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Mount Holyoke Archives Hold Edward R. Murrow Papers

Long before the likes of Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw, there was Edward R. Murrow, the pioneering broadcaster for CBS who defined modern anchorman style in his program See It Now. He became famous for his hardnosed reporting about the anti-Communist witchhunts of Joseph McCarthy, which is the subject of the new movie Good Night, and Good Luck.

  The Murrow Family
The Murrow family circa 1950. Photo courtesy of the MHC archives.

Less well known is that Murrow had close connections at Mount Holyoke, including his marriage to a Mount Holyoke alumna, Janet Brewster Murrow ’33. Murrow came to Mount Holyoke in 1931 for a conference of the International Institute of Education. He met his future wife the following year in New Orleans at a conference of the National Student Federation of America, of which she was a member and he was president. They were married in 1934. Janet Brewster Murrow was active in student affairs and served as senior class president. She was a Mount Holyoke trustee from 1949 to 1959 and after her husband’s death in 1965 moved to South Hadley.

Mrs. Murrow and their son Casey divided Murrow’s papers between Mount Holyoke and the Edward R. Murrow Center for the Advancement of Public Diplomacy at Tufts University; most of his photographs were given to his alma mater, Washington State University. The Mount Holyoke collection, including notes and correspondence of both the Murrows, vividly depicts the couple’s personal and professional lives through the years.

Although the bulk of Murrow’s broadcasting papers were given to Tufts, Mount Holyoke has several key documents relating to Murrow’s anti-McCarthy broadcasts. These include notes for his famous March 9, 1954 television broadcast in which he revealed McCarthy’s deceitful scaremongering tactics. The archives also contain notes for and the typescript of Murrow’s subsequent rebuttal of McCarthy’s charges that Murrow himself had Communist connections.

Archives librarian Patricia Albright said that when she was processing the Murrow papers several years ago, she “was excited to see the script of the broadcast. It is a highlight of this time in history. As I was going through the papers, I had this image of Murrow keeping an eye on McCarthy and waiting for the moment when he should attack.”

The Mount Holyoke archives also contain correspondence relating to an article that appeared in Look magazine titled “The Man, the Myth, the McCarthy Fighter.” Most of the letters are congratulatory, but Albright was chilled to find pieces of hate mail as well. One, addressed to “Red Ed,” reads: “I hate all dirty thieving hypocritical traitorous kikes.”

“The hate mail will stick in my mind forever,” Albright said. “What amazes me is why the Murrows saved any of this mail. But they were a historically minded family and realized there were two sides to everything.”

Many of the Mount Holyoke documents are from the war years, which the Murrows spent in London working as radio broadcasters for CBS. During that time they became close friends with Sir Winston Churchill and his wife and other leading figures. Albright said that Janet Murrow “appears to have been a very easy person to be around. He was not.” She added, “She socially helped pave the way for him. She put up with his crazy schedule and his friends. He poured himself into his work; his work was his life. Throughout the marriage she was the rock. She made all the arrangements and kept things serene.” Murrow’s work included accompanying U.S. army pilots on bombing raids in Germany. “It must have been hard for his wife, waiting for him to come back,” Albright said.

For Albright, the most moving document in the Murrow papers are notes he took while accompanying the Army personnel who liberated the Buchenwald concentration camp in April 1945. “It leaves me in awe that something like this should be at Mount Holyoke,” she said.

Murrow’s relationship with CBS was never easy, and after being fired from CBS in 1961, he was appointed by President John F. Kennedy to head the U.S. Information Agency. The Mount Holyoke archives contain a note to Murrow from Robert F. Kennedy just before President Kennedy’s assassination in 1963: “We need you back here desperately. The whole place is falling apart.”

  Janet Murrow
Janet Murrow in 1981

Although Edward R. Murrow is the more well-known half of the couple, Albright noted that Janet Murrow had a significant career in her own right, both as a writer and radio broadcaster. In addition, she was a leader of several charitable organizations, both in England and in the States. She was active in the evacuation of children from England to the U.S. and was chair of the London Committee of the Bundles to Britain program, which organized donations of supplies, medicine, and hospital equipment. Returning to New York after the war, she worked against poverty with the Henry Street Settlement House.

After moving to South Hadley in 1965, Janet Murrow worked at the MHC art museum until her retirement in 1977. She served as the museum's director at one point, and also headed the museum's Friends of Art program. She worked in the larger community as well, helping to establish WGBY, the Springfield, Massachusetts, public television affiliate. She died of heart failure on December 18, 1998, in a life care center in Needham, Massachusetts.


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Copyright © 2006 Mount Holyoke College. This page created and maintained by Office of Communications. Last modified on June 13, 2006.