Janet Brewster Murrow, 1910-1998
"…But I want to tell you about another service for your men over here. That's the Air Evacuation of patients which has been organized by a section of the 9th Air Force. I've just been on a trip with them and watched flight surgeons, nurses, and technicians at work. Since Air Evacuation was first started in the Pacific in 1942 and continued in the Mediterranean area - 150,000 wounded and sick have been carried safely to the rear. And now in the European Theater the Air Evacuation Squadrons are training to do the biggest job yet done in a war. The principle is that the transport planes which carry supplies to the combat zone shall return with the severely wounded….But at the moment they are perfecting their team work by flying sick men from remote hospitals to the General Hospitals. One day this week we started off for a bleak airport somewhere in Britain…It takes just 20 minutes to load the plane. It doesn't matter how many planes there are to be loaded - it still takes twenty minutes to do the job. Each patient has his medical history pinned to his coat. Clutched in his hands are small personal belongings - pictures, writing pads. The litters are locked in place, we take off…"
Janet Brewster Murrow, broadcast for CBS, 27 February, 1944.
Few people know today that Janet Brewster Murrow became a successful BBC and CBS correspondent, wrote scripts, articles, stories and reports, and assisted her husband in his broadcasts especially during World War II. She organized and worked for charity organizations and various U.S. and UK government agencies from 1938-1945. She had excellent academic credentials, had tried out successfully as an actress, and was an accomplished pianist. Janet served on numerous boards after the war and worked tirelessly to foster and maintain Murrow's legacy after his death. It is not surprising, though, that next to her husband her accomplishments have been largely overlooked.
Childhood and University, 1910-1934
Born September 18, 1910, in Middletown, Connecticut, Janet Huntington Brewster was the daughter of Jennie Johnson, daughter of Swedish immigrants, and Charles Huntington Brewster, an automobile dealer. One of her ancestors was the renowned William Brewster, the Reverend Elder of the Pilgrims Church of Plymouth, a fact that greatly impressed the young Edward Murrow.
At high-school, Janet Brewster was an outstanding student, head of the debating society and editor of the school magazine among other offices. She then went on to graduate in sociology and economics from Mount Holyoke College in 1933. At the time she considered work at the Henry Street Settlement House in New York. She was also a talented actress who played several roles for a summer stock company in New London, New Hampshire, including the lead role in Sidney Howard's The Late Christopher Bean. Of course, it was rather difficult to find appropriate work during the Depression in the early 1930s. And so, Janet Brewster ultimately moved back with her parents and taught freshman English and commercial law at the high school in Middletown, CT.
As president of Mount Holyoke's student body, Janet Brewster had traveled to a National Student Federation of America (NSFA) conference in New Orleans in late 1932. It was during this trip that she became further acquainted with Edward R. Murrow, then president of NSFA. Janet Brewster married him on October 27, 1934. In the years to come, she calmly accepted her role as housewife and hostess in assisting her husband in his work, his contacts, career, and social life. Yet, she also carved out niches for her own various professional endeavors.
Correspondent, Writer, Relief Work Organizer, and Educator, London, 1937-1946
Janet and her husband moved to London at the beginning of May 1937. They first lived in a comfortable two-story apartment on Queen Anne Street and then moved to Hallam Street in 1939, where they ended up staying until 1946. Throughout the next nine years, Janet Murrow had the difficult task of keeping the household running, keeping accounts, hosting her husband's many guests, organizing enough food and supplies for them given war-related shortages, supporting her husband, keeping up with her various volunteer and paid jobs, and dodging innumerous bombing attacks.
Shortly after the outbreak of World War II, Janet Murrow assisted in evacuating children from London to the countryside and eventually to the U.S. (the American Committee for the Evacuation of Children). She "organized the London office of Bundles for Britain, working alongside its honorary chairman, Clementine Churchill, who became a close friend. By the middle of 1941 American women had sent to Britain 500,000 pieces of clothing, 72 mobile feeding units and $2.5m in contributions."1 Founded by Natalie Wales Latham in New York in late 1939, Bundles for Britain was a U.S. women's organization producing and shipping needed supplies to Great Britain. Janet Murrow eventually became executive chairman of its London Committee and, in fall of 1941, she returned to the U.S. ahead of her husband to give a series of lectures about Bundles for Britain and the war. For that trip, she also wrote a report summarizing her findings about the British Women's Voluntary Services across Great Britain, and donated all lecture funds minus expenditures to her organization. Increasingly frustrated with the organization's complexity, scope, and decentralization, and with shipments decreasing after the United States entered the war, she resigned her chairmanship in spring of 1942. She did remain a member of the London committee, however.
1 Leonard Miall "Obituary: Janet Murrow" in The Independent (London), Dec 23, 1998 (online).