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American National Biography Online Ross, Ishbel (15 Dec. 1895-21 Sept. 1975), journalist and biographer, was born in Sutherlandshire, Scotland, the daughter of David Ross and Grace McCrone. Ross spent her childhood in the Highlands of Scotland, living only ten miles from industrialist Andrew Carnegie's castle and near the shooting boxes of British aristocracy. Later in life she recalled her childhood in terms of watching the comings and goings of Carnegie's famous guests and reading classic literature. After graduating from the Tain Royal Academy in 1916, Ross left Scotland and moved to Canada. In Toronto she worked for the Canadian Food Board as a publicist until landing a filing job at the Toronto Daily News. Ross, who would later be considered "New York's best woman reporter," needed no more than six weeks to move up the newspaper's ranks from clerical worker to reporter with a front-page headline and a byline to her credit. Ross's rapid rise in status came when the renowned British suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst traveled to Toronto in 1917. The Daily News's managing editor wanted to send a reporter to board Pankhurst's train in Buffalo and scoop the rival Toronto papers by obtaining an exclusive interview before Pankhurst set foot on Canadian soil. According to Ross, no one else was available, and she was given the plum assignment. Aboard the train, however, Pankhurst's secretary refused the young reporter's request, explaining that the suffragette leader suffered from laryngitis. Concerned about the future of her own career, Ross wrote Pankhurst a note appealing to the British woman's well-known interest in helping other women. Ross got the interview and earned herself a position as a reporter for the Daily News. Ross remained at the Daily News until 1919 when she left Toronto for New York City and a job at the New York Tribune (later the Herald Tribune). She was one of a growing number of women working at the paper and as a general-assignment reporter had opportunities to write front-page stories and straight news in addition to stories about such subjects as dance marathons and flower shows. Among the famous stories Ross covered for the Herald Tribune were the lengthy and sensational divorce of Mr. and Mrs. James A. Stillman in 1923-1924, the highly publicized mystery surrounding the Hall-Mills murder in 1922, and the Lindbergh kidnapping. Ross's professional and personal life intermingled when, while covering the Stillman divorce, she met and fell in love with Bruce Rae, who was reporting on the case for the New York Times. The two married in Montreal in 1922; they had one daughter. After their marriage Ross and Rae continued working for rival newspapers and frequently covered the same stories. The couple made a point of balancing high professional standards and married life. When, for example, they both covered the Hall-Mills murder, they never discussed the story at home. Rae continued working at the New York Times and became an assistant managing editor. In 1932 Ross published her first novel, Promenade Deck. Encouraged by its success, Ross left the Tribune the following year to pursue a career as a novelist. Although Ross wrote four more novels, her work as a biographer ultimately overshadowed her career as a novelist. Ross first turned to biography when Stanley Walker, city editor at the Tribune, suggested that she write a book about famous women journalists. Her Ladies of the Press (1936) traced women's roles in print journalism, covering the range from stunt reporters and "sob sisters" to social crusaders, foreign correspondents, and editors in chief. She commented on the accomplishments of women as varied as Margaret Fuller, Nellie Bly, and Dorothy Dix. Ross went on to complete eighteen more works of nonfiction, most of which considered the lives of famous American women. She was particularly interested in the wives of American presidents; she wrote biographies of Mary Todd Lincoln, Julia Grant, Edith Bolling Wilson, and Grace Coolidge, among others. Ross was also drawn to women who led unconventional lives. She wrote about women who had exciting careers, such as physician Elizabeth Blackwell; the founder of the American Red Cross, Clara Barton; and Confederate spy Rose O'Neal Greenhow. In a compilation of shorter biographies, Charmers and Cranks: Twelve Famous American Women Who Defied Convention (1965), Ross examined the lives of Mrs. Frank Leslie, Victoria Woodhull, Carry Nation, Nellie Bly, Isadora Duncan, and others. She also wrote more generalized nonfiction monographs, including Journey into the Light (1951), which covered the history of education for the blind, and Taste in America (1967), which examined American architecture, furnishings, fashions, and customs. Ross died in New York City soon after the publication of her final book, Power with Grace: The Life Story of Mrs. Woodrow Wilson (1975). Reviewers of Ross's books frequently admired her research but criticized her style for being too "journalistic." Nonetheless most reviewers agreed that Ross's subjects--particularly the women she wrote about--were interesting and worthy of study. Before second-wave feminism entered the academy and challenged the canon of American history, Ross emphasized the importance and complexity of women's lives. By achieving success as a journalist and biographer, by balancing marriage and professional ambition, Ross herself led a life much like those she deemed worthy of study. Bibliography A small collection of Ross's papers is in the Schlesinger Library, Cambridge, Mass. See also Bruce L. Plopper, "Ishbel Ross," in Biographical Dictionary of American Journalism (1989). Barbara Bannon, "Ishbel Ross," Publishers Weekly, 29 Sept. 1975, pp. 6-8, includes excerpts of an interview with Ross not long before her death. For a discussion and complete listing of Ross's novels see Harry R. Warfel, American Novelists of Today (1951). An obituary is in the New York Times, 23 Sept. 1975. Amy G. Richter Citation: Amy G. Richter. "Ross, Ishbel"; http://www.anb.org/articles/14/14-00843.html; American National Biography Online Feb. 2000. Access Date: Copyright (c) 2000 American Council of Learned Societies. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. From American National Biography, published by Oxford University Press, Inc., copyright 2000 American Council of Learned Societies. Further information is available at http://www.anb.org.