L.E. Murphy

By Nathan McCaherty, MC ‘07

Loren E. Murphy was born on July 23, 1882 in Cuba, Illinois.[1]  His parents, James and Ann, lived and worked on a small farm just outside of town.  Loren took much interest in law and politics throughout his childhood.  Upon graduating from Cuba High School, Loren went on to attend the University of Michigan where he studied law.[2] Murphy graduated in 1906 in excellent academic standing and promptly relocated to Monmouth, Illinois where he began to practice law professionally.[3]  Following two years of practicing independently, Murphy began a partnership with C.M. Huey which operated from an office located on Monmouth’s town square. 

The respect of Mr. Murphy’s work from his peers was made evident shortly thereafter in 1908 when he was elected for two terms as a Warren County Judge after only four years of practicing law.  Murphy served this office from 1910 until 1918.  He then held many other public offices in the local area.  In 1918 Murphy was elected as the President of the Board at Monmouth Hospital, a title which he carried until 1923.  He was then selected as the President of the Board of Education and held that office until 1927 when opted to resign in order to run for Mayor of Monmouth.[4] 

Mr. Murphy won the nomination for the Union Party on April 19th of 1927.[5]  He served that office for two years.  After his stint as Mayor of Monmouth, Murphy once again became a judge, being elected to a six-year term as a Circuit Judge in 1933.  At this time, he was also a Judge at in the Fourth District Appellate Court in Mount Vernon; he held both of these offices until 1939.  After his terms with the Circuit and Appellate Courts, Murphy was elected to the Supreme Court of Illinois.  He would remain a Justice with the Supreme Court until 1948 and enjoyed two different two-year stints as the Chief Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court.  This addition to his already impressive resume gained him state and even nationwide acclaim as he appeared in that era’s volumes of Who’s Who in America.  After his term in the Illinois Supreme Court, Mr. Murphy was elected to his final office in 1948 when he was named the Vice-President as well as Chief Counsel of the Bankers Life Assurance Company which had its headquarters in Monmouth.  Murphy retired from his professional life in 1956 at the age of seventy four.[6] 

L.E. Murphy’s stint as Mayor of Monmouth was short but successful.  His run began on a very exciting note.  On March 9th of 1927 it was announced that Murphy had won the Primacy race and would run for mayor with the backing of the Union Party.  To earn this right Murphy defeated C.W. Ward by 231 votes (one of the closest elections in Monmouth history).[7]  Weeks later and only a day before the election was to take place, the Monmouth Daily Review ridiculed both Murphy and his opponent, Judd Hartzell of the Citizen’s Party, for running rather boring campaigns.  However, the paper did contend that they believed both groups to be well-organized and ready to take on the position that they were running for.[8]  Finally, on April 19th, 1927 Loren E. Murphy won the election over Hartzell by 409 votes.  Murphy won eight out of the ten voting districts to ensure his office.  Further more, the Union Party candidate won in every single office in which they supported a nominee.  The following day the headlines read “Union Party Victory Complete.”[9] 

 Murphy and his newly elected counsel had their first meeting as city officials on May 2nd of 1929.[10] They accomplished a great deal in their first meeting and got the administration off to an excellent start.  It was at this meeting that Murphy passed his first ordinance as Mayor of Monmouth by a unanimous vote.  His first ordinance was to abolish the office of City Engineer.  He then replaced it with the City Superintendent of Streets.  Also at this May 2nd meeting he consolidated the Superintendent of Water, the Superintendent of Plumbing, and the Oil Inspector into one office.  As the final act of his first meeting as mayor, Murphy appointed a standing committee to “perform certain duties” in regards to the City of Monmouth.[11] 

In the next meeting two weeks later, Murphy approved a petition for a sidewalk on West 4th Avenue, gave the Chamber of Commerce permission to use the streets in mid-September for the Fall Festival, and appointed M. Crow as the Superintendent of Water Works, Oil, and Plumbing Inspection.[12]  At meetings over the next couple of months Murphy made many changes and ordinances that were intended to improve the City of Monmouth, including the approval of the construction of a gas station on East Archer Avenue [13], the approval of plans to build a reservoir on the location of the old water works [14], the hiring of a police officer [15], the approval of the Sunset View subdivision which would be a new addition to the community [16], instructed the Insurance Committee to investigate the cost of workman’s compensation and public liability [17], revoked cigarette and billiard licenses from retailers around the town who were suspected of breaking prohibition laws [18], ordered the removal of some train tracks by the Rock Island Southern Railway Company [19], passed a Tax Levy ordinance [20], and the construction and improvement of many roads and sidewalks in Monmouth [21].  One instance in his first few months as mayor that helped show that he was not only intent on pushing Monmouth forward, but also keeping its traditions was on June 20th when Murphy adhered to a long-standing city ordinance by not allowing the construction of a large gasoline storage facility inside Monmouth City limits.[22]  Throughout his tenure as Mayor of Monmouth Murphy made as many improvements to the community as he could.[23]


To understand the kind of man that L.E. Murphy was and the relevance of what he offered to both Monmouth and society in general, it is important to understand the time that he lived in and what was going on in the world.  The 1920’s began as a lively era of peace and great wealth throughout America.  The United States of America had just come out of World War I and increased industrialization and new technologies, like the car and the radio fueled the era with many advancements.  The nation’s fascination with airplanes and flight was just getting underway at this time as well.  These new technologies that helped make life easier on the common man helped the economy flourish.[24]  As the Dow Jones Industrial Average began to rise to new heights, a lot investors quickly began to purchase more and more shares in stocks.  Because of the boom that the economy had experienced, many economists saw the stock market as being a very safe place to store money as well as profit.[25] 


It was around this time that investors began to buy stock on margin.  Buying stock on margin means that the investor borrowed stock in order to get more leverage.  For every dollar invested, a margin investor would borrow nine dollars worth of stock.  In this system if the stock goes up one percent the investor would actually make ten percent in profit.  However, this process also works the other way around; a small drop in a stock could result in huge loss on the part of the investor.  If a stock drops enough, a margin investor could end up broke or even in debt to their stock broker. [26]

From the year 1921 to 1929, the Dow Jones shot up from 60 to 400 points.  Many people across America were made millionaires almost over night.  These get-rich-quick stories influenced many Americans to begin investing at very foolish levels.[27]  Investors mortgaged their homes and foolishly invested their life savings in stocks that they believed would make them rich, like Ford and RCA.  Many investors were fooled into believing that the stock market was totally worry free and a safe investment.  Few people actually studied or even take a close look at the companies they invested in.  A great many fake and fraudulent companies were formed to con the inexperienced investors.   Most investors never even thought a crash was possible.  To them, the stock market always went up.[28]

     By the year 1929, the Fed had raised interest rates several times in attempts to slow down the ever-rising stock market.[29]  By the middle of September headlines in the Monmouth Daily Review were already telling of substantial drop-offs in the Dow Jones.[30] By October, the steadily rising market had all but come to a stop.  On Thursday, October, 24 1929, many investors began to panic and began trying to sell as much of their stocks as they could.[31]  The newspaper headlines in the Monmouth Daily Review for the following days read “Market Nervous and Unsettled”, “No Enthusiasm in the Stock Market”, and “Stock Market in Worse Slump.”[32]  Margin investors who had become millionaires just a few short years before became bankrupt instantly, as the stock market crashed on October 28 and 29.  By that November, the Dow Jones dropped down from 400 to 145 points. In just three days, over five billion dollars worth of stocks were erased from the New York Stock Exchange.  By the end of the 1929 stock market crash, 16 billion dollars had been erased from the nation’s stock market and its investors.[33]  To make matters worse, banks had invested their deposits in the stock market.  With the destruction of the stock market, the bank lost a great deal of the money that people had deposited for safe-keeping.   It was at this point that many people tried to withdraw their savings all at once.  The financial system of the United States was in the worst position imaginable.  Some bankrupt speculators, who were once aristocracy, committed suicide.  Even bank patrons who had not invested a dime of their money in the stock market became broke as $140 billion of depositor money went down with the stock market.[34]  Murphy’s tenure as the Mayor of Monmouth narrowly missed the majority of the damage that was caused by the Stock Market crash and the ensuing depression.  This did, however, create many problems for the following mayors of the 1930s, such as C.C. Merillat and Earl McKinnon.

The stock market crash of 1929 was the most important cause of the Great Depression.[35]  This was a time of mass poverty throughout the United States, as many workers lost their jobs and were forced to live a very humble existence.  Former millionaire businessmen were reduced to selling food and novelties on street corners.  One third of Americans fell below the poverty line during the Great Depression.[36]

Understanding what was going on at this point in time can help us understand the sort of economy that L.E. Murphy was dealing with during his time as Mayor of Monmouth as well as the many other offices that he held through this era.  Knowing that when he held office as Mayor with one of the strongest and most wealthy periods that our economy has ever known makes it easy to see why there were so many improvements made by Murphy and his council.

 Another issue during this time that certainly had an effect on the decisions that Murphy and his peers made was prohibition.  The ratification of the federal prohibition amendment by the legislature in January of 1919 signaled the end a very long and bitter struggle between the Midwestern states’ more traditional Protestant population and the newer arrivals of mostly non-Protestant citizens.[37]

By 1910, about fifty three percent of the Illinois’ population was either born in a foreign country or were second-generation Americans, mostly of Irish, German, or of other Eastern European decent.  Most of these countries had few or no immigrants living in Illinois when it became a state in 1818.  There were many differences in customs and religion between old and new Illinoisans.[38]  The battle over the sale and use of alcohol is one of the best examples of these differences.  The older more traditional inhabitants of both Illinois and much of the rest of the country viewed these immigrants as a source of evil that threatened the American way of life, while the newer inhabitants, who were more liberal, found them to be a very important aspect in the advancing of culture.[39]  There were several groups which opposed the growing influence of the immigrants; a few of them were the Anti-Saloon League, the Women's Christian Temperance Union, and the Protestant churches.  These groups that were in favor of becoming dry and maintained that prohibition would reduce crime, increase savings deposits, and break the hold that the bars and saloons were rumored to have over the votes of immigrants.[40]  Finally, some traditionalists believed prohibition would help stop the decline of the Anglo-Saxon race in America and help give them control over the "racial impurity" that they felt was entering the state with the new arrivals.[41]  It is, however, important to note that not all prohibitionists were racist, many had other reasons.

Every time that they came up, the more liberal representatives opposed the traditionalists’ arguments for prohibition.  Their most effective lobby was without a doubt the United Societies which was made up entirely minority groups.  This organization was founded by Anton Cermak, who was the leader of Chicago's Czechoslovakian population and would eventually become the mayor of the city.[42]  There were many other groups that tended to find the idea of self-control in regards to alcohol more favorable than a total prohibition including the Roman Catholic, Jewish, and Lutheran churches.  This is one of the few subjects in politics where many politicians voted not in regards to their party, but according to their religion.  There were many legislators in opposing parties voting the same way simply because of their religious beliefs.[43]

The modern political struggle for prohibition in Illinois really began in 1907 when the Rev. Clay Daumer of Danville attempted to introduce and pass an amendment that would call for a statewide prohibition.  While the amendment was defeated, a bill was passed to make it possible for individual towns to decide whether they would be dry or not.  This law went untouched until the eventual ban.  After this came, a number of laws which seemed to be very much influenced by those in favor of a dry state; they included the illegalization of drinking on Sunday, on trains, near state universities, at nursing homes, soldiers' and sailors' homes, and naval training stations.[44]

The two most important legislative votes, however, came after a proposal for statewide prohibition in 1917[45] and on the federal amendment two years later.  Once again, they were divided by the themes of religion and ethics which had divided the state and country for years.[46] Statewide prohibition passed the Senate thirty one to eighteen; however, the House defeated the bill sixty seven to eighty.  A study of the vote shows that in the seven Chicago districts whose senators and representatives all voted "no," the law-makers represented some sort of minority groups, while the districts that all voted "yes" had law-makers who represented the traditional Protestant representatives.[47]  The same was true on the vote on the federal amendment in 1919.  That vote differed in the House, and passed only because the “drys” got a few votes from Southern law-makers in the intervening election.[48]

I think that it is safe to say that the prohibition struggle in Illinois was one between competing cultures: the more traditional Protestant inhabitants, and the more liberal non-Protestant, and still very European immigrants.  But these differences were certainly not limited to just the area in and around Chicago.  This fight was going on all over the state and even in Monmouth.  There were several votes in the county as well as the city regarding the subject of prohibition.  The majority of the people of Monmouth took the side of the traditionalists as they made up much of the population, but there were indeed those who were opposed to the idea of prohibition.  Even during the time of L.E. Murphy’s terms as mayor there were accounts of opposition and bootlegging.  For example in the town of Monmouth, J.W. Wallace was arrested for the sale of alcohol just as Murphy was beginning his stint as Mayor.[49]  Not long after that there was raid at the Johnston Depot Restaurant in which five men were arrested for the same reason.[50]  Only ten days later on June 20th, there was an even larger raid that resulted in the arrest of ten men as well as the seizure of two cars that were used for the purpose of transporting alcohol.  This raid was exceptionally significant because L.E. Murphy had a part in orchestrating it.[51]  This shows where he stood on the issue of prohibition.

It is comforting to note that, from what could be found, Murphy had no flaws or blemishes in his personal life that took away from what he did as a public servant.  Murphy was born a well mannered farm boy and he remained a gentleman all of his life. 

Only four years after moving to Monmouth Murphy married an elementary school teacher by the name of Besse Ditto.[52]  The two of them met while living in a boardinghouse after moving to the city.  The announcement on the cover page of the Monmouth Daily Review just two days after the wedding read “Cupid Triumphs over New Judge.”  Mr. and Mrs. Murphy would end up having eight children: Elizabeth, Dorothy, Margaret, Genevieve, Loren Jr., Wayne, C. Darrel, and Lewis.[53]  All four of the boys would eventually go on to serve in the armed forces, the oldest three in World War II, and Lewis in Korea.  Lewis also went on to become a circuit judge just as his father had.  After his retirement in 1954 Mr. Murphy lived out the rest of his days spending time on his farms and orchard in the Monmouth area.  He passed away in 1963 at the age of 81.[54]



[1] The Historical Encyclopedia of Warren County..

[2] The Historical and Biographical Record for Monmouth and Warren County.

[3] The Historical Encyclopedia of Warren County.

[4] The Historical and Biographical Record for Monmouth and Warren County.

[5] The Monmouth Daily Review, April 20, 1927.

[6] The Historical Encyclopedia of Warren County.

[7] The Monmouth Daily Review,  March 9, 1927.

[8] The Monmouth Daily Review, April 18, 1927.

[9] The Monmouth Daily Review, April 20, 1927.

[10] Record of Proceedings for the City of Monmouth, May 2, 1927.

[11] Record of Proceedings for the City of Monmouth, May 2, 1927.

[12] Record of Proceedings for the City of Monmouth, May 16, 1927.

[13] Record of Proceedings for the City of Monmouth, June 6, 1927.

[14] Record of Proceedings for the City of Monmouth, June 6, 1927.

[15] Record of Proceedings for the City of Monmouth, June 6, 1927.

[16] Record of Proceedings for the City of Monmouth, June 20, 1927.

[17]Record of Proceedings for the City of Monmouth, June 6, 1927.

[18] Record of Proceedings for the City of Monmouth, June 20, 1927.

[19] Record of Proceedings for the City of Monmouth, June 20, 1927.

[20] Record of Proceedings for the City of Monmouth, July 5, 1927.

[21] Record of Proceedings for the City of Monmouth, many ordinances over the next six months.

[22] The Monmouth Daily Review, June 20, 1927.

[23] The Historical Encyclopedia of Warren County.

[24] Charles R. Geisst.  Wall Street: A History. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

[25] John K. Galbraith. A Short History of Financial Euphoria.  Tennessee: Whittle Direct Books, 1990.

[26] Geisst.  Wall Street: A History.

[27] Geisst.  Wall Street: A History.

[28]  Galbraith. A Short History of Financial Euphoria.

[29] Geisst.  Wall Street: A History.

[30] The Monmouth Daily Review, September 13, 1929.

[31] Geisst.  Wall Street: A History.

[32] Monmouth Daily Review, headlines from October 24- October 30, 1929.

[33] Geisst.  Wall Street: A History.

[34] Galbraith. A Short History of Financial Euphoria

[35] Galbraith. A Short History of Financial Euphoria

[36] Galbraith. A Short History of Financial Euphoria.

[37] John E. Hallwas.  The Bootlegger.  Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1999.

[38] Hallwas.  The Bootlegger.

[39] Sean Dennis Cashman. Prohibition: The Life of the Land.  New York: The Free Press, 1981.

[40] Andrew Sinclair.  Prohibition: The Era of Excess.  Boston: Little, Brown and Company.

[41] Cashman. Prohibition: The Life of the Land. 

[42] Hallwas.  The Bootlegger.

[43] Sinclair.  Prohibition: The Era of Excess. 

[44] Hallwas.  The Bootlegger.

[45] Hallwas.  The Bootlegger.

[46] Cashman. Prohibition: The Life of the Land. 

[47] Hallwas.  The Bootlegger.

[48] Cashman. Prohibition: The Life of the Land. 

[49] Monmouth Daily Review, April 27, 1927.

[50] Monmouth Daily Review, June 11, 1927.

[51] Monmouth Daily Review, June 21, 1927.

[52] The Historical and Biographical Record for Monmouth and Warren County.

[53] 1930 Census of Warren County

[54] The Historical Encyclopedia of Warren County