In Baltimore, Maryland, on November 20, 1910, a baby girl was born to William H. and Anne Fitzgerald Murray; they named her Anna Pauline Murray and she was called “Pauli” for short. Her father, a graduate of Howard University, a historically Black university located in Washington, D.C., was an educator in a local high school in Baltimore and her mother worked as a nurse. Both of her parents were of various ethnic heritages but identified themselves racially as “Black”. Sadly, Pauli would lose both of her parents by the time she became a teenager. Her mother passed away, having suffered a cerebral hemorrhage, when Pauli was three years old. Her father, institutionalized at the Hospital for the Negro Insane of Maryland (last known as Crownsville State Hospital) upon suffering effects of typhoid fever, was murdered by a White guard when Pauli was thirteen years old.
As one of six children, Pauli was sent to Durham, North Carolina so she could live with her maternal aunts, Pauline Fitzgerald Dame and Sarah Fitzgerald as well as her grandparents, Robert and Cornelia Fitzgerald. Education was very important to the Fitzgerald family and both of Pauli’s aunts were teachers. In 1926, Pauli, at sixteen years old, graduated with a certificate of distinction from Hillside High School. She then moved to New York City to work and attend an institution of higher learning. While in New York, she stayed with family members, though Black, who were “passing” or identifying themselves as White. Their fair complexion and residency in a White neighborhood conflicted with Pauli, who was noticeably darker, i.e., “Black”. The following year, she moved from living with them after having earned her second, high school diploma, graduating with honors in 1927.
Pauli Murray was inspired by a mentor to enroll at the Ivy League institution, Columbia University in the City of New York. However, Columbia did not allow for women to matriculate at their university. She wanted to apply to attend Barnard College, the women’s college affiliate to Columbia but did not have the resources to study at the partner institution. Murray enrolled at Hunter College, which was a free city university, where she would study for two years until the Wall Street Stock Market Crash of 1929.