Nov. 20, 1910 – Anna Pauline Murray (she called herself “Pauli” from about the age of 20 onward1) was born in Baltimore, the fourth of six children. Her mother, Agnes Fitzgerald Murray, who had been trained as a nurse at the Hampton Training School for Nurses, died of a cerebral hemorrhage in March 1914, in the fourth month of her seventh pregnancy, when Pauli was 3 years old. Her father, William Henry Murray, a graduate of Howard University, was a schoolteacher. However, in 1905, he became ill with typhoid fever complicated by encephalitis, and he was never mentally the same afterward.2 In 1917, he had to be committed to the local mental hospital, and a year later was transferred to Crownsville State Hospital, where in 1923 he was murdered by a white guard, who beat him to death with a baseball bat.3 The guard was convicted of manslaughter, and was sent to prison for ten years.4
1914 – Pauli went to live with her aunt, Pauline Fitzgerald Dame, in Durham, North Carolina.
1926 – When Pauli was 16, she graduated from Hillside High School in Durham, and then moved to New York City to stay with her cousin Maude. In order to meet the entrance and residency requirements for Hunter College, which at that time was a women’s college that offered free tuition to city residents, she spent a year at Richmond Hills High School, graduating in 1927.
1930 – She married William Roy Wynn, but soon realized the marriage was a mistake, and they permanently separated. The marriage was finally annulled in 1949.
1933 – She graduated from Hunter College, one of four black women in a class of 247 women.
1937 – After the decline of a close relationship between her and Margaret (Peggie) Holmes, whom she had met in 1934, she suffered an emotional breakdown. She struggled with her transgender identity—she identified as a man in a woman’s body who was attracted to women.5 She was never able to publicly disclose or discuss her gender identity.
1938 – After she recovered, she applied to graduate school in sociology at the University of North Carolina, where her white great-great-grandfather had been a trustee,6 but she received a rejection letter that said explicitly, “members of your race are not admitted to the University.”7
1940 – Pauli and her friend Adelene McBean were arrested and jailed in Petersburg, Virginia for refusing to move to the back of a bus, thus violating state segregation laws.
1941 – Pauli enrolled at Howard University Law School, graduating in 1944 as the only woman and the top-ranked student in her class.
1943-1944 – She participated with other Howard Law School students in a series of cafeteria sit-ins, protesting racial segregation in local cafeterias and restaurants.
1944 – She applied for a post-graduate fellowship at Harvard University Law School, but received a rejection letter that said explicitly “you are not of the sex entitled to be admitted to Harvard Law School.”8 (Harvard Law School did not admit women as students until 1950.)
1945 – She earned a master’s degree in law from the University of California, Berkeley. After passing the state bar exam in 1945, she became California's first black deputy attorney general in January 1946.
1950 – She published States’ Laws on Race and Color, an extensive compilation of the laws of every state regarding racial segregation and discrimination. The book provided a valuable resource for the NAACP in its struggle against racial discrimination, and Thurgood Marshall, who was at that time NAACP Chief Counsel, described the book as the “bible” of the civil rights movement.9
1956 – Her biography of her family, Proud Shoes: The Story of an American Family, was published.
1956-1960 – She worked as an associate attorney for the New York law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, where she met Irene (Renee) Barlow, office manager, who became her close friend and companion.
1960-1961 – She taught at the University of Ghana School of Law, in Accra. She later coauthored with Leslie Rubin a work entitled The Constitution and Government of Ghana (1964).
1961 – She was appointed by President Kennedy to the President’s Commission on the Status of Women, serving from 1961-1963.
1963 – On Nov. 14th, she delivered an address entitled “The Negro Woman in the Quest for Equality” to the National Council of Negro Women, in Washington, D.C., in which she criticized civil rights leaders for having failed to invite any women to deliver speeches at the March on Washington or to be a part of the delegation of leaders that met with President Kennedy at the White House afterward. She used the term “Jane Crow” for the twofold kind of discrimination that women of color are confronted with—discrimination not only on the basis of race (Jim Crow), but also on the basis of gender (Jane Crow).
1965 – She coauthored with Mary O. Eastwood an article in the George Washington Law Review entitled “Jane Crow and the Law: Sex Discrimination and Title VII.”10
1965 - She became the first African American to earn a doctoral degree from Yale University Law School. Her doctoral thesis was entitled “Roots of the Racial Crisis: Prologue to Policy.”
1966 – She was a cofounder of the National Organization for Women.
1967-1968 – She served as Vice-President of Benedict College in Columbia, South Carolina.
1970 – She published a collection of her poetry, entitled Dark Testament and Other Poems.
1971 – Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who wrote the plaintiff’s brief in the U.S. Supreme Court case Reed v. Reed, named Pauli Murray and Dorothy Kenyon as coauthors, in recognition of their influential work on gender discrimination. Reed V. Reed was the first case in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits gender discrimination.
1968-1973 – Pauli taught at Brandeis University, where she eventually received tenure as full professor in American Studies.
1973 – Irene Barlow, her longtime friend and companion, died of a brain tumor. Pauli decided to resign her professorship at Brandeis in order to enter General Theological Seminary in New York and study for the ministry.
1976 – She completed the third year of her seminary training at Virginia Theological Seminary, in Alexandria, Virginia, and received a Master of Divinity degree. Her master’s thesis was later published as “Black Theology and Feminist Theology: A Comparative Review” (in the Anglican Theological Review, January 1978, pp. 3-24). She described the strengths and weaknesses of black theology and feminist theology, and suggested that neither had yet fully explored the interlocking relation between racism, sexism, and classism.
1977 – She was among the first group of women to be ordained as Episcopal priests (on January 8th, at the Washington National Cathedral), and was the first African American woman to be ordained as an Episcopal priest. She had been raised in the Episcopal Church in Durham, North Carolina, and her aunts Pauline and Sallie had been longtime members of St. Titus’ Episcopal Church in Durham.
1977 – On June 12th, in a sermon at the Church of the Holy Comforter in Washington, D.C., she said,
“Jesus of Nazareth…treated women as persons of equal dignity and worth with men…When he visited the home of Mary and Martha in Bethany, he approved of Mary’s rejection of the kitchen role and permitted her to sit at his feet and listen to his teaching as if she were a male rabbinical student. And when he was teaching in the temple, he refused to condemn the woman charged with being caught in the act of adultery, saying to the man who had brought her in, “Let him who is without sin among you cast the first stone.”…
And women responded as disciples of Jesus, following him as he went about preaching the good news of the kingdom of God and using their own means to provide for him and his company. They followed him to the cross and stood by him during those agonizing hours of crucifixion when the other disciples had run away in fear. Women discovered the resurrection on Easter morning and went to tell the eleven; and according to John’s Gospel, Mary of Magdala was the first person to whom the Risen Lord appeared…
The message of Jesus of Nazareth was that wholeness of being lies, not in superior status or exclusiveness…but in the ministry of love and service that recognizes human worth. And many women today, responding to that message, are seeking a theology which in symbol and language will help people to understand the wholeness of God and the oneness of humankind.”11
1977 – On Oct. 12th, in a lecture at Vassar College, she said,
“My own quest for freedom of self-expression and wholeness of personality in the face of severe societal restrictions imposed upon me by poverty in my youth, by racism, and sexism have had much to do with my interest in law and theology. In my earliest youth I sought to work out intolerable frustrations through poetry. As I became more deeply involved in the civil rights movement in the 1940s, I turned to law as a means of working within the system for social change. In time, as the world crisis has deepened, I began to realize that the law by itself is inadequate to cope with fundamental moral and ethical issues of our time, and this led me to theology. I cannot pretend that I have found a synthesis, for my feminist outlook sharpens the tensions experienced in trying to come to terms with a continuous struggle for authentic selfhood...The synthesis that I strive for is one that harnesses the creative urge to a vision of a more humane society and in which I can direct whatever talents I possess toward making that vision a reality.”12
1978 – She served as priest in several parishes in Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and Pittsburgh, but had to retire at age 72, due to church rules regarding retirement.
1979 – On March 28th, in a lecture at the Church of the Atonement, in Washington, D.C., she said,
“True community is based upon equality, mutuality, and reciprocity. It affirms the richness of individual diversity as well as the common human ties that bind us together. The marks of a community of faith are communion, participation, mutual trust, sharing, and fellowship. A community of faith is both social and sacramental. As Professor Letty M. Russell of Yale Divinity School defines it, “Communion is participation with Christ in his work as the representative of God’s love to others, and sharing with his community in common actions of celebration, reflection and service to the world.” This is what we do in our Lenten season in a special sense, for following our celebration of the Holy Eucharist and sharing of a common meal, we reflect together on how we can respond to world hunger for human dignity as well as physical sustenance.”13
1985 – She was featured in a segment of Charles Kuralt’s “On the Road” program on CBS.
1985 – On July 1, at the age of 76, she died of pancreatic cancer in Pittsburgh. She was buried under the same headstone as Irene Barlow, in Cypress Hills Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York.
1987 – Her autobiography, Song in a Weary Throat: Memoir of an American Pilgrimage was published.
1Rosalind Rosenberg, Jane Crow: The Life of Pauli Murray (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), p. 39.
2Pauli Murray, Song in a Weary Throat: Memoir of an American Pilgrimage (New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation, 1987), p. 13.
3Ibid., p. 72.
4Ibid., p. 73.
5Rosalind Rosenberg, Jane Crow: The Life of Pauli Murray, pp. 55-60.
6Ibid., p. 4.
7Song in a Weary Throat, p. 148.
8Ibid., p. 310.
9Ibid., p. 373.
10In this groundbreaking article, Murray and Eastwood explained that the typical excuses or arguments given by employers for gender discrimination—namely, (1) the argument that, supposedly, women are only temporary workers, because they will leave work to marry and raise children, (2) the argument that certain customers or clients may prefer to utilize the services of men rather than women, (3) the argument that men may be physically stronger or have more physical endurance than women, and (4) the argument that employers may have to provide separate facilities, such as dressing rooms or restrooms, for women, thus requiring additional expenses on the part of the employer—do not, according to Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, justify gender discrimination. (Pauli Murray and Mary Eastwood, “Jane Crow and the Law: Sex Discrimination and Title VII,” 34 George Washington Law Review, 1965, abridged version in Radical Feminism, edited by Anne Koedt, Ellen Levine, and Anita Rapone, Times Books, 1973, pp. 165-176.)
11Pauli Murray, “Sermon, June 12, 1977,” in Pauli Murray: Selected Sermons and Writings, edited by Anthony B. Pinn (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2006), pp. 67-69.
12Pauli Murray, “Synthesis: Theology, Feminism, and the Law—The Impact upon a Creative Writer,” in Pauli Murray: Selected Sermons and Writings, pp. 206-207.
13Pauli Murray, “Challenge of Nurturing the Christian Community in Its Diversity,” in Pauli Murray: Selected Sermons and Writings, pp. 210-211.