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Doris Louise Bailey Murphy ’38

A picture of Doris Bailey Murphy

Doris Louise Bailey Murphy ’38, March 21, 2011, in Santa Rosa, California. At 101, after a full life as a community activist and social worker, Doris was known as the sweetheart of Occidental, California. Friends and colleagues adored her, describing her as elegant, literate, independent, flirtatious, cranky, compassionate, and fully dedicated to the people and causes she supported. She grew up in Portland and began her college education at the University of Arizona, Tucson. It was a poor fit. “I played, joined a sorority, did all that stuff. Didn't like it, but did it,” she said. She returned to Portland and fell in with literary and political types, many of whom attended Reed. During the next year, she employed close friend Jack Huggins ’36 and his brother, Roy, to help with her literary magazine, The Dilettante, and started an art colony on Portland's waterfront. She then enrolled at Reed, spending the first three months on academic probation. After taking a literature course from Barry Cerf [English 1921-48], she was hooked. “I went full circle, from proper sorority life to writing a paper on prostitution and interest in social work, even while my interest in literature and arts never left me.” Inspired by Lloyd Reynolds [English and art 1929-69], Victor Chittick [English 1921-48], and Alexander Goldenweiser [sociology 1933-39], she completed requirements for a BA in sociology and then left for San Francisco to be near Jack, who was at University of California, Berkeley, and to get a job in social work; none were available in Portland at the time. “It was a small town then. A lot of people knew about Reed, and Reed was thought of as being a very politically liberal college, which it was, quite frankly.”

In San Francisco, she worked for the Traveler's Aid Society, helping runaways, wives fleeing abusive husbands, and others. She lived in an apartment on Nob Hill, and spent time with a community of writers and artists. The group often met at the Iron Pot restaurant in San Francisco, where she met a former member of the Industrial Workers of the World and rising leader of the American Federation of Labor, Joe Murphy. “I knew I'd found the man I was going to spend the rest of my life with.” In 1942, she got a job with the American Red Cross, a position she held for 13 years. Doris and Joe married in 1948 and spent time on their rural property near Occidental. Ten years later, union violence in San Francisco prompted them to seek the safety and seclusion of the countryside. Joe created a nursery on the land and raised rhododendrons, while Doris took classes at UC Berkeley, earned an MSW in social work and public health, and became a psychiatric social worker. (She attempted to retire at 65, but worked as a therapist until age 90.) After Joe's death in 1987, Doris created the Joseph A. Murphy Center for Labor Education and Social Action-a nonprofit devoted to labor education. She formed the Occidental Community Council and also created the Sonoma County Council for Community Services to provide senior meals, rides, and health-care programs. Following a conversation with a choir member about the lack of performance space in Occidental, she conceived of the Occidental Center for the Arts and led fundraising efforts to build it—her 100th birthday was celebrated at the newly opened center. In addition, Doris wrote for and helped edit the Occidental newsletter The Village Quest, and wrote a column in Russian River Monthly. She hosted fundraisers for the Occidental Health Center and the Peace and Justice Center.

In 2006, she published Love and Labor, a memoir of her extraordinary life. The book was praised for its energy and beauty and Doris' evident love for life and the written word. “Reed very definitely directed my life,” she said. “Had I not gone to Reed and become close friends with all these really great people, professors and students, my life would have been very mundane. As it was, Reed influenced my thinking tremendously, about politics and the world. It also gave me this great education, and things I never would have gotten in a university. It's hard work going to Reed. Any of us who have been there know that.” Survivors include her two nieces.

Appeared in Reed magazine: September 2011

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