Family, Faith And Feminism: The Murphy Women, 1896-2000
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Type of WorkText
DepartmentHistory and Geography
ProgramDoctor of Philosophy
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In 1897, John H. Murphy, Sr. purchased the equipment and naming rights for the Afro-American newspaper in Baltimore, Maryland, for $200. Since that time, the Afro has served as a voice for the Black community, local, nationally and abroad and has been owned and operated by descendants of Murphy; establishing it as the oldest African American family owned publication in the country. The story that is not widely known is that John H. Murphy, Sr. received the money to acquire the paper from his wife, Martha Murphy. Family, Faith and Feminism: The Murphy Women, 1896-2000 focuses on Martha and four other women within the family who have not received the same recognition as their male counterparts for their contributions to society. Subsequently, this dissertation explores the impact of racism, sexism and classism on the social activism of the female members of the Murphy family, their participation in women's organizations, role in the newspaper business, and involvement in religious work. Utilizing a Black feminist lens, an analysis was conducted on the duel effects of race and gender by framing how women within the family attempted to resist systematic oppressive behaviors by defying traditional gender roles and combating racist elements imposed by the dominant hegemonic forces. Recognizing that the Murphy family is deeply rooted in the historiography of Black Baltimore, research was narrowed to focus on five specific women for this study: Martha Murphy, the wife of John H. Murphy, Sr.; Francis Louise Murphy, who established the Afro Clean Block Campaign; Vashti Turley Murphy, a founder of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated; Sister Constance Murphy, an Anglican nun; and Vashti Murphy McKenzie, the first elected female bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Their activism and everyday life experiences were placed within a historical context of the social conditions and circumstances present during certain political shifts such as the women's suffrage, clubwomen's and feminist movements which demonstrate how the intersection of race, class and gender specifically influenced the Murphy women's involvement in uplift activities, breaking down barriers within religious institutions, and civil rights.