Biographical sketch by Will O’Neil (revised Nov 27, 2022(
[This is a memorial biographical sketch of Anne’s life written by her widower, William D. “Will” O’Neil III. It is based largely on my recollections of what she told me, and I will welcome any corrections or additions by anyone with better knowledge. As corrections are received I will edit previous entries if need be, in contradiction of my usual blogging practice.]
Anne Frances Murphy was born in Appleton, Wisconsin, on August 9, 1939, to Elvira Johann Murphy (1904-2004) and her husband, Leo Joseph Murphy, DC (1901-1981).
Elvira had been the next-last of numerous daughters (and one son) in a farm family which had immigrated from Alsace. She identified as German but whether German (or Alsatian) had been spoken in her home I do not know. Her father had died when she was 6, throwing the burden of farming on his widow and children in an era long before any organized public assistance. In Elvira’s recollection, as recounted by Anne, the father’s death had cast a chill shadow over her childhood, as is all too easy to imagine.
Leo was from Russell, Minnesota, a “city” in the southwestern part of the State, which was incorporated in 1898 and in 1910 had a population of 262. (Population briefly exceeded 500 in 1950 before declining to today’s 348. It is somewhat poorer than average now and no doubt was then.) His mother was Annie O’Connell Murphy (1865-1933), who proudly claimed close kinship with Daniel O’Connell, the towering 19th century champion of Catholic emancipation in Britain as well as of Irish Catholic nationalism (and abolition of slavery in the United States, among other causes anathematic to conservatives). In Leo’s proud recollection, as recounted to his daughter, she had reigned over a local political soirée, convened regularly in her parlor. But she had been an invalid, afflicted by “fits” perhaps of epileptic origin, and her adoring son (one of 8, plus 2 sisters, with 6 boys and another girl having died in infancy or early childhood) had quit school after the sixth grade to help her. It was no doubt significant that Anne had been named for her Irish grandmother.
Both parents were proud American strivers, upwardly mobile, seeking the blessings of firmly middle-class status. Elvira, Anne recalled, looked down on her sisters, who all married “working men.” She graduated from high school and went to a “business college,” qualifying as a fully skilled secretary.
Leo followed his own upward path. This depended in part on his formidable athletic skills and particularly on his excellence on the baseball field. Hoping to find a way to help his mother with her health problems, he studied chiropractic while earning money as a player on a semiprofessional baseball team. This was in the 1920s when chiropractic was struggling to gain a place in the sun in the face of implacable hostility from the the medical profession, which itself had only scaled the heights of full respectability within living memory (as related to me by my own dear uncle, James Bryant Mason, MD, Brigadier General, AUS (1898-1980), himself the son of a physician). In many states chiropractors had faced severe pressure and even prosecution for practicing medicine without a license, and one of these was Wisconsin.
The great strategist/promoter of chiropractic’s growth was B. J. Palmer, son and heir of chiropractic’s founder, D. D. Palmer. When Leo graduated and gained his doctor of chiropractic (DC), B.J. urged him to set up practice in Wisconsin, where chiropractic had encountered so much difficulty in establishing itself, telling him (often-repeated account of his loving daughter), “They’ll never put you in jail, Leo, you’re just too damn good a ballplayer!”
Whatever the stimulus, Leo ended up in Appleton, Wisc., then a thriving city of about 25,000 between Green Bay and Milwaukee, one of the Fox [River] Cities and thus a center of papermaking. He played catcher for a time with the Appleton Papermakers baseball team and with his lithe athletic figure and Irish good looks no doubt cut a fine figure. In one way or another he and Elvira came together and decided to marry. Both came from thoroughly Catholic backgrounds, thus obviating what was then still a major potential marriage obstacle for many.
Elvira had suffered from problems with her thyroid gland and it had eventually been removed, or so she reported to Anne. Thyroidectomy patients even then were encouraged to take supplements of thyroid hormones to avoid major potential health problems, but Elvira never would, relying instead on the healing powers of Leo’s treatments, exposing her to severe hypothyroidism, with unpredictable effects.
She and Leo had their first child, Patrick Leo Murphy, on July 10, 1932, suggesting that they had married in 1931 or perhaps 1930, near their 30th birthdays. (Pat died earlier in 2022.) Then came Mary Therese Murphy (1933-2016) and next, James Michael Murphy, who died aged about 6 months. This was of course before antibiotics (just before) and children were still vulnerable to a number of serious infections which had no cure. Another boy was soon born, Leo Jr. (1937-2022).
Finally in 1939 came Anne, fourth of what would eventually be 7 siblings. Even by the standards of that day it was a notably large family. No Catholic could admit to practicing birth control of course (save by the generally ineffective “rhythm method”) but Anne was to note that none of her childhood friends (almost all Catholic, at her mother’s insistence) had families nearly as large, and her mother was vocally critical of Catholic women who stopped having children with two or three or four. Altogether, Elvira gave birth 9 times.
[Part II, et seq., will follow]