Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Murphy, Frank

Born in Harbor Beach, Michigan in 1890, lawyer and politician Frank Murphy was a highly prominent public figure during the first half of the 20th Century. A devout Catholic, Murphy earned a reputation as an advocate of the poor, the working class, and the disenfranchised at many levels of government. He earned his law degree from the University of Michigan and was admitted to the Michigan Bar in 1914. His law career was briefly interrupted by World War I, when Murphy served in the American Expeditionary Force. 

Murphy first came to national attention as a judge in the Dr. Ossian Sweet case while working in the Recorder’s Court. His scrupulously fair handling of the case brought him widespread praise from liberal-minded Americans. Murphy was elected Mayor of Detroit in 1930 following the recall of Charles Bowles, and guided Detroit through the early years of the Great Depression. Murphy’s progressive philosophy brought him to the attention of President Franklin Roosevelt, who worked with Murphy throughout much of the remainder of his career. Following his mayoral term, Murphy was appointed as governor-general to the Philippines, where he served from 1933 to 1936. 

Murphy was elected Governor of Michigan in 1937. During his tenure as governor, he mediated between the United Auto Workers and General Motors during the UAW’s sit-down strike at Fisher Body Plant #1 in Flint, Michigan. This settlement paved the way for the nationwide recognition of workers’ rights to organize unions.

Roosevelt appointed Murphy as Attorney General in 1939, where he served for one year before being made an associate justice of the Supreme Court. He served in this office until his death in 1949 at the age of 59. Murphy never married, but was engaged at the time of his death.



Portrait of Frank Murphy, 2000s - 2013.048.164

The Frank Murphy Hall of Justice, 1970 - 2013.049.307

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