Biographical Sketch of Rosalie Loew Whitney

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890–1920

Biography of Rosalie Loew Whitney, 1873-1939

By Sarah Dutton, graduate student in library science, Queens College, New York

Lawyer, Attorney-in-Chief for the Legal Aid Society, New York City Suffrage Party Congressional Chairman, Justice, National American Woman Suffrage Association.

Rosalie Loew Whitney was born in New York in 1873 to Hungarian Jewish parents, William and Leotine (Lottie) Wechsler Loew. She grew up with her five siblings in Manhattan. In 1892, she graduated from Hunter College with a B.A. She continued on to earn her L.L.B. from New York University and was admitted to the New York Bar in 1895. Her father, William Loew, also a lawyer, partnered with her to form the Loew & Loew law firm shortly after she graduated. In 1896, she was the first female lawyer to appear as an advocate in the New York Supreme Court. In 1899, Rosalie Whitney was a founder and the first president of the Women Lawyers Club, which later became the Women Lawyers' Association.

The Loew & Loew law firm shared a building with the offices of the Legal Aid Society, which provides legal services to those who could not afford it. Rosalie Whitney quickly joined the Legal Aid Society, and in 1901 was the first woman to be appointed attorney-in-chief for the Society. During her years at the Legal Aid Society, she was admired for her impressive work ethic, high case load, and ability. She was fluent in Yiddish, German, and Hungarian, so she was especially well suited to help the immigrant population. She was noted for her work in child labor, wage, fraudulent employment and predatory loan cases. During her time as Chief Attorney, the Legal Aid Society opened a Woman's Branch, to be staffed by female lawyers for the purpose of serving female clients. However, the branch closed in 1903. In 1903, she was rejected by the Bar Association of the City of New York because of her gender.

Rosalie Loew married Travis Harvard Whitney, also a lawyer, in 1903, and together they opened a new law firm called Loew & Whitney. She announced her resignation from the Legal Aid Society in 1904, when she was about to have her first child (Travis Harvard Whitney Jr.) and decided to spend more time at home. She continued some work in her private practice until around 1906, when her second child, John Loew Whitney, was born. In 1906, she published an article explaining her views on motherhood and professional women. Rosalie had one more son, William Thomas Whitney, in 1908.

It was not long before Rosalie Whitney resumed her legal and advocacy work. During this phase of her life, she became much more active politically, becoming especially involved with the Republican Party. By 1916, Rosalie Whitney was on the board of directors for the Women's Municipal League, which advocated for reform in New York City. In 1917, she was a Brooklyn delegate to the National Suffrage Convention in Washington and became a Congressional Chairman of the New York City Suffrage Party, a position she held until 1920. She was also a New York congressional chair in the Woman's Federal Equality Association and the only woman member of the Executive Committee of the Citizen's Union around this time.

Nineteen-eighteen was an eventful year. In a July, 1918 New York Times article, Rosalie Whitney describes herself, “as a practicing lawyer in New York City...as a Director and Chairman of the Legislative Committee of the Women's Municipal League; as a Director of the Brooklyn Consumer's League, and similar organizations; as a worker for suffrage, both in New York and Washington...” Rosalie Whitney represented the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) at the St. Louis Republican National Committee meeting, where she worked to get the committee to publically endorse the federal women's suffrage amendment. She spoke for NAWSA at the House of Representatives suffrage amendment hearing the same year. As described in volume five of The History of Women Suffrage, her speech before the House committee, “analyzing the vote on the suffrage amendment which was carried in New York State the preceding November[,] was a complete statistical refutation of the charge made by the anti-suffragists that the favorable vote was due to Socialists and pro-Germans.” In August of 1918, Rosalie Whitney gave a statement as Congressional Chairman of the New York City Suffrage Party after some women protesters were arrested in Washington. She distanced her party from the protestors, saying, “I know that the City Suffrage Party has no sympathy with picketing in any of its phases. Active Republican women have no sympathy with the movement or the political theories of the National Women's Party.”

Rosalie Whitney continued to be politically and professionally active for the rest of her life. She developed Republican women's organizations and campaigned for the Republican Party in 1920. She was a founder, attorney and Vice-President of the New York Women's National Republican Club. In 1921, she was appointed to the Industrial Commission of the NY State Labor Department. Rosalie Whitney was appointed Director of the Brooklyn Laundry Owners' Association in 1930, and she successfully fought organized crime in the industry. In 1934 she was Deputy Commissioner of Licenses for New York City. In 1935, she was appointed by Mayor La Guardia as a Justice of the Family Court Division of the Domestic Relations Court in Brooklyn. In 1937, she was finally admitted to the New York City Bar Association—one of twelve who were the first women admitted. On September 3, 1939, Rosalie Whitney died from leukemia.

 

This image was printed in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in 1934, when Rosalie Whitney took office as the new Deputy Commissioner of Licenses for New York City.

“No ‘go betweens' needed here, says Mrs. Whitney, new license deputy.” (1934, January 19). The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, p. 4. Retrieved from https://www.newspapers.com/image/59992344/

Sources:

Batlan, F. (2015). Women and justice for the poor: a history of legal aid, 1863-1945. Retrieved from
https://books.google.com/books?id=ZQG7BwAAQBAJ&q=rosalie#v=snippet&q=rosalie&f=false

Batlan, F. (2016). The “Rabbi's Daughter” and the “Jewish Jane Addams”: Jewish women, legal aid, and the fluidity of identity, 1890-1930. Indiana Journal of Law and Social Equality, 4(2), 135-168. Retrieved from
https://www.repository.law.indiana.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1052&context=ijlse

In memoriam. (1939, October). The Alumnae News, XLIV(7), p. 6. Retrieved from
https://library.hunter.cuny.edu/old/sites/default/files/pdf/archive_articles/in_memoriam-rosalie_loew_whitney_0.pdf

Johnson, E., Jr. (2014). To Establish Justice for All: The Past and Future of Civil Legal Aid in the United States. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO.

Laundry men clean house; woman czar. (1930, May 5). The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, p. 2. Retrieved from
https://www.newspapers.com/image/59882880

National political committee meeting. (1918, February 23). Woman's Journal, p. 248. Retrieved from
http://tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/8qTRyX.

No ‘go betweens' needed here, says Mrs. Whitney, new license deputy. (1934, January 19). The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, p. 4. Retrieved from
https://www.newspapers.com/image/59992344/

Not a rubber stamp, Mrs. Whitney asserts. (1918, July 17). New York Times (1857-1922). Retrieved from
https://search.proquest.com/hnpnewyorktimes/docview/100125009/F12361A8663F4FD2PQ/2?accountid=35635

Postpone hearing of suffragists. (1918, August 8). New York Times (1857-1922). Retrieved from
https://search.proquest.com/hnpnewyorktimes/docview/100214525/F12361A8663F4FD2PQ/3?accountid=35635

Stanton, E. C., Harper, I. H., Gage, M. J., Anthony, S. B. (1922). History of Woman Suffrage (Vol. 5). Retrieved from
https://hdl.handle.net/2027/nyp.33433075965651

Women lawyers. (1904, October 29). Woman's Journal, p. 346. Retrieved from
http://tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/8qRJQ6

Woman's work. (1908, April). Woman's Magazine, XVII(4), p. 31. Retrieved from
http://tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/8qRs53

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