Mary Ross, 102; leader for New York’s women lawyers

WASHINGTON — Mary R. Cowell Ross, a former president of the New York Women’s Bar Association who got her break in law because of the shortage of men in the civilian workforce during World War II, has died. She was 102.

She died Feb. 2 at her apartment at the Pierre Hotel in New York City, according to a death notice in The New York Times. She lived on the 24th floor overlooking Central Park at 61st Street and Fifth Avenue, according to a 2003 profile in the Omaha World-Herald.

On her way to becoming the 14th president of the New York Women’s Bar Association, from 1955 to 1957, Ms. Ross led its committee for equal opportunities. In a speech wrapping up her two-year term, she reported that women being turned away from law firms remained a “common occurrence” and that female lawyers were paid less than men and had slim chances of becoming partner, according to a New York Times article.


She told the World-Herald that she could not recall any personal sting of sexism.

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“I don’t remember feeling terribly bad about being a woman,” she said. “I was not oriented to be a secretary or anything. I was very happy to let the world go by as long as I could find my niche.”

An Oklahoma native who ­also lived in Nebraska, Ms. Ross donated $3.5 million to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for creation of a movie theater that now carries her name.

She was twice married. Her second husband, John O. Ross, was founder of the J.O. Ross ­Engineering Corp. of New York and, following a merger, had been chairman of Midland-Ross Corp. He died in 1966.

Ms. Ross was born Mary Riepma in Oklahoma City, ­according to the death notice.


She began college studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and graduated from Vassar College in 1932 before enrolling in what today is the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law. She earned her law degree in 1938.

She worked in Washington for the US government during World War II.

Ms. Ross moved to New York in 1946 to work for a law firm. Her specialty was wills, trusts, and estates.

She left in 1961 to go into private practice.

“Mary was instrumental in the expansion of our organization and was a much-loved contributing member for more than 40 years,” said Elizabeth Bryson, a past president and current board member at the bar association.