Mary Ross Taylor makes a gift to the Women's Gender and Sexuality Studies Program in honor of her father.
Mary Ross Taylor had a dilemma. She wanted to make a substantial gift to the University and she wished to memorialize her father’s life. Finally, she decided the two didn’t have to be mutually exclusive. Her unrestricted gift to the Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies Program in honor of her father was a perfect way for her to commemorate what would have been his 100th birthday. She felt furthering the Program was a perfect memorial to her father since he was so emphatic, during his life, that his daughter’s interests should not be confined by whether they were conventionally feminine or not. While no one has ever made a gift to the Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies Program at the University of Houston in honor of a man before, Mary Ross Taylor did just that, in the hope that others might be inspired to do the same.
Taylor’s father, Pinchback Taylor, Jr., was a successful man, who encouraged both his son and his daughter to attend college, although he never finished himself. He left college to go into the family business and was grateful for the opportunities afforded him in real estate and timber. He was prominent in their small community and he was known for encouraging young people to follow their dreams and achieve their highest aspirations. He was someone they looked up to and he maintained that if you had a real interest in something, whether you were male or female, you should go after it with all your heart. Mary Ross went around the town with her father on civic, community and business activities. “I got to see how he operated in the town and how he afforded expanded opportunities for young people—especially by encouraging them to get an education.” This was particularly noteworthy because of the time and the fact that they lived in south central Arkansas—the epitome of the Deep South—in an era when racism and sexism ran rampant. Taylor felt her father was almost completely free from prejudices and stereotypes. Taylor remembers asking for a chemistry set one Christmas or birthday when she was young, and her mother being skeptical to a degree. “If she wants a chemistry set, she should have a chemistry set!” her father immediately responded.
Mary Ross Taylor made her father proud by becoming a nation-wide arts activist. She has curated many art shows in the Houston area, including the iconic, “The Dinner Party” at the University of Houston-Clear Lake in 1980. This comprehensive installation piece by artist Judy Chicago included 39 place settings, each honoring a different woman from history, on a triangular table. She also owned her own feminist bookstore in the 1970’s in Houston and wrote for the art periodical ArtLies. Taylor holds a B.A. from Vanderbilt University, a M.A. from University of Tennessee and a M.A. in Museum Studies from John F. Kennedy University. She credits her father’s unwavering support of her education for her successful college career and subsequent work. Mary Ross Taylor has never attended a single class at University of Houston, but in addition to curating art openings at the various campuses, she has been a member of the Friends of Women’s Studies Advisory Board for years. Taylor especially admires President Renu Khator and the changes she has made to the culture of the University. “It’s wonderful to have a dynamic woman in a leadership role in an institution such as University of Houston,” says Taylor. As a dynamic woman herself, Mary Ross Taylor demonstrates how giving can change the face of a university.