Murphy Hall on the Academic Oval holds significant historic and strategic roles in the evolution of the modern-day University of Maryland Eastern Shore.
The women’s dormitory is named for John Henry Murphy Sr., founding publisher of the Baltimore-based Afro-American newspaper. A former slave and Civil War veteran who died in 1922, Murphy was a respected civic leader who crusaded for equal treatment of blacks in receiving a public education.
Murphy Hall’s construction came about after a fatal May 1941 fire, which destroyed a classroom building where workers were receiving instruction in mattress-making as part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal economic recovery program.
Maryland lawmakers, so the story goes, thought the old wood-frame Mechanical Arts Building had been a residence hall and appropriated $100,000 to replace the lost structure.
Construction of a new brick dorm during World War II represented a triumph of sorts for Harry C. “Curley” Byrd, president of the University of Maryland (1936-1954). Byrd lobbied legislators to provide money for the university’s branch campus to maintain segregation of the state's land-grant schools in College Park and Princess Anne.
The Crisfield, Md. native spoke at the dedication of the Colonial Revival-inspired edifice in the late spring of 1943, where Byrd commended the late journalist as a role model and for his life's achievements.
Murphy Hall is an important building at UMES because it contributed to defining the Oval as the heart of the original (1886) campus and led to a 23.8-acre area receiving designation on the National Register of Historic Places in September 2005.
In 2011, Murphy Hall (and an annex added in the early 1960s) is the lone dormitory facing the grassy, tree-lined quadrangle.