SENIOR POWER: The Little Red-Haired Girl

By Helen Rippier Wheeler
Friday March 09, 2012 - 01:47:00 PM

(The Little Red-Haired Girl is an unseen character in the Peanuts comic strip by Charles M. Schulz, a symbol of his unrequited love.)  

Margaret Elliot Murdock (1894-1985) was a bell ringer, birder, caregiver, dutiful daughter and sibling, early enabler of University of California, Berkeley women students and the Women’s Faculty Club, Hawaii aficionado, housemate, musician, redhead, senior citizen, volunteer … 

I first met Margaret in 1968, when I was a resident at the UC, B Women’s Faculty Club (not to be confused with the men’s faculty club-- The Faculty Club.) She was semi-retired, serving as a sort of office manager, and still ringing changes in the Campanile at noontime. The campus was her adult life. There is relatively little in the literature by or about her. Not that she was shy or reticent.  

In 1985, Chronicle Books published Gifts of Age; Portraits and Essays of 32 Remarkable Women, with text by Charlotte Painter. The subjects were associated with California, some well known (e.g. Julia Child), all indeed remarkable. Among the less known was Margaret Murdock, whose photograph was accompanied by this brief essay, aptly-titled “Ringing Changes:”  

For nearly six decades the bells in the Campanile at the University of California, Berkeley campus were rung by a delicate, slender woman whose bright red hair slowly turned silvery white as she became what she calls ‘part of the public domain.’ In 1918 Margaret Murdock received a master’s degree in education on that campus, and throughout her working life and some years beyond, she remained a part of it. 

A native San Franciscan, with family roots in Oroville, California, Margaret took her first job in the office of the dean of women; then she worked in the president’s office, then as a credentials counselor in the education department. Her avocation as musician in the Campanile started in 1923. 

She drew the attention of Charles Kurault, who showed her at work on this television segment, ‘On the Road.’ She accompanied Garff Wilson’s recording of Dickens’s Christmas Carol on the bells. 

Her housemate for several decades was design professor Hope Gladding, who shared her philosophy that older people should not live alone, but should seek ways to be mutually supportive. Margaret continued as volunteer bell ringer after her retirement until she was 87.  

It appears that Margaret received no prestigious awards or honors for her considerable skills and contributions to the well-being of members of the city and campus communities. She did get into two Bancroft Library oral history documents. In 1976 she was interviewed about her father, printer Charles Albert Murdock (1841-1928), and early San Francisco and UC, B days. From her responses, I have gleaned herstory. Part 1 is mainly about her San Francisco childhood. Part 2 will take her to Berkeley and the University, and Part 3 to the Sather Tower chimes. 




Part 1  

Father was a member of the board [of education] about the time they were married. I know that it might have been having a teacher-wife that encouraged him to take the initiative to see that teachers could take leaves of absence and have sabbaticals without losing their positions.  


My mother taught me to read before I went to school. She probably couldn’t resist it. Since she died when I was very small, I was sent down to North Beach where she had taught, to be under the influence of some of her fine, fellow teachers. I was probably the only child who spoke English at home. It was called the Jean Parker School, on Broadway. 

At that time, the boys went to Washington Grammar, which is now a car barn, up where the cable cars are housed. Some of my grammar school days were at Grant, which is out near the Presidio, and had all the little army children brought up on buses. We had a very mixed population giving, sort of, a much more intellectual variety. 

They had their horse-drawn buses. And they were used to drum and bugle corps, so the school had an excellent sort of marching band and youngsters learned how to play drums 

and bugles and all, and I m sure that was the army influence that gave a little flavor to Grant School in the early days.  


I think both father and mother liked to sing. That’s why I learned some of the songs that they had learned from Camp Ha-Ha. Then, I think probably because of fondness for the family, Mr. Weber, who was an excellent piano teacher, offered me lessons when I was quite small shortly after my mother died. I never really kept up with piano or took singing lessons. But I think music has always meant a great deal to me. Probably that also was an inherited trait. 

I think she [my mother] liked singing and she may have studied some, because I have quite a few of her music books. So, that probably meant that she’d had a little training in it. But I just remember that she sang very well and had a musical voice. 

Mostly [father] used to go down and visit Horace Davis, who had a place in the Santa Cruz mountains. The outing I had with him was the one he took to the Hawaiian Islands. He didn’t do very much traveling. Perhaps he counted some of the trips back to New England for Unitarian meetings as outings in themselves. 


Milicent Shinn was one of our first women campus graduates and famous first Ph.D. She was a very good friend of May Cheney for whom I worked. I know that her claim to fame was that she was one of our university’s early higher degree people. Father knew Ina Coolbrith and some of the women who were literary lights in the early days. 

I do remember Kate Douglas Smith Wiggin [1856-1923]. Father published The Story of Patsy for the benefit of the Silver Street kindergarten, and The Bird Christmas Carol which was dedicated to little Lucy Stebbins and Horatio Stebbins. When I went east with Lucy Ward Stebbins and her mother, we went up to Maine, or down to Maine as they say. I think it was the year that Kate Douglas Wiggin had just died but her sister Nora was there. And we saw Quillcote, their home at Hollis. The character who was the wife of the stagecoach driver in Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm was their housekeeper and made baked beans and brown bread for lunch for us.  

[Lucy Stebbins] came back [to California] around 1914 or so. She graduated from Radcliffe and did social work in Boston, and then was appointed to be the assistant dean of women under Lucy Sprague, and shortly thereafter became dean of women. She was there for quite a few years before I graduated from college and got accepted as sort of the office assistant. 

[Father] was with me here, in Berkeley, at the time of the fire for a little while. And then moved over to Oakland around [19]24 I guess about four years with my brother. He used the Bancroft a lot. He was very appreciative of having the opportunity to go over material there in the Bancroft and glad to be one of their senior citizens working, as people always have at the Bancroft when they have time to delve into the past. 

I went to the normal school and taught choral music to the young. You get familiar with quite a bit of music if you have to teach it to children. But, I didn’t have any training on other instruments and didn’t really keep up the piano. So, for a good many years, the only instrument I really operated on was the bells. I sang in the U.C. chorus from the ‘30s on, for a long time, starting under Randall Thompson, who wrote the Peaceable Kingdom. I enjoyed University Chorus tremendously, lots of fun. I think we sang for Monteux, Jorda, Hertz, and Ozawa; so we had quite a period of singing with the San Francisco Symphony, including some Milhaud works with Milhaud there, in person. You get quite a repertoire of the classics when you are in a choral group like that. 

I think it was just expected that any of the young people in San Francisco, if they came to college in the early days, would come to the University of California. My brother came, and there wasn’t any thought of any other university. I commuted part of the time and then I lived on the campus, or in a sorority near the campus, or in a rooming house or something of that sort. I started working on the campus and really moved over to be nearer the campus. 

We lived out not too far from the Presidio. You had to take the California cable down to Market Street and then walk that last block with the commuters to San Francisco so numerous coming up as a horde from the Ferry Building that you ran along the gutter to the Ferry Building and then took your ferryboat which was always fun and the yellow, Key Route train and then walked up from University Avenue to the campus, although you could take the Southern Pacific and take the red train which landed you on Ellsworth, on the edge of the campus. But ferryboats were very pleasant in those days; you could have a bite of food, or play a game of cards or feed the gulls, do a little studying.  



Answers to last week’s herstory Senior Power column questions: 

(1) Clara Shortridge Foltz (1848-1934) 

(2) Charlotta Bass (1880-1969) 

(3) Lucy Ward Stebbins (1880-1955) 

(4) Mary Francis Kennedy Fisher (1908-1992) 

(5) Julia Morgan (1872-1957) 

(6) Charlotte Perkins Stetson Gilman (1860-1935) 

(7) Winifred Sweet Black Bonfils /“Annie Laurie” (1863 - 1936) 

(8) Mary Ellen Pleasant (1814-1904) 

(9) Della Haskett Rawson (1861-1949) 

(10) Bridget “Biddy” Mason (1818-1891) 



MARK YOUR CALENDAR Readers are welcome to share by email news of future events and deadlines that may interest boomers, seniors and elders. Daytime, free, and Bay Area events preferred.  

Sunday, March 11. 1:30 – 4:30 P.M. Book Into Film. Central Berkeley Public Library, 

2090 Kittredge St.. Discussion group participants will read the book Between A Rock And A Hard Place at home and then to view the film adaptation. Following the film, participants will discuss the book, the film and the adaptation process.
Sponsored by the Friends of the Library, this free Book Into Film program offers adult and teen patrons the opportunity to discuss. 510-981-6100. 

Sunday, March 11. 2:30-3:30 P.M. Concord Library, 3900 Savio St. The Concord Library Mystery Book Club meets on the second Sunday of each month. The book for March will be The Cold Dish (A Walt Longmire Mystery) by Craig Johnson. Free. 925-646-5455 

Monday, March 12. 12:30-1:30 P.M. Albany YMCA/Albany Library Brown Bag Lunch Speaker's Forum: What Makes American English so Interesting? Dr. Gunnel Tottie, author of An Introduction to American English and Professor of English language and linguistics at the University of Zurich, will discuss American English in the context of American history while making comparisons with British English. Albany branch library, 1247 Marin Av. 510- 526-3720.

Monday, March 12. 7 P.M. Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Avenue. 

Berkeley Repertory Theatre discussion. A docent from the Berkeley Repertory Theatre will discuss the current production, Moliere’s A Doctor in Spite of Himself, the traditional story of a girl, who feigns illness to avoid an unwanted wedding. Free. 510-524-3043 

Tuesday, March 13. 1:30 P.M. . Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Ave., Alameda. Douglas Borchert, J.D., SBC, underwriting counsel, columnist, will present “The America’s Cup: Racing the Wind.” Sign up in the Mastick Office or call 510-747-7506. This program is sponsored by the Mastick Senior Center Advisory Board. 


Tuesday, March 13. 6:30-7:30 P.M. Pleasant Hill Library, 1750 Oak Park Blvd. Book Pleasant Hill Library Book Club. Meet other readers for fun engaged discussions. We will be reading The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann. 925-646-6434. 

Wednesday, March 14. 12:15-1 P.M. Free. Hertz Concert Hall. University Baroque Ensemble, Davitt Moroney, director. Music of Bach, Handel, Charpentier. 510-642-4864. 

Thursday, March 15. 4:30 P.M. Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Av. eReader Workshop. Please bring your own device and library card to the workshop. Free. No reservations needed. 510-524-3043. 

Sunday, March 18. 2 – 3:15 P.M. San Francisco Shakespeare presents Macbeth. Central Berkeley Public Library, 2090 Kittredge St. The touring company presents a 55 minute production of the "Scottish play" with costumes, props, sets and recorded music. Stay for a Q&A session with the actors. 510-981-6100. 

Tuesday, March 20. 12:30 P.M. San Francisco Gray Panthers general meeting. “Let's Talk about Taxes: Tax the 1%!” Location: Fireside Room, Unitarian Center, 1187 Franklin St. (at Geary). 415-552-8800. 


Wednesday, March 21. 12:15 – 1 P.M. Noon concert, UC, B. Music Department. Hertz Concert Hall. UC Berkeley Symphony Orchestra, David Milnes, director. Weber: Bassoon Concerto, Drew Gascon, soloist. Debussy: Nocturnes. Tickets not required. 510-642-4864. 

Wednesday, March 21. 7:00- 8:00 P.M. Albany branch library, 1247 Marin Av. Adult 

Evening Book Group: Pat Barker's Regeneration. When poet and soldier Siegfried Sassoon writes a letter critical of England's efforts in World War I, he is sent to a mental hospital where Dr. W. H. R. Rivers tries to help patients express their war memories as a means of healing their "nerves." Rosalie Gonzales facilitates the discussion. Come to one meeting, or all meetings. Books are available at the Library. 510- 526-3720. 

Friday, March 23. 12:15-1 P.M. Bustan Quartet. Free Noon Concert Series. Lecture/demonstration: Co-sponsored event: Highlights: Hertz Concert Hall. Visiting Israeli group demonstrates their work in crafting new means of musical expression from diverse resources. Tickets not required. 510-642-4864.  

Saturday, March 24. Berkeley Public Library North Branch final open day for BranchVan Service at Live Oak Park. See April 7. 


Monday, March 26. 7 P.M. Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Av. Book Club.  

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peal Society by Mary Ann Shaffer. Each meeting starts with a poem selected and read by a member with a brief discussion following the reading. New members are always welcome. Free. 510-524-3043. 

Current-March 30. “Berkeley Women Vote: Celebrating California Suffrage 1911-2011.” An Exhibit at the Berkeley History Center, 1931 Center Street. 510-848-0181. 

Tuesday, March 27. 3 – 4 P.M. Central Berkeley Public Library, 2090 Kittredge St.,  

Tea and Cookies at the Library. A book club for people who want to share the books they have read. 510-981-6100. 

Wednesday, March 28. 1:30 - 2:30 P.M. Great Books Discussion Group: Mikhail Bulgakov's Master and Margarita. Albany Library, 1247 Marin Av. Rosalie Gonzales facilitates the discussion. Come to one meeting, or all meetings. Books are available at the Library. 510- 526-3720 

 Wednesday, March 28.  1:30 P.M.  Berkeley East Bay Gray Panthers.  North Berkeley Senior Center, 1901 Hearst, corner MLK.  Free.  510-548-9696.

Wednesday, March 28. 2-3 P.M. Moraga Library. 1500 St. Mary’s Road. Join a Berkeley Rep Theatre-trained docent to talk about the latest production, John Logan's Tony Award-winning two-character bio-drama about abstract impressionist, Mark Rothko, that's been called a "master class of questions and answers." Free. 925-376-6852. 925- 254-2184

Saturday, April 7. 1 – 5 P.M. Berkeley Public Library North Branch Grand Reopening Event. The final open day for BranchVan Service at Live Oak Park will be Saturday, March 24, 2012.  

Monday, April 9. 11:30 – 1:30 A.M. Older Adult Passover Seder. Jewish Community Center of the East Bay, Berkeley Branch 1414 Walnut Street. Kosher meal will include chicken and matzo ball soup, gefilte fish with horseradish sauce, fresh green salad w/ hard boiled eggs, roasted chicken, matzoh kugel, and wine. The Seder will be led by Ron Feldman. $10 JCC East Bay Member. $13 Non-Member. RSVP by March 29. Contact: Front DeskPhone: 510-848-0237. Email: 

Saturday, April 14. Berkeley Public Library Claremont Branch’s final open day for BranchVan Service at St. John’s Presbyterian Church.