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em portraitMrs. James Smith (Elizabeth Murray), By John Singleton Copley, 1769. Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

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Copyright© 2002-2013
The Elizabeth Murray Project
Site maintained at California State University, Long Beach
Last Updated November 21, 2013


Welcome to the Elizabeth Murray Project

Who was Elizabeth Murray? Is she best described as a self-made businesswoman, a female Benjamin Franklin? Or would it be more accurate to call her an ordinary, extraordinary woman? While her life centered on her family, her choices and actions put her in the midst of political conflicts and debates over women's roles.

This biographical resource site attempts to answer such questions through an exploration of important themes in early American history, with an online collection of documents and images, as well as curriculum materials for history courses at the elementary through university levels. The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has provided generous support for this project.

A brief introduction is in order. Born in Scotland in 1726 and orphaned by 1737, Elizabeth Murray was a geographically and socially mobile woman who moved throughout the British Atlantic world. At 22, she settled on her own in Boston, where she ran a successful shop throughout the 1750s. As a retailer and importer, she made a living selling the goods colonial Americans sought and helped other women open shops of their own. Murray also married three times, twice with unusual prenuptial agreements, and became unwillingly caught up in the struggles of the American Revolution.

Go to the archive, which includes letters, portraits, newspaper articles, and maps, to examine the rich documentary record of this fascinating woman. An interactive timeline, portrait, and other kinds of explorations can be experienced in the activities section. For classroom applications, helpful links, bibliographies, and other curricular materials, go to the teaching resources section. Tools include guides on how to use primary sources and how to evaluate websites.