1996 Laureates

May Ross McDowell

While pioneering a road of accomplishments never achieved by a woman, May Ross McDowell involved herself in practically every civic project in Johnson City.

Her list of accomplishments include her becoming the first woman mayor of Johnson City in 1961, first woman vice mayor in 1959, first woman member of the Board of Mayor and Commissioners of Johnson City, first president of the Johnson City Business and Professional Women's Club in 1924, first woman on the Board of Directors of the Chamber of Commerce, the first chair of the Metal Fabrication and Manufacturing Apprenticeship Committee of Johnson City (the only woman to serve in capacity in the United States at the time), and the first woman elected to the Washington County Republican Executive Committee.

The Buffalo, New York native lived in Johnson City 77 years. May Ross was a member of the fist graduating class of Science Hill High School in May 1915. In 1934 she earned the LL.B degree in law from the East Tennessee Law School, and engaged in an active practice until 1943.

May Ross became associated with the Johnson City Foundry and Machine Works Inc. as legal council, vice president and secretary of the foundry in 1943. She became president and chief operating officer of the foundry from 1968 until she sold the company in 1980.

When Johnson City affiliated with Guaranda, Ecuador in 1963, May Ross started Johnson City's Sister Program, and remained involved until the 1970's. May Ross served for many years as the official representative of the City of Johnson City on the Sister City board. She was an incorporator and founding member of the Town Affiliations Families if the United States.

"I've had a real nice time in life," she said in a 1965 Johnson City Press article. "I'm a joiner." McDowell was certainly a joiner having belonged to more than 38 organizations in her life. But she was also a leader, founding several organizations such as the Patrick-Henry Allied Families of Virginia, Inc.

Recognized for her many achievements, May Ross was The First Distinguished Woman in Residence at the University of Colorado/Boulder in 1966, received the Woman of Achievement Award from the Tennessee Federation of Business & Professional Women's Club in 1966, and in 1970 she was selected as Outstanding Citizen by Civitan International Appalachian District.

"May Ross McDowell was a very good mayor and did a tremendous amount to make Johnson City what it is today," said the late Johnson City Publisher, Carl A. Jones in a 1988 article. "She was an outstanding industrialist and an outstanding citizen.