murrow and the university, 1926-1932

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Edward R. Murrow and the University

Edward R. Murrow in a theater production at Washington State University"At the end of one year (working for the lumber industry in Olympic Peninsular), having saved sufficient money to finance one year of college education, enrolled at Washington State College, but returned to the woods to work each summer. Worked my way through college, washing dishes and shifting scenery in the theater. Slept for one winter in basement of Sorority House and, together with boy named Ed Lehan, used to listen to sorority sisters on floor above engaging in late night "truth parties" - very informative. Was very active in extra-curricular affairs, debating, dramatics, Class President Junior year, Cadet Colonel of the Student Army in last year, and President of Student Council. Took courses ranging from animal husbandry to historic costuming, with emphasis on history and speech. Graduated with qualification for Phi Beta Kappa, but was not elected because of a thundering row with a faculty member on the selection committee. (Details of this regrettable episode will be found in the College records for 1930)."
From Outline Script Murrow's Career, December 18, 1953.

Recollections are always also reconstructions. For most of us, what we can and care to remember and be remembered for is a matter of emphasis and evasion. In this regard, Murrow is no different from any of us.

Professional Voice Training - Ida Lou Anderson (1900-1941)

Ida Lou Anderson In the years from 1926 to 1930, Murrow studied at the State College of Washington (WSC) in Pullman, a small agricultural land-grant college of approximately 2,800 students in a town of 3,000. His major was speech. Once in Pullman, it was Ida Lou Anderson, his speech professor, who became the formative influence of his personal and professional life. Throughout her classes and intensive private tutoring, she taught him how to use his voice and she taught him the classics as well as rhetoric and argumentation. Trying to explain to his Janet Brewster before the two were married what Ms. Anderson meant to him, Edward R. Murrow wrote in one of his letters:

She took a raw kid and gave him goals in life. ... She taught me to love good books, good music, gave me the only sense of values I have ... She knows me better than any person in the world. The part of me that is decent, that wants to do something, to be something, is the part she created. I owe the ability to live to her."1

Their student-advisor relationship turned into a friendship that lasted until Ida Lou Anderson's early death on September 16, 1941. In letters, telegrams, and rare meetings Ms. Anderson, who had contracted polio in childhood, continued to advise her former student, largely but not exclusively focusing on his professional and particularly his radio presence, and Murrow sincerely valued her comments and suggestions.

Radio and Military

Letter by Edward R. Murrow regarding the 35th anniversary of KWSC, 1957 Professor Anderson's instructions, Murrow's rhetorical skills, and what was perhaps the first radio broadcasting class taught in the U.S. put him on track for his later career in radio. Taught by Professor Maynard Lee Daggy, the broadcasting class had students produce their own radio programs which were then aired on the campus radio station, KWSC. Murrow's beginnings in radio were not completely auspicious: he received a B in the class.

Perhaps surprisingly for many of us, Murrow was a military man through and through, a commitment he sustained for life. Just as his brothers before him, Murrow participated in the ROTC program during all four years at Washington State. He graduated as Cadet Colonel, was the top military student on campus, and was captain of Scabbard and Blade, an honorary military society.

Fraternities and Student Organizations Starting Murrow's Career

Edward R. Murrow with Kappa Sigma brothers at WSC Following in the footsteps of his two brothers, Murrow joined Kappa Sigma, Gamma Mu Chapter. Tongue-in-cheek, Murrow would later say he joined because Kappa Sigma was the classiest fraternity on campus and taught him table manners. Coincidentally, the fraternity was also the center of student power at WSC, and its influence started Murrow out on both his careers as an education administrator and as a broadcaster.

Tau Nu Epsilon (TNE) was a small, secret inter-fraternal society at WSC. In its covert, hence undemocratic meetings TNE members decided on all major student offices on campus. University administrators and professors were dismayed but could do little to curtail it precisely because of its secrecy. As a sophomore and Kappa Sigma man, Murrow was inducted. When TNE decided that Kappa Sigma was due for the Junior Class Presidency, Murrow was elected to that office through TNE mobilization of votes. When he wanted to become a member of the Pacific Students Presidents Association (PSPA) in spring of 1929, for which he needed first to be elected president of WSC's student body, TNE helped Murrow win that election as well. A week later, at the PSPA meeting, Murrow was elected PSPA president, an honor for the small school.

Book plate presented to the Friends of the Library at Washington State College by Edward R. Murrow Murrow's good contacts to a WSC administrator made the next step possible. The college paid $200 for Murrow to participate at the annual convention of the National Student Federation of America (NSFA), in late December 1929. Founded in 1926, NSFA was the U.S. branch of the European Confederation Internationale des Etudiants (CIE). Given his TNE experience of organizing votes en bloc and behind the scene, Murrow befriended and strategically organized significant student leaders such as Martha Biehle (Wellesley College, MA), Lewis Powell (Washington and Lee University, VA and later Supreme Court justice), Chester Williams (University of California), and Deirdre Mason (Rollins College, FL). Aware of his rhetorical skills, they secured him a spot to speak at the convention. In his speech Murrow called for a more politically involved student body and won over his audience. More importantly, he persuaded Winifred Rieber who was NSFA's primary sponsor and a well-known portrait painter, by astutely talking about topics dear to her heart. Thanks to her support, Edward R. Murrow was elected president of NSFA, a position he held for two years.

TNE was also behind the thundering row with a faculty member that cost Murrow his Phi Beta Kappa. Upset about Murrow's membership in TNE and his use of it over the years, the faculty member blocked his election to Phi Beta Kappa.

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1 ERM to Janet Brewster, undated (probably at Mount Holyoke Archives), cited in Persico (1988), p. 60.