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Mary Donlon Alger

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Mary Donlon Alger

Mary Donlon Alger
Senior Judge of the United States Customs Court
In office
October 1, 1966 – March 5, 1977
Judge of the United States Customs Court
In office
August 1, 1955 – October 1, 1966
Appointed by Dwight D. Eisenhower
Preceded by Genevieve R. Cline
Succeeded by Bernard Newman
Personal details
Born (1893-08-25)August 25, 1893
Utica, New York
Died March 5, 1977(1977-03-05) (aged 83)
Tucson, Arizona
Alma mater Cornell University
Cornell Law School LL.B.
Profession Judge

Mary Donlon Alger (née Mary Honor Donlon, August 25, 1893 Utica, Oneida County, New York – March 5, 1977 Tucson, Pima County, Arizona) was an American lawyer and politician. She was the first woman appointed to a federal judgeship in New York, serving on the United States Customs Court.

Early life and career

She was the daughter of Joseph M. Donlon and Mary (Coughlin) Donlon. She graduated from Cornell University and the Cornell Law School, receiving a Bachelor of Laws degree in 1920. While a law student, she was the first female editor-in-chief of the Cornell Law Quarterly, and the first female editor-in-chief of any US law review. She served on Cornell's Board of Trustees from 1937 to 1966 when she became a Trustee Emeritus and Presidential Councillor. She worked in private practice in New York City from 1921 to 1944. She was Chairman of the New York State Industrial Board from 1945 to 1946. She was Chairman of the New York State Workers Compensation Board from 1945 to 1954.[1]

Political career

In 1940, she ran on the Republican ticket for an at-large seat in the U.S. House of Representatives but lost to the Democratic incumbent Caroline O'Day. She was Chairwoman of the New York State Industrial Board from 1944 to 1945, and Chairwoman of the New York State Workers Compensation Board from 1945 to 1955. In 1947, she served on the Federal Social Security Advisory Council. She was a delegate to the 1948 Republican National Convention.[2]

Federal Judicial Service

On June 22, 1955, President Eisenhower nominated Donlon to serve as a Judge for the United States Customs Court, to the seat vacated by Judge Genevieve R. Cline. She was confirmed by the Senate on July 29, 1955 and received her commission on August 1, 1955. She took senior status on October 1, 1966 and served in that capacity until her death. She was succeeded on the court by Judge Bernard Newman.[3]

Academic honors

In 1956, following the Hungarian uprising, she established a scholarship to provide aid to any young Hungarian woman accepted to Cornell. She also endowed the annual Mary H. Donlon lectures in the ILR School. She also endowed a professorship in the College of Arts and Sciences, to be held only by women, which was held by Eleanor Harz Jorden and then Mary Beth Norton. In recognition for her generosity to Cornell and her service as trustee, a women's dormitory was named in her honor in 1961. A Conference for college trustees and administrators regarding affirmative action for women in education was also named in her honor.[4]

Later life and death

In 1971, she married Martin J. Alger. She died at the Tucson Medical Center on March 5, 1977, after a brief illness.[5]


  • Famous First Facts (5th Ed.), page 189, no. 3127
  • Cornell Chronicle, 1977-03-10 p. 2
  • Social Security history
  • Women at Cornell: The Myth of Equal Education by Charlotte Williams Conable p. 14
  • in NYT on March 8, 1977 (subscription required)
  • Entry at Customs Court history
  • Mary H. Donlon Interview at the Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives, Cornell University Library
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