Celeste Granice Murphy
The Sonoma Index-Tribune
1882-1962

Celeste Granice Murphy, editor and co-publisher of the Sonoma Index-Tribune from 1915 to 1949, was born in Santa Clara on July 27, 1882.

And she was born to be a newspaperwoman.

Her paternal grandmother, Rowena Granice Steele, was described as “the first California woman novelist” by Stanislaus State University professor and historian R. Dean Galloway, in an article for The Pacific Historian. (24 (1): 105-124. Spring 1980).

Rowena had two sons by her first marriage – Harry and George Granice. Harry was to become the father of the subject of this piece – Celeste Granice Murphy.

Harry Granice learned about writing from his mother and about printing and newspapering from his stepfather, Robert J. Steele, who Rowena married in 1861. Steele was the publisher of several newspapers in California gold mining towns in the 1850s and ’60s. These included the Columbia Gazette, the Placer Courier at Yankee Jim’s and the Democratic Signal in Auburn.

The family of four went to Snelling in Merced County in June 1862 to start the weekly Merced Banner. Several years later the family moved to Merced where they published the San Joaquin Valley Argus. Young Harry Granice served as foreman.

In 1877, Harry went to San Francisco and followed his profession as a journeyman printer on the daily San Francisco Bulletin. He married Kate Keough, daughter of his Merced neighbors, in 1879, in Old St. Mary’s Church, in San Francisco. From this union, Cecelia Celeste Granice (she preferred to be called Celeste or “Celie”) was born July 27, 1882, to be followed by her two sisters, Julie (1884) and Ramona (1894).

Harry Granice’s health worsened during his long, arduous hours as a compositor on the Bulletin, and a doctor advised him to go to some quiet place in the country to live out what the doctor felt might be a short span of life. So in 1884 the family moved to Sonoma where Granice purchased the Sonoma Index, which had had no less than 13 different owners since its founding in 1879. His health improved, and he was to continue at the helm of the Sonoma paper until his death, 30 years later.

THE FOREGOING  was background leading to the introduction of our 2002 California Newspaper Hall of Fame winner.

 “I well remember – in the late 1880s – my father pulling the handle of the old Washington printing press, taking off the freshly inked papers one by one – my mother folding them, and the apprentice boy inking the forms while we little girls (she and her sister Julie) dozed on the bundles of newsprint,” Celeste Granice Murphy wrote, after her retirement as editor and co-publisher on The Sonoma Index-Tribune in 1949.

While a keen student attending Sonoma Valley Union High School, Celeste contributed news items, and even wrote editorials and feature stories for The Index-Tribune during vacations or when her father, the editor and publisher, was ill or called out of town.

Later, as a student at the University of California at Berkeley, she contributed to the campus newspaper and the major San Francisco dailies of the era – while studying for a teaching degree. She graduated from UC in 1901 with teaching credentials. But her love of writing and her being weaned on newsprint and ink combined to obliterate any thought of becoming a schoolteacher. Instead, the young college graduate suddenly found herself editing a weekly her father, Harry Granice, had started in Marin County in 1900, The San Rafael Independent.

The man who had been leasing the paper from Celeste’s father worked hard but could not make it financially against two competing Marin papers. Not wanting The Independent to close, Granice sent his talented daughter to save the paper’s life.

“I first looked at the tiny office and cluttered print shop (located on B Street in San Rafael) and wondered how it ever opened,” she told her nephew and successor at The Sonoma Index-Tribune, Robert M. Lynch, many years later. But she had instructions from her father: “You must get new advertising, meet the payroll, pay the rent and all other bills, and please the readers,” Harry Granice admonished his daughter.

W.E. Ortman, a Marin County old-timer whom she hired in 1902 as a young printer and jack-of-all-trades, recalled Granice in an article that appeared in the 100th anniversary issue of the San Rafael Independent-Journal in 1962.

“MISS GRANICE had a rolltop desk, atop which sat an oblong plaque on which was printed in gold letters ‘Celeste Granice, Editor.’ At this desk, Miss Granice transacted all business and wrote, let me say, conservative editorials.

“She was a small woman and, when not in an animated discussion, was quiet and unassuming. She generally wore a low-crowned straw hat with a feather alongside the ribbon band. Her street dress was a gray skirt and jacket and white shirt waist. Her shirt had a high collar. Plain in appearance, she nevertheless, at times, changed her hair-do. She was not quick, however, to change hats.

‘Those silly flower-pot affairs,’ she would scoff in disgust, ‘are made by male designers in Paris, just to make women appear ridiculous. It’s an organized move on the part of the inferiority complex of the masculine mind against women’s superiority. And women aid and abet them by wearing those crazy creations!’

“After fully giving vent to her pet peeve – ‘the acquiescence of American womanhood to male domination’ – she would go to her desk and write an editorial. Let it be said here that her editorials were not without force or punch. Miss Granice had a natural flair for adjectives. This added piquancy to her writings.

“Celeste’s father had told her that a newspaper personality should be foot-free and belong to no political party. ‘Be neither Republican or Democrat. Be independent. Therein lay the birth of the San Rafael Weekly Independent. The Independent, as a newspaper without political affiliations, was as truly independent as Miss Granice could keep it. She would belabor both Democrats and Republicans. Political personalities were of the stuff that nurtured her rapping pen.

“Theodore Roosevelt was one such.

“‘The big mouth behind a horsetail he calls a mustache’ scratched her pen across the writing pad. ‘Never could Theodore Roosevelt have become President of these United States, had not a crazy man murdered our beloved President (McKinley).’ Thus wrote Celeste Granice’s pen.

Ortman, who remembered his salary as $1 per week, for some 50 hours of work, nonetheless acknowledged that Miss “G,” as she was called, worked harder than anyone – “soliciting advertisements, gathering all the news, writing the stories and editorials, and then seeking job printing orders.”

Celeste, in order to get a competitive edge, turned The Independent from a weekly to a daily publication. Shortly thereafter, in the late autumn of 1903, her father sold The Independent to Michael Cochrane, who moved the presses, type and other equipment across B Street to a building Cochrane owned with a man named McNear. Some years later, the little weekly which young Celeste Granice turned into a daily combined with the Marin County Journal, eventually to become the 40,000-circulation Marin Independent Journal of today.

Celeste returned to The Sonoma Index-Tribune for a short period and then was hired by Fremont Older as the Marin correspondent for the San Francisco Bulletin, reporting on San Quentin Prison, among other duties. Later, during an interview for a reporter’s job on the San Francisco Examiner, the editor there urged her to return to Sonoma, where he felt she had a great opportunity to run her father’s newspaper.

She returned to Sonoma in 1904 and became associate editor of The Index-Tribune. In 1905 she married Walter Lewis Murphy, who had learned the printing trade as a boy in Illinois. After serving with the California National Guard unit that volunteered during the Spanish-American War, Murphy had returned to Sonoma and entered the building-construction business with his father, Ralph.

Two years after Walter and Celeste were wed at the Granice family home in Sonoma, the couple moved to San Francisco, where builders were in demand to help restore the metropolis from the ravages of the earthquake and fire of 1906. They later moved to Alameda, where Mrs. Murphy continued to write, contributing to the San Francisco newspapers and Life and Judge magazines.

Following the unexpected death of Celeste’s father, Harry Granice, 66, in 1915, Celeste and Walter Murphy used their savings, plus money borrowed from three old friends in Sonoma, to purchase the Index-Tribune from the Granice estate. Celeste became the editor and her husband was business manager and mechanical foreman.

They had a rough row to hoe. The paper had deteriorated in the months of Harry Granice’s illness and eventual death, and the subsequent settlement of the estate – 100 percent of which the court awarded to a young San Francisco woman Granice had married just three months before his death. Old equipment had not been replaced. There was little type or printing materiel to work with, and worst of all, there were two other newspapers being published in Sonoma – The Expositor and a brand-new monthly publication, The Forum. The two later merged, and the Murphys had one less paper to compete with.

They plugged away, buying new equipment as they saved – working day and night. Celeste even walked from Sonoma to the resort community of Boyes Springs, 3 miles away, and back to pick up advertising and news. Old-timers encouraged the Murphys, telling them, “The roots of The Index-Tribune are deep – you’ll succeed.”

Succeed they did, buying out the Enterprise Forum, then a paper called The Sonoma Valley Moon.

Like her father before her, Celeste Granice Murphy led the fight for municipal ownership and improvements of Sonoma’s water system, especially for fire protection and improvement of the city plaza. Her hard-hitting editorials played a major role in the passage of a bond election, which led to the city solving its water problems in 1933. Other well-researched editorials favored the repeal of Prohibition, protection of vineyardists and pure wines, and construction of the Black Point Cut-Off, which provided easy accessibility to Sonoma and the Valley, and a boost to the economy. She was an early advocate for the financing and building of the Golden Gate Bridge, predicting the span could be built and would be of inestimable value to Sonoma County, the North Bay area and beyond – despite many critics to the contrary.

While progressive and supportive of that which could help Sonoma and the Valley of the Moon prosper, Celeste was also a great chronicler of Sonoma’s historic past. Her editorials and buttonholing of state officials are credited with saving many of Sonoma’s historic landmarks, including Mission San Francisco Solano de Sonoma, the last and most northerly of the chain of Padre Junipero Serra’s 21 California missions. The home of Sonoma’s founder, General Mariano G. Vallejo, at The Index-Tribune’s urging, was acquired by the state as a monument.

The Murphys’ love for the past, as well as the need for community improvement, was emphasized in their purchase in 1937 of the old adobe Barracks where General Vallejo housed his soldiers prior to the Bear Flag rebellion in 1846. They restored the two-story adobe and lived in it for the rest of their lives. Prior to their deaths in 1962, the Murphys – in exchange for life tenancy – signed over The Barracks to the state for preservation as a historic landmark, today one of several in Sonoma still open to the public.

It was also in 1937 that Celeste completed her book, The People of the Pueblo: The Story of Sonoma, recognized as the first complete history of the community and its residents. The initial printing of Celeste Murphy’s book was done in The Index-Tribune’s job printing shop. The second and third editions of The People of the Pueblo were printed by Binford’s & Mort of Portland, Oregon.

The diminutive lady newspaper editor whose forceful editorials advocated growth and modernization of her community displayed an inner conflict in the preface of her book, which included the following observations:

“The old towns, chided with being ‘sleepy’ dead and ‘out of step,’ have spent time and money in modernizing, often at sorry cost as landmarks were scrapped and forgotten. It is only when adobes are crumbling, old Missions being restored, plazas about to be sold or dignified by some pretentious pile of belated monuments that the people of the pueblo begin to realize that history and landmarks are far more important than paved streets, concrete sidewalks, stucco store fronts, and all the pomp of Main Street. Time-scarred walls, hallowed soil and descendents of the old families should be the pride of every historic town, yet those often fail to impress those closest to them.

“Years pass with little recognition until a generation growing anxious lest a precious heritage slip away, awakes to the necessity of preserving the landmarks and traditions and recording the experiences of old settlers and descendents of the early families,” Celeste wrote.

The fact that Celeste personally knew and often conversed with such early-time personages as Sonoma’s founder, General Vallejo, and his youngest daughter, Luisa; author Jack London and his wife Charmian, residents of nearby Glen Ellen, certainly added to her appreciation of local history.

Celeste Murphy was one of the founders of the Valley of the Moon Vintage Festival renewal in 1947 (still the community’s major annual celebration) and also wrote and directed the Vintage Festival Pageant for several years. She was an active member of the 100-years-old Sonoma Valley Woman’s Club (of which she and her mother were charter members), the Sonoma Valley Historical Society, and the League of California Penwomen. She loved to travel, and her hobby was collecting bells. At the time of her death, at age 80, on May 10, 1962, shelves at her home in The Barracks contained more than 300 bells. Just three months after her death, on August 27, 1962, Celeste’s husband, Walter Murphy, also passed away.

The Murphys were genial hosts, and in their museum-like home in The Barracks, they entertained several California governors, national political figures, noted literary personages, generals, admirals, friends in the newspaper profession – and countless Sonoma acquaintances. Many of the newspaper friends were fellow members of the California Press Association, like Friend W. Richardson (later governor of California) of the Berkeley Gazette; Justus F. Craemer, San Rafael Independent Journal; Joseph R. Knowland, The Oakland Tribune; Ernest L. Finley, Santa Rosa Press Democrat; and Paul R. Leake of the Daily Democrat, Woodland.

Celeste was particularly proud of the friendship that she and her husband experienced in 1946 with five-star General H.H. (Hap) Arnold of World War II fame. The U.S. Air Force leader and his wife, Eleanor, bought a ranch and built a retirement home in Sonoma Valley. The general and the Murphys “hit it off” from the start, and Celeste soon had him writing an occasional column for The Index-Tribune that was usually picked up or quoted by U.S. and overseas press agencies. Gen. Arnold died at his Sonoma ranch on Jan. 15, 1950.

Nobody admired and respected Celeste Granice Murphy more than her nephew, Robert M. Lynch, son of Celeste’s younger sister, Ramona Granice Lynch. Ramona, by the way, also was employed at The Index-Tribune, with combined duties as ad taker, reporter and Linotype operator, until being forced to resign due to poor health. After Ramona’s death, at age 41, in 1937, Lynch’s “Aunt Celie” – who never had children of her own – was always there for him. He lived in The Barracks with the Murphys while attending college prior to World War II and working weekends as jack-of-all-trades at The Index-Tribune.

After his service ended in 1946, Lynch (at the time married to Jean and with a 4-year-old son named Bill) acceded to his aunt’s pleas to go to work at the Sonoma weekly. Celeste then expressed the hope that her nephew could someday become the third-generation editor and publisher of The Index-Tribune. That was to happen just three years later, in 1949, when Celeste and Walter Murphy retired. Lynch, at the age of 29, was given the opportunity to purchase the weekly paper on the installment plan – the final payment made 11 years later.

Celeste Granice Murphy, a woman pioneer in the field of community journalism in California, would be pleased to know that today her two grandnephews, Bill and Jim Lynch, are at the helm of the twice-weekly Sonoma Index-Tribune, succeeding their semi-retired father – carrying on the newspaper that has been in the same family since 1884, 118 years ago.

Contributed by: Carol Lackey