with Alicia Mayer

Great-grandmother Ida Mayer Cummings honored as a Los Angeles Times Woman of the Year on this day 60 years ago

The award was started by Dorothy Chandler, but later canceled by her son as “unnecessary”

The Los Angeles Times Women of the Year Silver Cup was an award presented to almost 300 women between 1950 and 1977 to honor achievements in science, religion, the arts, education, government, civic service, sports, and business.

In 1957, after 30 years of service to the Los Angeles Jewish Home for the Aged, my great-grandmother Ida Mayer Cummings (see below) was honored along with nine other women of note.

Other honorees included actress Dinah Shore; pioneering television comedy writer Madelyn Pugh Martin, known for her work on Lucille Ball’s I Love Lucy; Mrs. Leland Atherton Irish, executive director of the Hollywood Bowl; fashion designer Stella Hanania, or ‘Miss Stella’ as she was known to loyal clients like Joan Fontaine and Olivia de Havilland; and Dr. Clara Szego Roberts, a cell biologist and professor of zoology, and the only one for whom there is no death notice, so potentially still alive. (Scroll past photo for more.)

Ida Mayer Cummings Woman of the Yr December 15 1957

The award was started in 1950 by Dorothy Chandler, whose husband was publisher of the Los Angeles Times. She believed that World War II had given women “stature” saying, “I have the feeling that women came of age at that time.”

According to the accompanying story to the 1957 awards announcement, potential candidates “must either have their roots here or have an active part in the life of Southern California.” Evidently, women were nominated by LA Times’ management and editors, who then conducted a vote.

1946 Rabbi Magnin E Roosevelt Ida Margaret Mayer Nathan Weisman synagogue watermark

Great-grandma Ida stands with Eleanor Roosevelt as she addresses the congregants of the Jewish Home for the Aged temple. 1946.

On that basis, it was no surprise that Ida was nominated as she and her remarkable fundraising achievements, including annual galas and luncheons, had been covered by the paper for at least two decades by that point. (I have written extensively about her, and her association with Mary Pickford, in this blog.)

Dorothy Chandler herself was quite the mover and shaker, and would later became a regent of the University of California, during a period of impressive progress, when it grew from five to nine campuses. She also served as a trustee of Occidental College from 1952 to 1967.

But it was her efforts to build a performing arts center for Los Angeles that ironically brought her national recognition. In 1955 she raised a staggering $400,000 at a benefit concert at the Ambassador Hotel featuring Dinah Shore, Danny Kaye, and Jack Benny. This fundraiser began a nine-year crusade that brought in roughly $20 million of the estimated $35 million total cost; the remainder was paid through private bond sales.

The Los Angeles Music Center held its first performance on December 6, 1964 and Chandler was featured on the cover of Time magazine two weeks later for the December 18th issue. The article praised her fundraising efforts as “perhaps the most impressive display of virtuoso money-raising and civic citizenship in the history of U.S. womanhood.”

Dorothy Chandler died on June 6, 1967. Ida Mayer Cummings passed away on April 21, 1968.

In 1977, the Los Angeles Times Women of the Year awards program was cancelled by her son, Otis Chandler, who became publisher of the paper in 1960. He considered women’s awards “unnecessary in today’s world.”

LA Times Woman of the Year dropped

A note of thanks to Larry Harnisch, a former journalist with the Los Angeles Times, who wrote about the 1957 Women of the Year awards for his wonderful LA Daily Mirror blog. If it hadn’t been for his article in 2007, which included mention of Ida, I never would have known that she had received this honor. 

Copyright 2017 Alicia Mayer. All rights reserved.
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