Lulu Vashti Turley (Murphy)


Biographical Database of Black Women Suffragists

Biographical Sketch of Lulu Vashti Turley (Murphy), 1884-1960

By Thomas Dublin, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Binghamton University

Lulu Vashti Turley was born in Washington, D.C. in 1884, the youngest of four children of Hamilcar and Ida Turley. Her father was a clerk in the federal Pension Bureau and the family owned their home in 1900. Her parents and her three siblings all died in the next decade and in 1910 Vashti worked as a teacher in a District colored school and boarded with a family. She graduated from Miner Normal School in 1907, then attended Howard University part-time while teaching, and secured her A.B. degree cum laude from Howard in 1914.

While growing up, Turley appeared periodically in the Society column of the Washington Bee. The newspaper reported her summer in Seattle in September 1911. On several occasions papers reported on vocal solos she performed at social events.

While at Howard, Vashti was a member of the Social Science Club, which in 1912 had invited a speaker to address the topic of woman suffrage. She was also active in the campus branch of the NAACP and a founding member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority in January 1913. She joined about twenty other DST sorors in March 1913 in the woman suffrage parade organized by Alice Paul that was held on the day before Woodrow Wilson's inauguration.

As the parade date approached, the sorority's president, Nellie Quander, wrote to Alice Paul, concerned about rumors that Black marchers were not welcomed by parade organizers. She wrote, "There are a number of college women of Howard University who would like to participate in the woman suffrage procession on Monday, March the third. We do not wish to enter if we must meet with discrimination on account of race affiliation. Can you assign us to a desirable place in the college women's section?"

Whatever that assignment was, the Delta Sigma Theta marchers were not cowed by march organizers. One of the sorors recalled years later that they found their own

place among the college marchers, "thus helping to break down the tradition of Negroes [taking] their place at the tail end."

In 1916 Vashti Turley married Carl Joseph Murphy, her German instructor at Howard. Carl Murphy had a B.A. degree from Howard and an M.A. from Harvard. In 1918 the couple moved to Baltimore, where Carl had grown up, and where Carl joined his father, who had owned and edited the Baltimore Afro-American newspaper since 1897. Upon his father's death in 1922, Carl became editor and owner of the paper, positions he held for almost fifty years. By 1930 the couple owned their home valued at $10,000 and were raising five daughters. In 1940 they continued to live in Baltimore with four daughters and a grandson. By 1950, Carl and Vashti, now in their 60s, lived alone in Baltimore and Carl was listed as a newspaper owner and Vashti as keeping house.

In Baltimore, Vashti Murphy was active in the Parent-Teachers Association of her children's school, and also in the Baltimore YWCA, St. James Episcopal Church, and the NAACP. She also co-founded an elite women's club, the Philomathians, in 1932 to provide women with "creative intellectual avenues and stimulation." In 1954 she founded the Women's Auxiliary of the Crownsville State Hospital, a mental hospital for African Americans.

Her husband was also active in the Baltimore branch of the NAACP, raised funds for the NAACP's national legal program, and served as chairman of the Board of Trustees at Morgan State College. Vashti Murphy passed away in March 1960, following several years of battling diabetes, which required the amputation of her left leg. Thurgood Marshall served as one of the pallbearers at her funeral.


Federal Manuscript Censuses, District of Columbia, 1900 and 1910; Baltimore, 1930-1950. Accessible online with Ancestry Library Edition.

Marriage and death records for Vashti Turley Murphy; death records for Hamilcar Turley, Ida Turley, and Chester Hamilcar Turley in Ancestry Library Edition.

Nellie M. Quander to Alice Paul, 17 February 1913, National Woman's Party Papers, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

"Vashti Turley Murphy," in Wikipedia, accessed online at

Paula Giddings, In Search of Sisterhood: Delta Sigma Theta and the Challenge of the Black Sorority Movement (New York: Amistad, 2006 ed.)

Sydney Trent, "The Sorority that faced racism in the suffrage movement but refused to walk away," accessed online at

Biographical sketch of Carl J. Murphy, accessed online at

Find-a-Grave entry for Dr. Carl James Murphy, 1889-1967.

Selected articles mentioning Vashti Turley and Vashti Murphy in the Washington Bee and Washington Evening Star. Accessed via


Toya G. Corbett, "Family, Faith and Feminism: The Murphy Women, 1896-2000" (Unpub. PhD diss., Morgan State University, 2014), chapter 5.

Elizabeth Murphy Moss, Be Strong! The Life and Times of Vashti Turley Murphy (Baltimore: Murphy Moss Publishing, 2008).


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