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

THE BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF IOWA

University of Iowa Press Digital Editions
Murray, Janette Lindsay Stevenson
(October 28, 1874–December 23, 1967)

—educator, suffragist, author, activist, and Mother of the Year (1947)—was born in Traer, Tama County, Iowa, to William and Elizabeth (Young) Stevenson, descendants of Scottish farmer who settled in Tama County. She was educated in rural schools and Traer High School. In 1896 she graduated from Coe College in Cedar Rapids. She taught school in Yankton, South Dakota, and in Nebraska for several years and became a principal. She studied English at the University of Chicago as a graduate student.

    In 1902 she married Frederick Gray Murray, another Coe College graduate who had continued his education at Rush Medical College. He set up practice in Cedar Rapids, interrupted by a sojourn in Hawaii in 1918-1919 as a major in the Medical Corps during World War I.

    Janette Stevenson Murray had five children, all of whom graduated from Coe College and went on for further degrees. Each of her children–William Gordon Murray (b. 1903), Eleanor Murray Shepherd (b. 1906), Edward S. Murray (b. 1909), Janet Murray Fiske (b. 1912), and Winifred Murray Kelley (b. 1919)–taught school for some period of time.

    During 1915-1916, Murray campaigned for woman suffrage and wrote Equal Suffrage and the Schools. In 1917 she helped establish the State University of Iowa's Child Welfare Research Station. As state Parent Teacher Association (PTA) chair of parent education, she established PTA child-study groups. She was elected to the Cedar Rapids School Board in 1921, becoming the first female president in 1923-1924. In the late 1920s she became a radio personality, giving weekly radio talks on parenting over three years. She was also regularly asked to speak to groups on parenting, education, Iowa history, travel, and foreign affairs.

    In addition to her work on suffrage and parent education, Murray was active in a number of organizations, including the Cedar Rapids branch of the American Association of University Women (president, 1944-1946), Phi Kappa Phi (the national scholastic honor society), and the Central Park Presbyterian Church in Cedar Rapids. She received an honorary Doctor of Letters degree from her alma mater in 1940 when her youngest daughter graduated. In 1947, at the age of 72, she was named Mother of the Year by the American Mothers' Committee of the Golden Rule Foundation.

    Murray's activities extended to policy studies and international relations. In 1944 she began organizing women's study groups to help women become informed on world trade and foreign policy in order to help prevent future wars. She was a supporter of the United Nations and of foreign aid programs to provide education, food, and clothing for the underprivileged worldwide. For her efforts, she received the National Brotherhood Award from the National Conference of Christians and Jews in the 1950s.

    Throughout the years Murray shared her ideas and knowledge as a writer. She authored works on voting rights for women and the sugar industry in Hawaii. She wrote about parenting in her column, "The Modern Mother in Home, School, and Community," for the Cedar Rapids Gazette and in three nationally distributed publications for the Child Welfare Research Station. She wrote feature articles for Iowa newspapers and other magazines and journals, including Parents Magazine and publications of the National Kindergarten Association, and also wrote about Iowa history in the Iowa Journal of History and Politics. She was the author or coauthor of several books. With her husband, Frederick G. Murray, she coauthored The Story of Cedar Rapids (1950). She wrote Jennie Iowa Berry and the First Seventy-five Years of Women's Organizations (1952) and They Came to North Tama: Old Buckingham, Tranquility Folk (1953). With her daughter Janet Murray Fiske, she coauthored Hurrah for Bonnie Iowa: An Authentic Story of Two Families from Scotland Who Pioneered in Iowa (1963) and Bonnie Iowa Farm Folk: An Authentic Story of Life on an Iowa Farm in the Eighteen-eighties (1966).

    The Murrays lived in Cedar Rapids until 1963, when they relocated to Ames, and then to the Calvin Manor in Des Moines. Janette Stevenson Murray died of influenza at the age of 93 and was buried in Linwood Cemetery in Cedar Rapids. In 1996 she was inducted into the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame. cecilia knight
Sources An interview with Janette Murray and her daughters Eleanor and Winifred on the occasion of her being chosen Mother of the Year appeared in "You Can't Talk That Way About Mother," Better Homes and Gardens 25 (June 1947), 44. A front-page obituary appeared in the Des Moines Register, 12/24/1967. An obituary is also in the New York Times, 12/24/1967. Her publications also have some brief biographical information. She is profiled on the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame Web site and on Iowa State University's Plaza of Heroines Web site.
Contributor: R.

Cite as: Vogel, John N. "Murray, Janette Lindsay Stevenson" The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009. Web. 17 December 2017