Senator James E. Murray

Murray Mooney

Senator Joseph C. O’Mahoney, (left) Senator James E. Murray, and John W. Jenkins, Chairman of the Tom Mooney Defense Committee, go into a huddle just before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee opened its meeting today to hear a petition to summon Mooney to testify at hearings on a Senate resolution urging his freedom.

James E. Murray served his uncle for nearly 20 years. It wasn’t pleasant work. When James A. Murray died, he had two provisions in his will. The first was written for anyone claiming to be his child. He denied paternity of any offspring, but if someone could provide evidence, they would be given $10 dollars. The second provision split his estate. He carried an envelope with shares allocated to family members, only to be revealed after his passing. His nephew James was granted the largest share of his estate though these certificates. James the younger eventually parlayed his inherited wealth into a successful political career.

Senator James E. Murray served in the U.S. Senate for 26 years (1934-1960) and sponsored groundbreaking legislation for working men and women throughout his career. His most important accomplishment was authoring S. 380, the basis for the Employment Act of 1946. Prominent historian Stephen Bailey credits Murray with providing the “spark of will” that transformed ideas and discussions into this landmark legislation.[1] In writing to support passage of the final bill, the American Federation of Labor, Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), and National Farmers Union signed a joint letter stating the legislation if properly executed could “mark the beginning of an American crusade for economic security, stability, and justice, and consequently a contribution of enormous significance to the cause of international peace.” [2] Twenty years after passage of the bill, economist John Kenneth Galbraith opined that it appeared to be “the most important single piece of economic legislation of the postwar years.” [3]

Truman and Murray

Truman and Murray enter the Senate.

Murray was also instrumental in passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act and co-authored the Wagner-Murray-Dingell Bill, the nation’s first proposal for comprehensive national health insurance, which laid the groundwork for adoption of the Medicare Amendment to the Social Security Act in 1965. At the signing of the Medicare Amendment, President Lyndon Johnson remarked that the legislation was made possible by “the long-enduring, and often thankless, efforts of earlier Presidents and earlier Congressmen. This is their victory too. It is the victory of Harry Truman and of great Congressmen like Aime Forand and James Murray and Robert Wagner and John Dingell.”[4]


Senator Murray was recognized in 1951 for his contributions to the American working people by the CIO with the Philip Murray Award. When Senator Murray was announced as the winner of the prestigious award, congratulations came from politicians and labor leaders across the country. President Harry S. Truman, who served beside Murray in the U.S. Senate, said the award was “richly deserved and symbolizes his enduring concern for the health and welfare of all Americans.[5] Former Senator Claude Pepper wrote, “No Man in my knowledge of the Senate has written a more glorious record for the health, the welfare, and the progress and security of our country than he.”[6] Senator Hubert Humphrey called Murray the “staunchest advocate of social legislation in the United States Senate” and ranked his battles for medical care and full employment with the top historic contributions in social legislation.[7] From the podium of the award ceremony, Philip Murray remarked that Murray was “a pillar of the CIO” and “knows that we must have a strong labor movement in America if we are to achieve the economic and social progress to which all men of good will aspire.” [8]

Murray and FDR

Senator Murray riding with FDR and Eleanor.

Murray’s role as a champion for labor started in in Butte, Montana, for a time, the largest mining town in the world with the largest local union in the world.[9] There, he worked for his wealthy uncle, James A. Murray, who took him in when his father died.[10] The elder Murray was also champion for labor; he never had a strike in one of his mines,[11] and in a remarkable move, funded the expansion of the Butte Bulletin,[12] an organ for labor, when unions desperately needed a voice, which circulated throughout the western United States between 1917 and 1924.


Walter Reuther speaks at CIO award ceremony honoring Sen. James E. Murray

See nomination to Department of Labor Hall of Honor here: DOL Hall of Honor Nomination Senator James E Murray


[1] Stephen Kemp Bailey, Congress Makes a Law: The Story Behind the Employment Act of 1946 (Columbia University Press, 1950), 41.

[2] Edwin G. Nourse, Economics in the Public Service: Administrative Aspects of the Employment Act (Harcourt, Brace & Company, 1953), 340. Nourse was the first chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors.

[3] J.K. Galbraith, “Review: Economic Advice and Presidential Leadership: The Council of Economic Advisers,” The American Economic Review 56, no. 5 (December 1966): 1249–50.

[4] Lyndon B. Johnson, “Statement of the President Following Passage of the Medicare Bill by Senate,” July 9, 1965,

[5] Harry S. Truman, “President Harry S. Truman to Honorable Philip Murray,” Telegram, (October 1951), AFL-CIO Community Service Activities records, Box 17 Flat, folder 1, University of Minnesota, Elmer L. Andersen Library Social Welfare History Archives.

[6] Claude Pepper, “Claude Pepper to Honorable Leo Perlis,” Letter, (September 29, 1951), AFL-CIO Community Service Activities records, Box 17 Flat, folder 1, University of Minnesota, Elmer L. Andersen Library Social Welfare History Archives.

[7] Hubert H. Humphrey, “Senator Hubert H. Humphrey to Leo Perlis,” Telegram, (October 2, 1951), AFL-CIO Community Service Activities records, Box 17 Flat, folder 1, University of Minnesota, Elmer L. Andersen Library Social Welfare History Archives.

[8] “CIO-CSC Philip Murray Award Given to Sen. Murray,” The CIO News, October 8, 1951; “CIO President Murray Hails Social Welfare Record of Senator James E. Murray,” Press Release (Washington D.C.: Congress of Industrial Organizations, October 3, 1951), AFL-CIO Community Service Activities records, Box 17 Flat, folder 1, University of Minnesota, Elmer L. Andersen Library Social Welfare History Archives.

[9] David M. Emmons, Beyond the American Pale: The Irish in the West, 1845-1910 (University of Oklahoma Press, 2010), 15.

[10] Donald E. Spritzer, “New Dealer from Montana: The Senate Career of James E. Murray” (University of Montana, 1980), 10–13.

[11] Dorothy M. Thayer, “New Faces in the Senate – Montana’s Young Jim Murray.,” The Washington Post, November 23, 1934.

[12] Guy Halverson and William E. Ames, “The Butte Bulletin: Beginning of a Labor Daily,” Journalism Quarterly 46, no. 2 (Summer 1969): 260–66; George S. Gould Jr., “Report of Inheritance Tax Appraiser,” November 1, 1922, Probate Case File #3274, County of Monterey Superior Court. Former U.S. Senator Wheeler confirmed Murray’s funding of the Bulletin, but incorrectly assigned the investment to the start-up of the paper in December 1917. The record of Murray’s funding is contained in his probate documents and corresponds with the expansion of the paper in August 1918.

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