Attacking the glass ceiling blog post title

The second Kansas woman to run for Congress

Attacking the glass ceiling: The second Kansas woman to run for Congress

In 1913, Eva Morley Murphy of Goodland was the second Kansas woman to run for Congress, running a year after women won the vote in Kansas. While her husband was out of town, she answered a letter from William Allen White, which was addressed to her husband. White was the Emporia Gazette Editor and a member of the Progressive Party’s National Committee. In 1912, former President Theodore Roosevelt had split the Republican Party and run as a Progressive.

Her detailed answer led straight to her candidacy.

White replied, ” … Announce yourself 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. “You cannot fail to heed it.”

(Kate Richards O’Hare was the first Kansas woman to run. Emma W. Grover also filed for election, but after Murphy had filed.)

Attacking the glass ceiling headline

The glass ceiling ‘won’t kill you’

While she was considering White’s suggestion, her husband, E.F. Murphy, told her, “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.”

In its Jan. 3, 1914, the Topeka Daily State Journal reported that she might run.

She had to be scaring other potential Sixth District candidates because someone pulled a dirty trick on her. On April 16, 1914, the Topeka Capital said she had withdrawn from the race. She firmly rebutted the claim two days later in the 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 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.”

Headline about Morley Murphy's candidacy
The Chanute (Kansas) Tribune announces Morley Murphy’s candidacy.

An unopposed nomination

White’s prophecy came true. No one opposed her for the Progressive Party’s nomination.

What’s more, her candidacy attracted national attention. She told Harper’s Weekly, “I have chosen for my party the only one that … has pledged itself to … making this country a true democracy by securing equal suffrage to men and women alike.… 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.”

Meet the candidate who attacked the glass ceiling

Morley Murphy was born Eva Maria Morley on Nov. 22, 1856, in Macomb, Ill., the daughter of William Morley and Orpha Amelia (Hibbard) Morley. She married Eugene Franklin Murphy on Dec. 20, 1877, in Cambridge, Ill.

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 actively promoted beneficial changes for women and their communities through numerous organizations.

She was active in the Kansas Equal Suffrage Association, now the League of Women Voters. The 1914 election was the first election after Kansas became the eighth state to offer equal suffrage to women. The historic vote came on Nov. 15, 1912.

Morley Murphy was also a published author. She wrote Lois Morton’s Investment and The Miracle on the Smoky and Other Stories. 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.

‘The last woman in the world you would pick out for a politician’

Women running for Congress was still a novelty in 1916. Newspapers throughout the country covered the novel idea. Some merely reported the fact that a woman from Kansas was running for Congress. 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 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’

Reading the Tacoma (Washington) Times article makes 21st-century readers cringe. An article in the “Women’s Sphere” section said she had the “best chance a woman ever had” to serve in Congress. “She laid down her knitting, quit being an old-fashioned grandmother, and plunged into a red-hot political campaign.” In two weeks, she taught the old-time politicians a few stunts in machine building.… Now, Congress, look out for Eva Morley Murphy, good housekeeper.” 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 potential 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,” 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.

Attacking the glass ceiling by campaigning like a man

Attacking the glass ceiling by ‘campaigning like a man’

While the Alaska newspaper disagreed with Morley Murphy’s platform, her work ethic impressed the State Journal. On Oct. 26, 1914, the newspaper said 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.

Dirt roads, dusters, and goggles in the heat

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 208 miles. In 1915, Road-Maker Magazine said, “From Kansas City westward until the [Pacific] Coast is reached, the roadbeds, 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. Instead, the landowners and the counties cared for roads, with the landowners bearing three-quarters of the cost.

Early automobiles were not enclosed. Both sexes usually wore hats. Women’s hats were huge and elaborate, plus they wore skirts to their ankles. To keep their hats on and keep dust off, both genders wore long dusters and goggles when “motoring.” Imagine wearing all that in summer’s heat and dust while bouncing on rutted roads.

“Woman vote may swing tide’

Even with all her 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.

The day before the election, Nov. 3, 1914, the Wichita Beacon wrote under the headline “Woman vote may swing tide,” “Large numbers of women were rallying to [Morley Murphy’s] support, and, if elected, she would be the first woman to go to Congress.”

Instead, the tide ran against Morley Murphy.

‘A dire disappointment’ as the glass ceiling fights back

She placed third of four Sixth District candidates. Perhaps most cuttingly, she lost nearly 2-1 in Sherman County, according to the Nov. 6, 1914, Goodland Republic. Incumbent Democrat John R. Connelly tallied 622 votes to her 378.

On Nov. 8, 1914, The Herald used her loss to disparage women’s suffrage. The newspaper said she had run in a state “where women vote” and was “routed 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” with “woman candidates undergoing defeat at the polls.” The article said Morley Murphy had lost despite “a lively campaign.”

Falling in line for the GOP

Despite her disappointing finish, Morley Murphy continued her club leadership positions and stayed active in politics — Republican politics. She campaigned for the GOP in the 1916 Presidential election, asking voters to “fall in line” for Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes, the Republican Presidential candidate, and Otis L. Benton of Oberlin, Sixth District candidate for Congress. Both men lost.

Mr. Murphy passed away on June 8, 1928. Morley Murphy moved to Topeka that year. She passed away on Oct. 2, 1951, at Ingleside Home in Topeka.

Breaking through the glass ceiling

Montana voters elected Jeannette Rankin, Republican of Montana, as the first Congresswoman. Montana, like Kansas, had given women the right to vote in national elections in 1914.

In 1932, the Sixth District voters sent the first Kansas woman to Congress, Kathryn Ellen O’Loughlin McCarthy of Hays. She defeated Rep. Charles I. Sparks of Goodland.

Goodland Carnegie Arts Center
Carnegie Arts Center was originally built in 1913 as a Carnegie library. Women voted in a special election to provide funding.

Morley Murphy’s legacy

Their influence also lives at Goodland Carnegie Arts Center, heir to the Goodland Carnegie Library Building. She belonged to the Library Board when it brought the Carnegie Library to Goodland in 1909. At that time, Mr. Murphy was the City Attorney. He ruled that the library election qualified as a municipal election under Kansas law.

The Murphys are buried in Goodland Cemetery in the Old Cemetery, Block 2, Lot 48, Plot 6.


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