freedom of speech and the press and of civil and religious liberties. Fellow Justice Stanley Reed remembered him as "a true humanitarian, devoted to the interests of the friendless and oppressed."

Kemp took a job in the legal department of the Bureau of the Budget but continued to work closely with Murphy. Although consulting with people outside the court was a questionable practice, Murphy valued the comments of the more conservative Kemp, even if he rarely adopted Kemp's arguments in their totality in his opinions.

Although Murphy remained a lifelong bachelor, he did become engaged twice, first in late 1942 after Roosevelt had urged him to "get busy" about marrying. His fiancée, Ann Parker, an Episcopalian, did not accede to his request that she convert to Catholicism but did agree to a wedding in a Catholic church in Chicago. A dispensation from the Roman Catholic Archbishop would have been needed to authorize a ceremony for a mixed marriage, but it was not secured. In any event, a few weeks before the scheduled nuptials Murphy was hospitalized with chest pains. After he recovered, he kept putting off the wedding until Parker broke off the engagement in frustration.

Late in his life Murphy became engaged to Joan Cuddihy and was planning--although apparently not with any great urgency--a ceremony with only Kemp and Eleanor Bumgardner, his secretary since his days in the Philippines, as witnesses. Since he would have needed to move out of the Washington Hotel, where he and Kemp had been living since their arrival in the capital, in September 1948 he asked Bumgardner to look for a house that would accommodate not only the bridal couple but also Kemp and herself--surely a most unconventional arrangement. The wedding, vaguely planned for some time the next summer, did not take place.

Murphy entered Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit in June 1949 to undergo tests on his heart. He had been there for approximately a month when he succumbed to a coronary occlusion on July 19.

Tributes poured in for Murphy, whose goal upon ascending to the Supreme Court had been to "evangelize for tolerance." President Harry Truman wrote of Murphy, "His opinions were ever tempered with a deep sense of justice and righteousness and an abiding love for his fellow man."

Following Murphy's death, Kemp retired from his job with the Bureau of the Budget. Although he served for a time on several government advisory boards and was a featured speaker at a memorial service for Murphy held at the Supreme Court in March 1951, he generally withdrew from public life. He returned to his hometown, St. Clair, Michigan, where he died on November 22, 1962 at the age of 75.

In 1969 a new high-rise building housing the Recorder's Court (now the Circuit Court) in downtown Detroit was dedicated as the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice.

Linda Rapp

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Fine, Sidney. Frank Murphy. 3 vols. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1975-1984.

Howard, J. Woodford, Jr. Mr. Justice Murphy: A Political Biography. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1968.

"Justice Murphy Dies at 59 in Detroit of Heart Attack." New York Times (July 20, 1949): 1, 26.

Murdoch, Joyce, and Deb Price. Courting Justice: Gay Men and Lesbians v. the Supreme Court. New York: Basic Books, 2001.

Roberts, Chalmers M. "High Court Member, New Deal Official Under Treatment; Congress Adjourns." Washington Post (July 20, 1949): 1-2.


    Citation Information
    Author: Rapp, Linda  
    Entry Title: Murphy, Frank  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2007  
    Date Last Updated January 23, 2007  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2007 glbtq, Inc.  


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