The Table

Without question, the subject of this amazing book, Jane Crow: The Life of Pauli Murray, is the most influential woman of the 20th century, whom we know the least about!

Rev. Dr. Pauli Murray

Pauli Murray was a lawyer who worked on the most powerful civil rights legislation of her day, was affiliated with the ACLU, the EEOC, National Organization for Women (as a founder), the UN Commission on the Status of Women, was deeply involved in discussions about the ERA vs. expansion of the 14th amendment.

Names of Pauli Murray’s colleagues in these endeavors include Eleanor Holmes Norton, Betty Friedan, Ruth Bader Ginzburg, Dorothy Height, Eleanor Roosevelt, Marian Anderson – and the list goes on.

But what brought me to her was that she was the first African American woman priest, ordained in the Episcopal church.  (I should confess that this first ordination was so key to me; one of the women in the group visited a church in Chicago.  I drove a long way to be part of her congregation the Sunday she visited, and was completely overwhelmed at the sight of a woman’s form in vestments.  And what a thing to hear a woman preach!  And some time later, my sister joined the Episcopal church in Massachusetts, and was welcomed by Barbara Harris, the first black woman bishop in the Episcopal church.)

Here are a couple of articles which cover the career of Pauli Murray totally worth the read.

What both of them miss are two points:

1. As a black woman in the 40’s through the ’60’s, she was making HUGE contributions to several fields, including civil rights and rights for women, but struggled to get and keep income-producing jobs, and was always paid less than white, male colleagues.  A reflection of her peripatetic existence is that the application for the NY bar had to list every place she’d ever lived, and every job she had, with contact information for each.  Her application was 230 pages long!

2. From early adulthood, she firmly felt that she was not, biologically, a typical woman.  She tried for most of her life to find medical folks who would help her understand and live the way she thought she should be living.

Despite these huge impediments, her contributions are enormous.  I can think of no better example of persistence and grit. Finally, let me offer the words of Bishop Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows, recently installed as the first black woman in the Episcopal church to lead a diocese:

Bishop Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows

“She was such an important sign for black women in a number of fields – but especially the church – about what is possible.  She was a quiet warrior in many ways – breaking barriers and seeking equality and parity.  I know that I stand on her shoulders.”