It's the Union Lady: Betty Murray July 24, 1920-May 31, 2010

24 Sep 2010 2:48 PM | Posted by GNHLHA

It's the Union Lady: Betty Murray

July 24, 1920-May 31, 2010

On Tuesday, June 1, 2010, Betty’s daughter, Ai’fe (Betsy) Murray, wrote:        

“Family and Friends, Betty passed gently out of this world surrounded by family members on Monday just after tea time.”

Her memorial service was held on Thursday, June 3rd and was attended by her family, co-workers, co-unionists and a host of family and friends of loved her dearly.

 Betty was a founding member and officer of the Greater New Haven Labor History Association. GNHLHA presented her with the Augusta Lewis Troup Preservation Award in 2002. Below is a biography written by Joan Cavanagh based on an interview with Betty. It was read by Deborah Elkin, then- President of GNHLHA, as she presented Betty with the award.

Betty Murray's Biography for Augusta Lewis Troup Award 12/8/2002

Elizabeth Murray was born in Philadelphia in 1920 the year, she proudly says, that “women got the vote and Ireland was freed!” She went to work at age 18 in the insurance department of the state capital in Harrisburg, PA, but returned home at the beginning of World War II to work in the Cramp Shipyard, which had been newly refitted for service in the defense industry. Here, she met Henry Murray, a shipfitter who had come from Kearney Shipyard in New Jersey to help organize the Cramp Yard for the Union of Marine Shipbuilders of America (UMSWA-CIO). The drive was successful. Betty married Henry, and thus began a long and loving partnership between two strong labor and community activists.

As a rank and file member of UMSWA, Betty worked on a union newspaper and served on its Selective Service Committee, which visited local selective service offices in an attempt to get fathers who were war workers excused from military service. She also participated in a two or three day strike for the end of racial discrimination at the yard, which resulted in Black workers being offered skilled jobs where once they had been relegated to the position of yard or office cleaners.

After the Cramp Yard closed at war’s end, Betty was offered a job running the office of Steelworkers’ Local 2898, which represented two bearing plants. She became a thorn in the side of the company, calling them “all the time” with questions about their seniority practices and other issues. Betty recalls that, although “they never knew my name, some one would answer the phone and stage whisper, ‘it’s the union lady.’” The local office, which was just down the street from the plant, became a strong presence in the old, poor factory neighborhood, and was involved in many facets of the lives of workers and their families.

Betty left the Steelworkers job in 1950 when her son, Hank, was born. Her daughter, Betsy, was born in 1953. Her husband, Henry, took a job for the Political Action Committee of the C.I.O., which became the Committee on Political Education, AFL-CIO after the merger in 1955. His territory was New England. They moved to New Haven in 1956, but the family traveled all over New England with him in his work.

Betty did not work again for pay until 1966, but she was appointed the Women’s Activities Director of the New Haven Central Labor Council by its then President, Vincent Sirabella. The goal was to reach out to labor wives to get them more involved in the activities of their husbands’ locals. At the time, Betty recalls, wives were feeling very left out of union affairs.

Betty returned to work in 1966 as a secretary at the Yale Medical School Clinic for Adolescent Medicine, where she signed her union card at the behest of Bill Berndtson (another member of the GNHLHA Board and corresponding secretary of the Greater New Haven Labor History Association.) Between 1966 until her retirement in 1987, Betty was a mainstay in every union drive at Yale. She continued as an active member of Local 34. “Winning at Yale,” she recalls, “was a unique victory.” At her retirement dinner, the Chairman of the department, a doctor, thanked her for raising his consciousness and showing him his responsibility to his clerical and technical workers.

In addition to her steadfast contributions to the labor movement in New Haven, Betty has been a tireless community activist. She found her work with the mostly Black adolescents at the clinic to be important and satisfying. During the 1960s, she spearheaded a drive to end the racist minstrel shows at St. Aedan’s Church here in New Haven. Pressure on the church to end the shows came from a Bishop as a result of a letter of Betty’s that was published in the Catholic Transcript newspaper.

Betty  helped to revive the Catholic Interracial Council with Mary Johnson and others. The Council held parish meetings throughout New Haven, Hamden, and Branford and picketed churches after mass about issues such as scattered housing and in support of school busing. The Murrays and fourteen other families were part of a successful court case to integrate Edgewood School.

Throughout the Vietnam War, Betty also participated both nationally and locally in anti-war demonstrations.

Betty has been the treasurer of the Greater New Haven Labor History Association since 1990, an office she is resigning today. Our grateful thanks for her steadfast work as an officer.        

Betty’s life is a glowing example of the work of an engaged citizen acting in community to improve the lives of  working people. We are very happy and proud today to present her with the Augusta Lewis Troup Pass It On Award in honor of her many achievements and in gratitude for the high standards she has set for all of us.

The Greater New Haven Labor History Association gratefully acknowledges donations made in Betty’s memory at the family’s request by the following individuals and organizations:

John Riener 

Livingston, Adler, Pulda, Meiklejohn & Kelly, PC

UNITE/HERE Local 34 Members

Thomas J. and Kim M. Trella

Mark Cullen

The Flaherty Family 

Thomas W. and A. Margarida Meiklejohn                                                                                                                           

United Autoworkers Union Region 9A (Farmington)                                                                     

Jim Condren                                                                                                                                

Susan Karlins                                                                                 

Yale Unions Retirees’ Organization


Greater New Haven Labor History Association  •  267 Chapel Street, New Haven, CT 06513 • •

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