New-York Historical Society logo

Guide to the Paul L. Ross Papers
 MS 3138

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
(212) 873-3400

New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Andy Latoni and Larry Weimer

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on August 27, 2019
Finding aid written in English using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Descriptive Summary

Creator: Ross, Paul L., 1902-1978
Title: Paul L. Ross papers
Dates [inclusive]: 1933-1978
Abstract: Correspondence, manuscript writings, reports, clippings, legal filings, and other papers of lawyer and constitutional rights activist Paul L. Ross (1902-1978). Among the subjects covered in this collection are New York City's Temporary City Housing Rent Commission during the mayoralty of William O'Dwyer in the late 1940s; the fight to desegregate Stuyvesant Town around 1950; American Labor Party campaigns and positions, especially in 1949 and 1950; government persecution and repression of defense lawyers who advocate for political dissidents; opposition to preventive detention of political dissidents; and other matters concerning public policies and constitutional liberties from the 1940s-early 1970s.
Quantity: 4.7 Linear feet in 5 boxes of various sizes
Language: A small number of documents are in Hebrew (or Yiddish?).
Call Phrase: MS 3138

Return to Top »

Biographical / Historical

Lawyer and constitutional rights activist Paul L. Ross (1902-1978) was born in the village of Linetz in the Ukraine. While still a child he immigrated to America in 1908 with his family. He graduated from Brooklyn Law School in 1923. While in law school working at the firm of Sapinsky & Amster, he met Fiorello LaGuardia, then in private practice, who initially mistook the Jewish-American Ross as a fellow Italian-American. Ross remained connected with LaGuardia through his electoral campaigns in the 1920s and 1930s, eventually serving as Assistant Counsel to the New York City Board of Transportation under LaGuardia from 1936 to 1942.

In 1942 (which is the point in time where the bulk of the papers in the present collection picks up), Ross joined the Office of Price Administration (OPA) as Regional Enforcement Officer for Region II (the mid-Atlantic states). The role of the OPA was to impose price controls and rationing of certain goods during the World War II years. In 1945, Regional Administrator Daniel P. Woolley dismissed Ross, charging him with maladministration. Ross fought the charge and was exonerated in 1946, though he did not return to OPA. By then Ross had become engaged with William O'Dwyer's successful 1945 mayoral campaign and had joined the O'Dwyer administration as the new mayor's Administrative Secretary. In 1947, O'Dwyer appointed Ross to be Chairman of the Temporary City Housing Rent Commission responsible for, among other public policies, rent control.

In 1948, Ross resigned from the O'Dwyer administration in protest, at least in part, over O'Dwyer's decision to raise transit fares. Ross, a Democrat who had briefly joined the American Labor Party (ALP) in the 1930s, rejoined the ALP and became active in its politics. He ran on ALP's ticket in 1949 for City Comptroller and in 1950 for Mayor; he lost both races and never ran again for office. (Ross's ALP colleague and client on legal matters, W.E.B. DuBois, also lost his campaign for the U.S. Senate seat in 1950.)

At the time, Ross lived in the recently-opened Stuyvesant Town housing complex. Financed with both public funds and private investment by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, the buildings had a "No Negroes Allowed" policy. Ross was among the tenants who formed the Town and Village Tenants Committee to End Discrimination in Stuyvesant Town. The efforts of Ross, Lee Lorch, and others eventually led in 1950 to Met Life agreeing to admit three black families. Met Life then sought to evict Ross and other activist tenants before dropping the matter in 1952. Ross moved around this time to 31 Grace Court in Brooklyn Heights, the four story townhouse then owned by Ross's client, W.E.B. DuBois and his wife, Shirley.

Around 1949, Ross joined with others to form the law firm Wolf, Popper, Ross, Wolf & Jones (now Wolf Popper). As anti-Communist fervor increased in the 1950s, Ross took on various cases in support of civil and constitutional rights, including acting as counsel for the singer Pete Seeger at Seeger's House Un-American Activities Committee hearing. Ross himself would be named as a Communist by Dr. Bella Dodd in 1956, a charge he both effectively refuted and challenged on constitutional grounds. A major emphasis of his into the 1970s was defending clients against efforts to repress or silence defense counsel in civil rights or political cases. In the 1960s, Ross was Co-Chairman of the Citizens Committee for Constitutional Liberties (CCCL), which was formed in 1961 to advocate for the repeal of the Internal Security Act of 1950, also known as the McCarran Act. Among other features, the act allowed the preventive detention of those deemed by the government as likely to engage in certain subversive activities. Ross and the CCCL's fight intensified in 1969 when, in the swirl of national unrest over the Vietnam War and racial injustice, the Nixon administration sought to expand the use of preventive detention in the name of "law and order."

Ross retired in 1971, moving to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. But he remained active, including researching a book (apparently not published) on constitutional liberties and taking some cases, such as the appeal of Gail (Madden) Glenn of her 1974 murder conviction in New Jersey. That case was a result of an incident in Plainfield, NJ, in which a police officer was killed during a confrontation with African-American residents. Paul Ross died at his home in Fort Lauderdale in 1978.

(The above note was based primarily on documents in the collection and information from the collection's donor.)

Return to Top »

Scope and Contents

The collection includes correspondence, manuscript writings, reports, clippings, legal filings, printed material, and other documents related to Paul L. Ross's career in public service and as a lawyer advocating in matters of constitutional liberties. The collection is relatively light on material from Ross's early career through the 1930s, but several subjects are especially well-documented after that time. For the 1940s and into the early 1950s, these subjects include Ross's tenure with the Office of Price Administration (especially his conflict with Daniel Woolley); activities as Chairman of the Temporary City Housing Rent Commission during the William O'Dwyer administration; campaign statements and other documents related to New York's American Labor Party of the late 1940s-early 1950s; and the tenant initiative to desegregate Stuyvesant Town. The collection holds Ross's later reminiscences of Fiorello LaGuardia and the O'Dwyer administration, and a transcript of an oral history he made with Columbia University in 1950.

For the 1950s through the 1970s, the collection is especially rich with material reflecting Ross's concern about government infringement on constitutional liberties. This includes documents related to Ross's interest in contempt proceedings, disbarments, and other forms of punishment of defense attorneys advocating for their clients in political cases. Several of these documents, including printed materials, concern the related cases: United States of America v. Harry Sacher, Richard Gladstein, George W. Crockett, Louis F. McCabe, Abraham J. Isserman, and Eugene Dennis; Harry Sacher, Richard Gladstein, George W. Crockett, Louis F. McCabe, Abraham J. Isserman, and Eugene Dennis v. United States of America; and In the Matter of Harold (Harry) Sacher and Abraham J. Isserman. In these cases, Sacher et al. were represented by Ross and his firm and the files include Ross's notebook with writing about the disbarment of the attorneys Sacher and Isserman; a typescript, edited final summation of the defense in the contempt case; and drafts of filings. These files also include Ross's 1976 essay (in typescript and manuscript form) on the subject "Government and Courts Repress, Harass and Punish Defense Counsel for Political Dissidents," submitted to, but not published by, the National Lawyers Guild. The files include Ross's research materials, which include printed material from the case United States v. Barnard E. Meyer, et al., and Philip Hirschkop; correspondence with editor Ann Fagan Ginger and others; a 1977 reminiscence "Past is Prologue: Crisis in the American Civil Liberties Union" by Abraham J. Isserman in which he recalls the ACLU's anti-Communism of circa 1940; Ross's notes; and various news articles and other printed material about relevant cases.

The substantive files on preventive detention include a few documents from Ross and the Citizens Committee for Constitutional Liberties's (CCCL) opposition to the McCarran Act during the mid-1960s. Much more is in the files from the fight over preventive detention (mass incarceration/"concentration camp") legislation in 1969-1970. These documents include remarks by Ross and CCCL Executive Secretary Miriam Friedlander; CCCL fliers, press releases, summaries of Advisory Committee meetings, and copies of the organization's newsletter "Liberty"; statements by other groups; Congressional bills; related print matter (news articles, government press releases, some issues of the National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee magazine "Rights"); a scrapbook; and other documents.


The collection is organized by subject, advancing roughly in chronological order through Ross's career. This sequencing was established by the processing archivists.

Return to Top »

Access Points

Subject Names

  • La Guardia, Fiorello H. (Fiorello Henry), 1882-1947
  • O'Dwyer, William, 1890-1964

Document Type

  • Clippings (information artifacts).
  • Letters (correspondence).
  • Manuscripts (documents)
  • Official reports.
  • Press releases.

Subject Organizations

  • American Labor Party
  • Citizens Committee for Constitutional Liberty
  • New York (N.Y.). Temporary City Housing Rent Commission
  • United States. Office of Price Administration. Region II

Subject Topics

  • Anti-communist movements -- United States.
  • Discrimination in housing -- New York (State) -- New York.
  • Internal security -- United States.
  • Jewish lawyers.
  • Lawyers -- Discipline.
  • Preventive detention
  • Rent control -- New York (State) -- New York.

Subject Places

  • New York (N.Y.) -- Politics and government.
  • Stuyvesant Town (New York, N.Y.)

Return to Top »

Administrative Information

Conditions Governing Access

Open to qualified researchers.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopying undertaken by staff only. Limited to twenty exposures of stable, unbound material per day. (Researchers may not accrue unused copy amounts from previous days.) This collection is owned by the New-York Historical Society. The copyright law of the United States governs the making of photocopies and protects unpublished materials as well as published materials. Unpublished materials created before January 1, 1978 cannot be quoted in publication without permission of the copyright holder.

Preferred Citation

This collection should be cited as the Paul L. Ross Papers, MS 3138, New-York Historical Society.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Madelyn Ross, 2019.

Processing Information

The collection was processed by archivist Larry Weimer and intern Andy Latoni of the Princeton Internships in Civic Service program in July-August 2019. Contents were rehoused from original folders to archival ones, but most contents were kept together and labeled as found within the original folders. Nonetheless, some documents were shifted and re-labeled during processing in an effort to clarify subject content and improve access.

Return to Top »

Container List

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 1 Folder : 1-4 "City in Chains" Volumes 1 and 2 (4 folders)

Scope and Contents

Typed manuscript of Ross's history of New York City government from the colonial era to the election of Fiorello LaGuardia. According to documents in the collection, this was written, though never published, by Ross at the suggestion of LaGuardia.

circa 1935
Box: 1 Folder : 5-6 The Mayor's Commission on Conditions in Harlem. "The Negro in Harlem: A Report on Social and Economic Conditions Responsible for the Outbreak of March 19, 1935" (2 folders)

Scope and Contents

A copy of the draft(?) report, with annotations (by Ross?). The copy is stamped "Arthur Garfield Hays" with notations on the cover that the report is to be returned to him. The first folder holds the entire report, the second folder holds portions of it.

Box: 1 Folder : 7 "Fiorello H. LaGuardia -- A Personal Estimate"

Scope and Contents

Ross's draft of his personal reminiscences of LaGuardia.

Box: 1 Folder : 8-9 Office of Price Administration (2 folders)

Scope and Contents

Holds, among others, documents related to Ross's hiring at OPA, some correspondence related to his work as Regional Enforcement Executive, and many documents concerning Regional Administrator Daniel P. Woolley's charges against Ross of maladministration and Ross's successful refutation of them.

Box: 1 Folder : 10-12 Office of Price Administration. Clippings and letters (3 folders)

Scope and Contents

Holds various OPA-related documents and news clippings, especially related to the Woolley dispute, with notes of support for Ross. The first folder holds Woolley's 1960 obituary and the exchange between Ross and the New York Times concerning the obit's reference to Ross and the Times's correction of it. The first folder also holds a reprint of Ross's article for the Lawyers Guild Review "Inflation Control: The Enforcement Job."

1944-1945, 1960
Box: 1 Folder : 13 Congratulatory Letters

Scope and Contents

Congratulations on Ross's appointment as Administrative Secretary to incoming mayor Paul O'Dwyer.

Box: 1 Folder : 14-15 Rent Commission: Reports to the Mayor (2 folders)

Scope and Contents

Memos and drafts of memos from Ross to Mayor William O'Dwyer, a history of the Temporary Rent Commission, statistics, and operating orders of the commission. Also copies of O'Dwyer's statement (read by Maurice Finkelstein) at the hearing on rent control legislation at the U.S. Senate's Subcommittee on Housing and Rent; another copy with attachments is also in the following folder.

Box: 1 Folder : 16 Rent Commission: Report to Senate

Scope and Contents

Report from Mayor William O'Dwyer to Sub-committee on Housing and Rent of the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking and Currency.

Box: 1 Folder : 17 Rent Commission: Draft memoranda of staff directives for editing

Scope and Contents

Includes meeting minutes, summary of agency workload, statistical reports, reports, and memos from Chairman Ross to commission staff.

Box: 1 Folder : 18 Rent Commission: Meeting Agendas
Box: 1 Folder : 19 Rent Commission: Policies and Practices

Scope and Contents

Holds two documents: the Temporary City Housing Rent Commission's "Manual: Policies, Procedures, Information" and the commission's "Personnel Policies and Practices."

Box: 1 Folder : 20-21 Rent Commission: Radio material (2 folders)

Scope and Contents

Transcripts and drafts of talks, with some background material, that Ross gave concerning rent control issues, broadcast over New York City radio (WNYC).

Box: 2 Folder : 22 Letter from Eleanor Roosevelt

Scope and Contents

One typed autographed letter from ER, with envelope, dated January 17, 1947, putting in "a word" to Ross on behalf of her superintendent's daughter who is applying for an apartment in the Elliott Houses.

Box: 1 Folder : 23-24 Rent Commission: State Investigation (2 folders)

Scope and Contents

Contains the "Report to the Temporary State Commission to Study Rents on the Management and Policies of the Temporary City Housing Rent Commission of New York City" submitted by Survey Institute Inc (1949) and transcripts of Ross's testimony before the state commission (1948-49), with some clippings.

Box: 2 Folder : 1-3 Rent Commission: Clippings (3 folders)
Box: 2 Folder : 4 Committee for the Nation's Health

Scope and Contents

Includes, among other documents, a copy of the organization's advertisement run in newspapers in support of President Truman's proposed national health program; Ross is among the listed signers.

Box: 2 Folder : 5-7 Health Department Study (3 folders)

Scope and Contents

Contains a confidential, possibly draft, 297-page study by Ross entitled "Proposed Report on the Study of the Department Health"(1946-47), which was ordered by Mayor O'Dwyer; a shorter, perhaps final, version of the above in the form of a 71-page memo from Ross to O'Dwyer with the subject line "Community Health--A Study of the Department of Health" (an appendix to this report is a copy of O'Dwyer's request initiating the study); and Commissioner of Health Dr. Israel Weinstein's rebuttal. The file also included a 1952 Inter-University Case Program publication "The New York City Health Centers" by Herbert Kaufman.

1947, 1952
Box: 2 Folder : 8 "Play Schools? Nurseries? Day Care Centers? or Educational Slums"

Scope and Contents

Copy of a draft report by Albert Q. Maisel, with cover transmittal by Maisel to Ross in his capacity of Secretary to Mayor, requesting comments of Ross.

Box: 2 Folder : 9 Resignation letter to Mayor William O'Dwyer

Scope and Contents

In addition to the resignation letter also includes a related press release and correspondence with Ross's supporters.

Box: 2 Folder : 10 Newspaper clippings

Scope and Contents

Holds a variety of newspaper clippings primarily from Ross's time in the O'Dwyer administration (1946-48). Some relate to the Rent Commission, but most of those are found in earlier folders. These clippings mostly concern other matters in connection with O'Dwyer and Ross's role. A few clippings are on related topics from 1949-50, after Ross left the administration.

Box: 2 Folder : 11-12 "The Reminiscences of Paul Ross" (2 folders)

Scope and Contents

Holds a copy of Columbia University's Oral History Research Office's 1957 transcript of its four interviews with Ross, 1949-1950. There is what appears to be the final transcript and a partial draft transcript, annotated with edits. A donor-supplied overview from 2019 is also in the folder. Subjects include Ross's work with the OPA; political involvement with LaGuardia, O'Dwyer, and the American Labor Party; local issues, such as Peekskill Riots of 1949, transit matters, labor issues, governance; and civil rights, particularly in connection with African-Americans and Communist/political affiliations.

1949-1950, 1957
Box: 2 Folder : 13 "A Guild Member in Public Office"

Scope and Contents

The published and typescript versions of Ross's article for the National Lawyers' "The Guild Practitioner" journal in which he reflects on his work in the 1930s and 1940s with LaGuardia and O'Dwyer, concluding with Ross's defeat in the 1950 mayoral election.

Box: 2 Folder : 14 American Labor Party: Campaign

Scope and Contents

Holds many documents related to Ross's 1949 campaign for Comptroller and 1950 campaign for mayor on the American Labor ticket. Includes a petition from Ross to Governor Thomas E. Dewey to appoint a Moreland Act Commissioner to investigate the government of New York City. There are two press releases with the remarks of W.E.B. DuBois, American Labor candidate for U.S. Senator from New York in 1950. One 1953 press release concerning Vito Marcantonio's resignation as member and state party chairman.

1949-1950, 1953
Box: 2 Folder : 15 American Labor Party: "A New York City Transit Authority: Cure-all or Booby-trap? A Memorandum to the New York State Legislature"

Scope and Contents

One original and two photocopies of this booklet, published in 1953 by the Municipal Affairs Committee of the American Labor Party (chaired by Ross).

Box: 2 Folder : 16-21 Stuyvesant Town Case / Integration in Housing (6 folders)

Scope and Contents

These files include documents concerning Ross's activities with the City-Wide Committee to End Discrimination in Stuyvesant Town and the Town & Village Tenants Committee to End Discrimination in Stuyvesant Town. Includes legal filings, some correspondence, clippings, and circulars. The file also includes materials related to Ross's time on the Rent Commission in the late 1940s, especially in connection with tenant evictions

Box: 2 Folder : 22 Housing Reports

Scope and Contents

Folder holds three reports: New York City Mayor's Committee for Better Housing's "Report of Subcommittee on Special Problems, such as Housing for the Aged and Large Families and Discrimination and Integration" (1955), 2 copies; Lawyers Guild Review's Special Issue on "Integration in Housing", with an article by Ross (1958), 1 full copy and 1 copy of the Ross article; and the citizen group Commission on Race and Housing's report "Where Shall We Live? Conclusions from a Three-Year Study of Racial Discrimination in Housing" (1958).

1955, 1958
Box: 2 Folder : 23 Letters from Shirley and W.E.B. Du Bois

Scope and Contents

Two letters from the time in which Ross lived, essentially as a tenant, in the Du Boises' home at 31 Grace Court in Brooklyn. Shirley's letter is about disagreements over heat in the house and W.E.B.'s letter explains the need for a rent increase.

Box: 3 Folder : 1-2 American Labor Party: Materials (2 folders)

Scope and Contents

Despite the original folder label, there is no material explicitly related to the ALP. Much of the material concerns Ross's work on matters of constitutional liberties at his newly-founded law firm. This includes letters from various people acknowledging receipt of the Lawyers Guild Review 1958 report on integration of housing; among these are acknowledgements from Eleanor Roosevelt and Jackie Robinson (on Chock Full O'Nuts letterhead). Other items, among others, are Ross's remarks at a tribute to Puerto Rican culture sponsored by the Manhattan Tenant Council; his letter to City Council President Abe Stark objecting to the failure to underwrite free performances of the New York Shakespeare Festival Theatre (and Joseph Papp's thanks); Ross's manuscript of his book review of "The Bix Fix"; a memo outlining a proposed study on the civil liberties situation of post-1945; and plans for developing an alternative book publishing operation for blacklisted authors.

Box: 3 Folder : 3 American Labor Party: Politics

Scope and Contents

This file ranges from two speeches of Ross's for the American Labor Party in 1952 and 1954 to undated writings that appear to date from the mid 1960s. Much of the material appears to be Ross's statements and writings (including book reviews); subject matter includes corporate opposition to Commodity Credit Corporation subsidies, Stuyvesant Town, outlines for book(s) about New York, review of the book "The Big Fix" (submitted but declined by Carey McWilliams at The Nation); the reform movement in the Democratic Party, loyalty oaths, racial integration, and Great Society programs.

Box: 3 Folder : 4 Senate Internal Security Committee, Bella Dodd "names names"

Scope and Contents

Documents related to Dodd's testimony before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee to Investigate the Administration of the Internal Security Act and Other Internal Security Laws during their hearings on "Scope of Soviet Activity in the United States" at which she identified Ross as a Communist who infiltrated Mayor O'Dwyer's administration. Includes transcript of Dodd's testimony, subpoena of Ross to appear before the subcommittee, a statement of his position on the matter, and related documents.

Box: 3 Folder : 5 Miscellaneous

Scope and Contents

Folder contains items related to the Red Scare/anti-Communism: the Harvard Law Review of October 1947 with article "Report on a Report of the House Committee on Un-American Activities [HUAC]" by Walter Gellhorn, with a transmittal note from Frank E. Karelson, Jr.; a flyer for a rally sponsored by the American Labor Party opposing McCarthyism, at which Ross spoke (identified as Chairman, Tenants Council of NYC), circa mid-1950s; three reproductions of photographs: Ross with Pete Seeger at the 1955 HUAC hearing, Paul Robeson speaking at microphones, and Ross with Robeson and others.

Box: 5 LIFE Magazine (flat box)

Scope and Contents

Issue of April 4, 1949, with a gallery of photos of Ross and others on page 42 under the headline "Dupes and fellow travelers dress up Communist fronts."

Box: 3 Folder : 6-15 Repression and Punishment of Defense Counsel (10 folders)

Scope and Contents

See Scope Note above for content description.

Box: 3 Folder : 16-20 Fight to Repeal McCarran Act / Preventive Detention (5 folders)

Scope and Contents

See Scope Note above for content description.

Box: 5 "Concentration Camp Lecture Notes" (flat box)

Scope and Contents

Scrapbook of materials concerning preventive detention bills.

Box: 4 Folder : 1 New York State Constitutional Convention

Scope and Contents

Text of the proposed new state constitution, highlights of the text, resolution of the convention approving wording of the abstract, print matter about the proposed constitution, statements of opposition to it from the New York Civil Liberties Union, and related documents.

Box: 4 Folder : 2 Ban Loyalty Oaths

Scope and Contents

Two copies, plus publicity material, of Ross's pamphlet "Ban Loyalty Oaths and Political Inquisitions in the New York State Constitution," published by the Citizens Committee for Constitutional Liberties. Also a copy of Ross's published letter to the NY Times on the subject.

Box: 4 Folder : 3-4 Call for New Federal Constitutional Convention (2 folders)

Scope and Contents

Holds drafts of Ross's "A Call for a People's Constitutional Convention," which lays out an argument to write a new constitution to create new political structures and liberties in the context of 1960s protests and unrest.

Box: 4 Folder : 5-6 State of New Jersey v. Gail Madden (2 folders)

Scope and Contents

Draft filing and arguments, and correspondence between Ross, Gail (Madden) Glenn, her public defender, and others related to Ross's involvement as an attorney in her appeal of her 1974 murder conviction (at retrial of a 1968 conviction).

1970, 1974-1975
Box: 4 Folder : 7 Nova University

Scope and Contents

Concerns Ross's proposal for a seminar on trial practice.

Box: 4 Folder : 8 Florida Alliance Against Repression

Scope and Contents

Printed materials from the organization.

Box: 4 Folder : 9 Miscellaneous Writings

Scope and Contents

Includes Ross's published article "Lawyers and Judges in Hebrew Jurisprudence" (1933); prospectus for a book with the tentative title of "City Hall, New York" (circa 1955); Published article in The Nation "New York: Captive Giant" (1955); book review of Ann Fagan Ginger's "The Relevant Lawyers" (1973); and published articles in "Liberty" on conspiracy law repression (1970) and on a draft bill to bar unconstitutional data collection (1972).

Box: 4 Folder : 10 Miscellaneous Correspondence and Other Documents

Scope and Contents

Holds four documents: acknowledgement from Councilman J. Raymond Jones of Ross's congratulatory letter (1964); letter and clipping from Mark Ptashne of Harvard regarding his trip to Laos and Vietnam (1970); warm and friendly letter from Toshi Seeger referring to, among other things, Pete Seeger's current concert tour in Spain and on to Cuba (January 21, 1971); and Ross's NY Times obituary (1978).


Return to Top »