Murtha’s Personal Papers Can Now Be Accessed at The University Archives

Issue Date: 
November 16, 2015

The life and times of the late Congressman John P. Murtha, the longest-serving congressman in Pennsylvania history and one of its most prominent veterans, are reflected in a massive collection of Murtha’s personal papers that were donated to Pitt and have now been processed and archived by the University Library System.

The John P. Murtha Congressional Papers comprise the contents of 400 boxes of newspaper clippings, reports, meeting notes, correspondence, daily schedules, personal notes, hundreds of photos, more than 1,000 film and audio items, and more than 1,000 gifts and awards given to Murtha as a tribute to his service to his country—all donated to Pitt by Joyce Murtha, the congressman’s widow, in 2010.

Murtha attended both the Oakland and Johnstown campuses of the University of Pittsburgh and earned a bachelor’s degree in economics in 1961. He won a special election to Congress in 1974 and was reelected every two years until his death in 2010.

“My husband devoted 36 years of his life to Western Pennsylvania, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and to the defense of this country,” said Joyce Murtha. “It is with pleasure that I donate his papers and records to the University of Pittsburgh and to the world.”

The entire physical archive, which is now organized for access, is housed at the University of Pittsburgh Archives Service Center, 7500 Thomas Blvd., in Point Breeze, a few miles from the Pittsburgh campus. A new website,, features a sampling of the materials, which reflect the longtime Democrat’s work and accomplishments. Additional audio and visual files will be added in the future.

Highlights of the Murtha papers include:

• Photos and documents relating to his military service, which included three years in the U.S. Marine Corps, several decades in the Marine Corps Reserve, and two years of service in the Vietnam War. His many military awards include the Distinguished Service Medal, the Bronze Star with Valor, and two Purple Hearts.

• Information on Murtha’s career as a longtime member of the House Appropriations Committee, including his initial support of the decision to deploy troops in the Middle East and his subsequent reversal of that stance, calling instead for the redeployment of troops from Iraq. 

• His dedication to Pennsylvania’s 12th Congressional District, including Johnstown, where he coordinated all the state, local, and National Guard efforts to assist the community following the devastating 1977 flood. Murtha boosted the area’s economy through many jobs programs and projects and made the region a hub for military industry.

“The staff files in this collection show the enormous efforts undertaken by the congressman over the decades in appropriations, defense appropriations, 12th District projects, and job revitalization,” said Emily Hikes, a former University Library System processing archivist who worked on the collection for two years.

She added that Murtha’s bold statement when he changed his stance on the Iraq War triggered a response of hundreds of letters and documented phone calls from all over the world—they are part of the collection.

Memorabilia include items from all branches of the military given to Murtha in recognition of his service.

“Commemorative statues, artifacts like the sands of Iwo Jima, military hats, sabers, a vase from an Afghani war minister, a brass Vietnamese goblet—the sheer volume of military items says to me that was his most renowned trait,” said Hikes.

Murtha passed away on Feb. 8, 2010, following complications from gallbladder surgery.

Researchers who want to access the entire collection must visit the Archive Services Center to see the material. To learn more about the collection, contact the Archives Service Center at