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Alumni Profiles
reed magazine logoSpring 2009

A Rebel Remembers the Waterfront

Some times and places are forever legendary: Paris in the 1920s, New York in the 1950s, London in the 1960s. Doris Bailey Murphy ’38 was a witness to another mythic time—San Francisco in the years before and during World War II.

When Doris arrived in 1938 with a freshly earned Reed degree, San Francisco was a cacophonous town of crumbling but tenacious Old World gentility, ambitious immigrants, and creative bohemians. Cable cars scaled the hilly neighborhoods that flanked opera houses and union halls. Dockworkers and union-busters bloodied each other on the waterfront.

Doris Bailey Murphy

Doris Bailey Murphy ’38. Photo by Andrew McDonald.

Doris, now 99, recently chronicled that boisterous age in a self-published autobiography, Love and Labor.

Pouring her guests generous glasses of premium scotch, she lights up a stunning smile and recalls her first job as a social worker for the Traveler’s Aid office at the ferryboat landing downtown, the action’s epicenter. There she assisted the motley assortment of characters who hit the continent’s westernmost limits. What propelled her to that place and time?

Tossing logs into her stone fireplace, Doris says it was a yearning to see the world. Although she had loving parents and friends galore in Portland, she always wanted to head out on her own. “I remember standing on our balcony, looking down the hill at less privileged people, and thinking, ‘I’d like to get to know how they live,’” she says.

Her first college experience was as a sorority girl at the University of Arizona; she found it shallow and dull. Searching for something more challenging, she transferred to Reed, which she loved. Still, “those learned classroom discussions were just icing on the cake of reality,” she later wrote. “Life for me was a continuous prologue.” She graduated with a psychology-sociology degree and hit the road in search of adventure—and romance.

San Francisco was a good place to find them both. She explored the city’s bohemian subculture, and pursued a string of exciting love affairs—usually with intellectual types, but also with a cop.

Love And Labor

All her educated friends, it seemed, were joining the Communist Party, but she couldn’t bring herself to sign up, though it cost her some friendships. Her girlfriends, meanwhile, were leaving for honeymoons, and she wondered why she wasn’t getting married, too. “I thrashed inwardly for more excitement and a love of my own,” she wrote. “I was convinced that there was more in store for me.”

Doris kept up her literary and artistic connections, unwilling to settle down until the right man came along. He turned out to be Joe Murphy, the legendary leader of the Industrial Workers of the World, otherwise known as the Wobblies, and a survivor of the notorious Centralia Massacre of 1919. They married in 1949.

Waiting until age 37 to marry was worth it, she says; throughout her marriage she maintained her friends and her career. Her husband died 20 years ago and she still misses him.

Soberly pouring more scotch, and giving her dog Matilda a little kiss, she confesses one regret: “I was too absorbed with my life to ask my parents enough questions. I just hate that about myself now.” Meanwhile, writers still gather at her house, an hour from San Francisco, and she intends to keep on writing—and learning—into her eleventh decade.

—L.D. Kirshenbaum ’84

Further Reading

  • Love and Labor, by Doris Bailey Murphy. iUniverse, 2006.
reed magazine logoSpring 2009