The Life and Work of Edward R. Murrow an archives exhibit

Murrow and the University, 1926-1932

Edward R. Murrow and the University

"At the end of one year (working for the lumber industry in Olympic Peninsular), having saved sufficient money to finance one year of college education, enrolled at Washington State College, but returned to the woods to work each summer. Worked my way through college, washing dishes and shifting scenery in the theater. Slept for one winter in basement of Sorority House and, together with boy named Ed Lehan, used to listen to sorority sisters on floor above engaging in late night "truth parties" - very informative. Was very active in extra-curricular affairs, debating, dramatics, Class President Junior year, Cadet Colonel of the Student Army in last year, and President of Student Council. Took courses ranging from animal husbandry to historic costuming, with emphasis on history and speech. Graduated with qualification for Phi Beta Kappa, but was not elected because of a thundering row with a faculty member on the selection committee. (Details of this regrettable episode will be found in the College records for 1930)."

-- From Outline Script Murrow's Career, December 18, 1953.

Recollections are always also reconstructions. For most of us, what we can and care to remember and be remembered for is a matter of emphasis and evasion. In this regard, Murrow is no different from any of us.

Professional Voice Training - Ida Lou Anderson (1900-1941)

In the years from 1926 to 1930, Murrow studied at the State College of Washington (WSC) in Pullman, a small agricultural land-grant college of approximately 2,800 students in a town of 3,000. His major was speech. Once in Pullman, it was Ida Lou Anderson, his speech professor, who became the formative influence of his personal and professional life. Throughout her classes and intensive private tutoring, she taught him how to use his voice and she taught him the classics as well as rhetoric and argumentation. Trying to explain to his Janet Brewster before the two were married what Ms. Anderson meant to him, Edward R. Murrow wrote in one of his letters:

She took a raw kid and gave him goals in life. ... She taught me to love good books, good music, gave me the only sense of values I have ... She knows me better than any person in the world. The part of me that is decent, that wants to do something, to be something, is the part she created. I owe the ability to live to her."1

Their student-advisor relationship turned into a friendship that lasted until Ida Lou Anderson's early death on September 16, 1941. In letters, telegrams, and rare meetings Ms. Anderson, who had contracted polio in childhood, continued to advise her former student, largely but not exclusively focusing on his professional and particularly his radio presence, and Murrow sincerely valued her comments and suggestions.

Radio and Military

Professor Anderson's instructions, Murrow's rhetorical skills, and what was perhaps the first radio broadcasting class taught in the U.S. put him on track for his later career in radio. Taught by Professor Maynard Lee Daggy, the broadcasting class had students produce their own radio programs which were then aired on the campus radio station, KWSC. Murrow's beginnings in radio were not completely auspicious: he received a B in the class.

Perhaps surprisingly for many of us, Murrow was a military man through and through, a commitment he sustained for life. Just as his brothers before him, Murrow participated in the ROTC program during all four years at Washington State. He graduated as Cadet Colonel, was the top military student on campus, and was captain of Scabbard and Blade, an honorary military society.

Fraternities and Student Organizations Starting Murrow's Career

Following in the footsteps of his two brothers, Murrow joined Kappa Sigma, Gamma Mu Chapter. Tongue-in-cheek, Murrow would later say he joined because Kappa Sigma was the classiest fraternity on campus and taught him table manners. Coincidentally, the fraternity was also the center of student power at WSC, and its influence started Murrow out on both his careers as an education administrator and as a broadcaster. Tau Nu Epsilon (TNE) was a small, secret inter-fraternal society at WSC. In its covert, hence undemocratic meetings TNE members decided on all major student offices on campus. University administrators and professors were dismayed but could do little to curtail it precisely because of its secrecy. As a sophomore and Kappa Sigma man, Murrow was inducted. When TNE decided that Kappa Sigma was due for the Junior Class Presidency, Murrow was elected to that office through TNE mobilization of votes. When he wanted to become a member of the Pacific Students Presidents Association(PSPA) in spring of 1929, for which he needed first to be elected president of WSC's student body, TNE helped Murrow win that election as well. A week later, at the PSPA meeting, Murrow was elected PSPA president, an honor for the small school.

Murrow's good contacts to a WSC administrator made the next step possible. The college paid $200 for Murrow to participate at the annual convention of the National Student Federation of America (NSFA), in late December 1929. Founded in 1926, NSFA was the U.S. branch of the European Confederation Internationale des Etudiants (CIE). Given his TNE experience of organizing votes en bloc and behind the scene, Murrow befriended and strategically organized significant student leaders such as Martha Biehle (Wellesley College, MA), Lewis Powell (Washington and Lee University, VA and later Supreme Court justice), Chester Williams (University of California), and Deirdre Mason (Rollins College, FL). Aware of his rhetorical skills, they secured him a spot to speak at the convention. In his speech Murrow called for a more politically involved student body and won over his audience. More importantly, he persuaded Winifred Rieber who was NSFA's primary sponsor and a well-known portrait painter, by astutely talking about topics dear to her heart. Thanks to her support, Edward R. Murrow was elected president of NSFA, a position he held for two years.

TNE was also behind the thundering row with a faculty member that cost Murrow his Phi Beta Kappa. Upset about Murrow's membership in TNE and his use of it over the years, the faculty member blocked his election to Phi Beta Kappa.

Working for NSFA, 1930-1931

Upon Murrow's graduation in spring 1930, NSFA sent its new president to visit its main offices across the nation and to participate at the CIE conference in Europe that summer. His first trip to Europe and the many leading European student activists he met were to be valuable lessons and contacts for the rest of his professional life. Returning to the U.S., Murrow moved to New York City. He began to work for NSFA and earned a $25-per-week stipend, about the average weekly family income during the Depression. According to Murrow, his position involved a "One-room basement office, Madison and 36th, arranging cheap student tours to Europe, visits to America of Oxford and Cambridge debating teams, etc."2That was an understatement of perhaps British proportion though. Murrow and others are credited for having organized the first ethnically integrated NSFA convention in December 1930, held at the Biltmore Hotel in Atlanta. Given the times and the location, this was quite a coup. It helped that the organizers were able to rely on the collaboration of Adolph Ochs, publisher of the New York Times, representatives of three Black Colleges (Atlanta University, Agnes Scott and Georgia Institute of Technology), and the skills of highly educated, upper-class female NSFA members. The convention passed a unanimous resolution that "racial discrimination would not be permitted to enter the policy of NSFA."3 An unexpected side benefit of being NSFA president was perhaps equally important for Murrow: NSFA offered its new president a first footing in the radio industry and, in fact, with CBS.

Upon Murrow's graduation in spring 1930, NSFA sent its new president to visit its main offices across the nation and to participate at the CIE conference in Europe that summer. His first trip to Europe and the many leading European student activists he met were to be valuable lessons and contacts for the rest of his professional life. Returning to the U.S., Murrow moved to New York City. He began to work for NSFA and earned a $25-per-week stipend, about the average weekly family income during the Depression. According to Murrow, his position involved a "One-room basement office, Madison and 36th, arranging cheap student tours to Europe, visits to America of Oxford and Cambridge debating teams, etc."2That was an understatement of perhaps British proportion though. Murrow and others are credited for having organized the first ethnically integrated NSFA convention in December 1930, held at the Biltmore Hotel in Atlanta. Given the times and the location, this was quite a coup. It helped that the organizers were able to rely on the collaboration of Adolph Ochs, publisher of the New York Times, representatives of three Black Colleges (Atlanta University, Agnes Scott and Georgia Institute of Technology), and the skills of highly educated, upper-class female NSFA members. The convention passed a unanimous resolution that "racial discrimination would not be permitted to enter the policy of NSFA."3

An unexpected side benefit of being NSFA president was perhaps equally important for Murrow: NSFA offered its new president a first footing in the radio industry and, in fact, with CBS.

NSFA, CBS, and Murrow

NSFA had early on established a hold in what was a relatively new local and national medium, the radio. In 1928 William S. Paley had bought up a group of small radio stations and renamed it Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS). Only a year later CBS proposed that NSFA organize radio programs and speakers during its less popular afternoon air time. With Fred Willis coordinating programs at CBS, the University of the Airwas able to line up leading figures of the day by relying on NSFA national and international student organization contacts.

Edward R. Murrow quickly got into radio. He first hosted a CBS show on September 15, 1930 and soon completely took over NSFA radio programming, arranging and hosting the thirty-minute, semi-monthly broadcasts. These included "remote pickups from London of Mahatma Gandhi and Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald, from Berlin, the aged President Paul von Hindenburg ... In New York, they lined up Albert Einstein and the Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore, both on first-time visits to the United States."4 Broadcasts also included conversations with Ray Lyman Wilbur, Norman Thomas, Corliss Lamont, and Ms Agnes MacPhail. This work experience and his friendship with Fed Willis would land Murrow his first full-time radio job only three years later. But first, Murrow accepted an offer to become assistant secretary of the Institute of International Education in late 1931.

Edward R. Murrow as Alumnus

Edward R. Murrow remained loyal to his alma mater and the campus radio station throughout his life, donating to the library book fund, or doing the voice-over for a promotional WSC 1950 movie, for instance. He lent his name and encouragement to the Annual Edward R. Murrow Award of National Collegiate College-TV Guild which was awarded by its chapter member station KWSC.

He also kept in touch with Sigma Kappa. In 1960, this involved a hilarious retroactive authentication of a document. Because Murrow could neither address the 50th anniversary dinner of Gamma Mu chapter in 1959 personally nor could he be reached to wire a telegram, a fraternity brother set about to compose 'Ed Murrow's message' himself. The message was so well-received that the chapter wanted it framed and hung in the Chapter Room. Now, the 'author' was caught.

He wrote to Edward:

"Now, dammit, having gone through all this you can't let me down. You and I are the only ones who know it is a fake. On second thought, in spirit, I don't think it is a fake. So, for years on end you and I will just have to play the game on this one."



1) ERM to Janet Brewster, undated (probably at Mount Holyoke Archives), cited in Persico (1988), p. 60.

2) Outline Script Murrow's Career, December 18, 1953. Information on the NSFA convention in Atlanta, see Sperber (1986), p. 40-43.

3) See NSFA Brochure, 1931.

4) Sperber (1986), p. 36'


Credits

Text and Selection of Illustration

Susanne Belovari, PhD, M.S., M.A., Archivist for Reference and Collections, DCA

Digitization

Michelle Romero, M.A., Murrow Digitization Project Archivist

Images

Ida Lou Anderson '24 leads a line of hungry students at a 1924 campus event. Photo by Myron Huckle '27; Ida Lou Anderson photograph: both Anderson images courtesy of WSU Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections, Pullman, Washington. All other images: Edward R. Murrow Papers, ca 1913-1985, DCA, Tufts University used with permission of copyright holder, and Joseph E. Persico Papers, DCA.


Partial Bibliography

State College of Washington changed its name to Washington State University in 1959. For a full bibliography please see the exhibit bibliography section.

Edward R. Murrow Papers, ca 1913-1985, DCA Including: Outline Script Murrow's Career, December 18, 1953; Those Murrow Boys (script)

Summaries of student life come particularly from Persico (1988) and Sperber (1986); also Kendrick (1969).

Ida Louise Anderson Papers, 1921-1970, Washington State University Libraries Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections, Pullman, Washington.

Ida Lou Anderson: A Memorial (The State College of Washington: 1941). This book contains a short biographical note about Ms. Anderson and memories by family members and students including Murrow's. Murrow also contributed financially to the printing of the book. The Edward R. Murrow Room contains three copies of this book.

Current Biography, vol.3, February 1942 (Wilson Company: New York), no. 2, p. 37-39.

State College of Washington Year Book, 1926-1930