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McDowell, May Ross, 1898-1988



  • Existence: 1898 - 1988


May Armena Ross McDowell was born May 11, 1898 in Buffalo, New York, the daughter of Elmer A. Ross and Susan Clementine Turner. She moved with her family to Johnson City, Tennessee in 1911. She graduated from Science Hill High School in 1915 and attended East Tennessee State College and the East Tennessee Law School. She was admitted to the Tennessee bar in 1934. Ross married George H. McDowell on August 29, 1938. They had no children.

McDowell worked at Empire Chair Company in Johnson City for 14 years, advancing from payroll clerk to corporation secretary. From 1935 until 1946 she served as corporation secretary for the Johnson City Foundry and Machine Works. She had an active law practice, including serving as Washington County Tax Attorney. In 1957, she was elected the first ever woman city commissioner in Johnson City, and in 1961 she became the city’s first female mayor. In 1964, she became only the second woman to receive the U. S. Department of Labor’s highest award, “The Certificate of Meritorious Service.” In 1965, she was selected as the first “Distinguished Woman in Residence” at the University of Colorado. McDowell’s world travels gave her an appreciation for the need for increased international relations and understanding of other cultures. As a result, she took the lead in establishing the Sister Cities International program in Johnson City in the 1960s.

The McDowells acquired ownership of the Johnson City Foundry and Machine Works, Inc. from the Setzer family on February 28, 1946. From 1946, May Ross McDowell served as the company’s vice president, secretary, and general counsel, while her husband served as company president. After her husband retired in 1968, McDowell then served as company president until 1984 when she sold the foundry.

McDowell was active in many civic and social organizations, including the Monday Club, Order of the Eastern Star, Johnson City Business and Professional Women’s Club (first president in 1924), Johnson City Chamber of Commerce (first woman director), American and Washington County Bar Associations, Salvation Army, League of Women Voters, Girl Scouts, the Patrick Henry Allied Families association (founder), Washington County Republican Party (first woman executive committee member), Tennessee Republican Party (executive committee member), Daughters of the American Revolution, and Central Baptist Church.

May Ross McDowell died on Sunday, December 18, 1988. She and her husband George are buried in Johnson City’s Oak Hill Cemetery.

Found in 4 Collections and/or Records:

Ella V. Ross and May Ross McDowell Papers

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: AppMs-0369

The collection is organized into three subgroups, as follows: Subgroup 1: Ella V. Ross Papers, 1920-1990 and undated; Subgroup 2: May Ross McDowell Papers, 1915-1988 and undated; and Subgroup 3: Audio-Visual Materials, c. 1910-1987 and undated.

Dates: 1910-1990 and undated

Johnson City Foundry and Machine Works Records

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: AppMs-0338

The collection is divided into nine series: Series 1, Miscellaneous Ledgers and Journals, 1902-1972; Series 2, Shop Orders, 1946-1982; Series 3, Purchase Invoices, 1975-1983; Series 4, General Accounting Ledgers, 1930-1956; Series 5, Union Contracts and Bills of Lading, 1957-1984; Series 6, Company Documents; Series 7, Photographs; and Series 8, Oversize.

Dates: 1902-1984

Johnson City Sister Cities Program Records

Identifier: AppMs-0328
Scope and Contents The Johnson City Sister Cities Program Records document the activities of this local organization to promote cultural understanding between Johnson City and its’ sister city of Guaranda, Ecuador and, in doing this, to promote a broader understanding and interaction between the American people and people in other countries in the world. Travel of representatives between the two cities, student exchange programs, and the development of the Guaranda Friendship Garden in Johnson City are among...
Dates: 1963-1997

Sherrod Library Records

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: UnivRec-0002

The collection is arranged into 8 series: Series 1, Correspondence, 1936-1977; Series 2, Book Collections and Funds, 1959-1971; Series 3, Library Reports and Studies, 1938-1970; Series 4, Status and Work of Librarians, 1969-1977; Series 5, Library Subject Files, 1941-1977; Series 6, Financial Records, 1912-1973; Series 7, Personnel Records, 1960-1970s; Series 8, Library Addition, 1964-1967.

Dates: 1912-1977; 1936-1977

Additional filters:

Corporation records 3
Personal papers 3
Photographs 3
Guaranda (Ecuador) 2
Johnson City (Tenn.) -- History 2