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Duncan Bassett Murphy, Jr. Papers

Identifier: SCPC-DG-266

Scope and Contents

The Murphy papers came to the Swarthmore College Peace Collection in good order, with meticulous arrangement and a finding aid. The folders were arranged chronologically and included much correspondence (only important correspondent noted is Liz McAllister, wife of Philip Berrigan), diaries, writings and notes, material documenting Murphy’s various involvements, plus an extensive collection of secondary material. Much of the latter was discarded, either because copies already existed in the SCPC or because it was of general interest and could be found elsewhere. Some was kept, however, if it was produced by local groups or by individuals outside of the national sphere, or if it was particularly informative in some way and helpful in understanding Murphy’s interests and involvements.


  • Creation: 1920-2012


Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research use.

Physical Access Note

All or part of this collection is stored off-site. Contact Swarthmore College Peace Collection staff at at least two weeks in advance of visit to request boxes.

Conditions Governing Use


Biographical note

Duncan Bassett Murphy Jr. was born on June 4, 1920, and was raised in Hartfield, Massachusetts. Most people called him Dunc. He was brought up as a Protestant, was deeply religious from youth, and was a pacifist, which would influence his later involvements and activities. A Fellowship of Reconciliation group at the church of his friend, Jean Lawson, was “where convictions formed that led me to register as a C.O.” [page 17 of unpublished autobiography]. In 1942, Murphy joined the American Field Service. During his 40 months of service -- in which he drove an ambulance for an estimated 35,000 miles and transported over 3,000 Allied battle casualties -- he was in Syria Lebanon, North Africa, Italy, and Europe. Murphy was with the Scottish regiment that liberated Belsen concentration camp (Germany) in 1945. He was awarded a British Empire Medal for bravery in evacuating casualties from battles to field hospitals, as well as the 1939-1945 Star Ribbon, the France Germany Star Ribbon, and the Italy Star Ribbon. Though proud of his involvement in the AFS, it also led to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and fueled his later protests and actions against war.

Murphy attended Williams College before and after World War II, graduating in 1947 with a degree in political science. After graduation, he became involved in Shiloh, an interdenominational community in Sherman, New York, whose stated purpose was rehabilitation, service, and religious discovery, as well as the selling of farm produces. Murphy lived about twenty years there; his parents were part of the community as well. For some years Murphy worked as a tree trimmer. He later lived in California.

Throughout his life, Murphy was committed to various religious and peace efforts. Murphy was deeply involved in peace efforts during the 1970s and 1980s, particularly those relating to Native American rights, and to Central America. Murphy participated in many demonstrations, walks, civil disobedience, and delegations.

Murphy’s first trip to Central America was with the Coffee Brigade that went to Nicaragua to help in the coffee harvest. The second was to El Salvador with a small group of veterans. Other trips included Honduras with Ray Bourgeois [spelling?]. Murphy helped to start the veterans' convoys to Nicaragua, which flowered into Witness for Peace [see page 106 of unpublished autobiography]. Murphy engaged in Veterans Fast For Life along with three other veterans (Charles Liteky, George Migo, Brian Willson), fasting for about six weeks on the steps of the U.S. Capitol in 1986. Murphy also fasted for 30 days in 1992, beginning on Columbus Day to highlight 500 years of wrongs against Native Americans. During the Nuremburg Actions in 1987, Murphy and Brian Willson protested at the Concord Naval weapons station in California; while seated on train tracks as a train came toward them and did not stop, Murphy was able to get out of the way in time, but Willson lost parts of both of his legs. [see page 129 of unpublished autobiography]

Murphy was also interested in the transcendental, such as extraterrestrial beings and stone circles.

Murphy lived until the age of 92. He spent the last few years of his life at the Veterans Home of California and Piedmount Court. He died at the VA hospital of Palo Alto on July 28, 2012.


14.25 linear ft. (36 Boxes)


Duncan Murphy Jr. was greatly concerned for Native American rights, and was an activist against the U.S. war in Central America and the U.S. build-up of a nuclear weapons arsenal.


This collection is arranged as follows:

  1. Family history/members
  2. Biographical/autobiographical material
  3. Correspondence
  4. Involvements
  5. Writings/notes
  6. Reference material

Custodial History

The Swarthmore College Peace Collection is the official repository for these papers/records.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of David Swift, January 2016 [acc. 2016-006].

Separated Materials

Items removed to other areas of the SCPC:

  1. Oversized documents
  2. Posters
  3. Photographs (including oversized)
  4. Audiovisual items

Legal Status

Copyright to the Duncan Bassett Murphy Papers has been transferred to the Swarthmore College Peace Collection. Copyright to all other materials is retained by the authors of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.

Processing Information

Processed by Anne M. Yoder, Archivist; finding aid posted on May 4, 2016. This finding aid was updated by Wendy E. Chmielewski, November 2019.

Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 2018: The file list was standardized in Summer 2017 by Min Cheng in preparation for importing into ArchivesSpace. Elisabeth Miller added the notes in Fall 2017. Finding aid was updated by Wendy E. Chmielewski, November 2019.

Find It at the Library

Most of the materials in this catalog are not digitized and can only be accessed in person. Please see our website for more information about visiting or requesting repoductions from Swarthmore College Peace Collection Library

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