Pauli Murray v. Jane Crow: A Fight for Women's Rights


Pauli Murray was an American civil rights activist, lawyer, women’s rights activist, and Episcopal priest. In 1977, the first year women were able to be ordained, Murray became the first African American woman to be ordained as an Episcopalian priest. 


Murray was born in Baltimore, MD, and was essentially orphaned at a young age. She was raised by her maternal grandparents in Durham, NC. At 16, she moved to New York City and attended Hunter College and graduated with a degree in English. 


In 1940, Murray sat in the whites-only section of a Virginia bus with her friend and was arrested for violating state segregation laws. This incident, and her involvement with the socialist Workers’ Defense League, led her to pursue a career as a civil rights lawyer. 


She attended Howard University, an HBCU, where she became aware of sexism and referred to it as “Jane Crow”, alluding to the Jim Crow laws that enforced racial segregation. Murray graduated first in her class but was denied the opportunity to do post-graduate work at Harvard because of her gender identity. 


In 1963, she became one of the first women to criticize the sexism of the civil rights movement. She wrote a letter to civil rights leaders, criticizing the March on Washington for not inviting women to make any major speeches or to be part of the delegation of leaders that went to the white house. 


In 1965, she became the first African American to receive a Doctor of Juridical Science from Yale Law School. She published a landmark article titled “Jane Crow and the Law: Sex Discrimination and Title VII.” 


As a lesbian in the 1930s and ’40s, she was hospitalized for psychiatric treatment twice due to the belief that homosexuality was an illness. 


Pauli Murray died of pancreatic cancer in 1985. In 2012, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church voted to honor her as one of its Holy Women, Holy Men. In 2015 the National Trust for Historic Preservation designated her childhood home as a National Treasure. 


Murray founded the National Organization for Women (NOW), hoping it would act as an NAACP for women.


Written by: Zach Hover


Sources: Wikipedia, Pauli Murray Project

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