The University of Iowa LibrariesThe Biographical Dictionary of Iowa: Jacket Art - Agriculture - Cresco, Iowa by Richard Haines ca 1934 -  Photo by Scott Christopher courtesy of Gregg Narber


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Murphy, Richard Louis
(November 6, 1875–July 16, 1936)

–newspaper editor, U.S. government official, and U.S. senator—was born in Pennsylvania and migrated west to Iowa with his parents. He was raised in Dubuque, where his father, John S. Murphy, was editor of the local newspaper, the Telegraph Herald. Known by his middle name, Louis Murphy was educated in the Dubuque public schools and later followed his father into journalism.

    At the age of 15, he began his career as a reporter for the Galena (Ill.) Gazette. In 1892 he returned to Dubuque and joined the Telegraph Herald as a reporter. Over the next 22 years, Murphy rose through the hierarchy at the Telegraph Herald, successively working as a reporter, city editor, and editor.

    Murphy had several hobbies, including books and politics. A diligent reader, he served on the Dubuque County Library Board from 1909 to 1914. A lifelong Democrat, Murphy worked for Woodrow Wilson in the election of 1912 and was rewarded for his hard work with an appointment as Collector of Internal Revenue for the state of Iowa. He held that position from 1913 until 1920. Murphy married Ellen McGuire of Holy Cross, Iowa, on July 16, 1917. Murphy remained active in politics and served as a delegate to the 1920 Democratic National Convention in San Francisco.

    In 1920 he left public employment and entered private practice as an income tax counselor, a job he held for the next 11 years. It was said at the time of his death that Murphy had made enough money by the age of 53 to essentially retire from daily work.

    Murphy was a quiet, almost shy man and was frequently described as being of "frail health."His quiet demeanor did not mean that he did not care deeply about issues of the day. In an editorial published in the Telegraph Herald after his death, the editors recalled Murphy's "liberal views" and his instinctive tendency to side with the underprivileged. "His Irish blood boiled at injustice," noted the editors.

    His passion for politics propelled Murphy into a crowded field of five candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for U.S. senator from Iowa in 1932. Never having held elective office, Murphy was considered a long shot at best. But he prevailed in the primaries and was swept into office by the Roosevelt landslide.

    In the Senate, Murphy was a steady, dependable advocate for several causes. Foremost was his commitment to agriculture and increasing corn price supports from a low of 10 cents per bushel up to 45 cents per bushel and higher. In that effort, Murphy was an ardent supporter of fellow Iowan Henry A. Wallace, the U.S. secretary of agriculture.

    Murphy also championed the repeal of the 18th Amendment. Although he was a temperate man himself, he believed that Prohibition was ineffective and encouraged criminal activity.

    Murphy also was widely consulted by his Senate colleagues on matters of tax reform. No doubt his reputation as a tax counselor for more than 20 years gave him substantial credibility on such issues.

    Murphy's sudden death on July 16, 1936, brought to an end a promising career in Iowa politics. He was killed in an automobile accident as he was driving back from a Wisconsin vacation with his wife and another couple. He had served little more than half of his first term as a U.S. senator. He was buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery in a suburb of Dubuque.
Sources Murphy left little in the way of a documentary legacy. The best source of information about him is the Dubuque Telegraph Herald on the day of his death. See also the testimonials by members of the House of Representatives in Richard Louis Murphy, Late Senator from Iowa (1938).
Contributor: Timothy Walch