In His Brothers' Footsteps
Murrow was born into a Quaker farming family in North Carolina on April 25, 1908. Named Egbert Roscoe Murrow, he was the youngest son of Roscoe and Ethel Lamb Murrow. Within a few years the family moved to Washington, settling at Blanchard on Samish Bay in Skagit County, where Roscoe worked on a logging railroad. Throughout his childhood, Egbert both looked up to and attempted to outdo his older brothers Lacey and Dewey. Lacey V. Murrow (1904-1966), the oldest, became Washington's Director of Highways while still in his twenties and supervised construction of the state's first floating bridge.
By high school, Egbert abandoned his given name, which he hated, in favor of Ed; in college he began using Edward. Ed Murrow followed his brother Dewey's footsteps as valedictorian of his class and starred on championship debate and basketball teams at little Edison High School. After graduating in 1925, he spent a year working in an Olympic Peninsula logging camp to earn money for college. In the fall of 1926, he followed Lacey and Dewey to Washington State College in the southeastern Washington town of Pullman.
Murrow chose Washington State because his brothers went there, not because he was planning a career as a broadcaster (he began as a business major), but the school was well-positioned to prepare him for his pioneering career. It not only had a campus radio station, it was one of the few schools at the time to offer courses in radio broadcasting, taught by Maynard Daggy, a well-known expert on public speaking. Even more important for Murrow, WSC alumna Ida Lou Anderson had just begun her remarkable career as a professor of speech, in which she would mentor and inspire a generation of WSC students, none more than Murrow.
Ida Lou Anderson
Like Murrow, Anderson was born in the south (Tennessee) and moved to Washington as a small child, settling with her family in Colfax, the Whitman County seat just a few miles up the road from Pullman. She had polio as a child, resulting in serious physical handicaps. Nevertheless, she excelled in speech and drama classes and at the campus theater at WSC. After graduating, she earned a master's degree and returned to Pullman in 1926 as the school's youngest, and soon one of its most popular, professors, as well as a broadcasting coach and radio station advisor. Anderson demanded, and received, maximum effort from her students. Many of them remembered her class as a highlight of their college experience, and quite a few went on to careers in broadcasting, but Edward Murrow was her prize pupil, the one she called her "masterpiece" (Sperber, 26).
Switching his major, Murrow took 19 speech courses, most from Anderson, in his four years in Pullman. She helped him polish his radio technique with private lessons, introduced him to poetry and classical literature, and encouraged his wide reading and love of music. They spent hours conversing on literature, politics, and human nature, and he escorted her to dances and dramatic performances. Murrow later wrote to his fiance Janet Brewster about Anderson (who he sometimes referred to as the "other woman"):
"She taught me to love good books, good music, gave me the only sense of values I have ... . I've talked over in letters every decision. She knows me better than any person in the world. The part of me that is decent, wants to do something, be something, is the part she created. She taught me to speak" (Stimson, 134).Big Man on Campus
Murrow's growing forensic skills made him a leading figure on campus. As his brothers had, he joined the popular and powerful Kappa Sigma fraternity. With fraternity backing he was elected student body president. He eventually became head of the Pacific Student Presidents Association. He rose to command of the campus ROTC unit and was a second lieutenant in the inactive reserve when he graduated. Murrow also found time to take leading roles in campus theater productions and even to play on the basketball team.
During his senior year, Murrow attended the Fifth Annual Congress of the National Student Federation of America (NSFA). His speech, chastising fellow students for too much attention to "fraternities, football and fun" (Sperber, 29), impressed the delegates sufficiently that they named Murrow president of the organization for the coming year. He accepted with some reluctance since the position was unpaid.
Nevertheless, after graduating with his class on June 2, 1930, Murrow headed to New York to assume his post at NSFA, where he became a successful fundraiser. The job proved a springboard to Murrow's radio career. He made his first trip to Europe to attend an international student meeting and helped create and supply guests for the "University of the Air" series on the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), then just two years old. Murrow joined CBS in 1935 and the next year he became the network's European director, reporting from London. Within a few years, his eyewitness accounts of the London Blitz would make him internationally famous.
As his career took off, Murrow kept in regular contact with Ida Lou Anderson. By 1939, complications from her polio forced her to retire, but she continued to mentor and advise Murrow, who sent her the most powerful radio available so that she could critique his broadcasts. It was Anderson who suggested the slight pause in Murrow's introduction -- "This ... is London" -- that became his famous signature phrase.
When Anderson died in 1941, Murrow funded a book of memorials published by Washington State College. After Murrow's own death, the Edward R. Murrow School of Communication at Washington State University was named in his honor.