Mary Morris Lawrence, one of first female AP photographers

(Courtesy of Harold Lawrence via Ap)
By Sudhin Thanawala
Associated Press / August 28, 2009

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SAN FRANCISCO - Mary Morris Lawrence, one of the first female photographers at the Associated Press, died Aug. 12 at her home in Oakland, Calif., said her husband, Harold Lawrence. She was suffering from heart problems. She was 95.

The Chicago native joined the AP in New York on Nov. 16, 1936, and worked as a features photographer.

Mrs. Morris Lawrence described herself as a “groundbreaker’’ in an interview with The Oakland Tribune in 2007 and recalled male colleagues at the AP joking that they would no longer be able to change their pants in the darkroom.

“I never thought of myself as a feminist,’’ she said during the interview, adding that there were few women at the AP back then. “The guys were very nice to me. They probably made a lot of jokes behind my back.’’

Harold Lawrence, the former general manager of the London Symphony Orchestra, said his wife was a photographer at Yankee Stadium, where she was once greeted with an ovation by the crowd when she walked onto the field in a skirt. He also recalled she worked on stories about child labor in Pennsylvania.

“She’s a pioneer,’’ he said of his wife. “She prided herself in her interviews of being able to get a person’s life story in 10 minutes.’’

Mrs. Morris Lawrence worked at AP for 3 1/2 years before leaving in 1940. She went on to work for the New York tabloid PM. Her work also appeared in magazines such as Look, Life, and Mademoiselle.

“I was good in the newspaper business because I had this way of wanting to get the dope,’’ she recalled in the 2007 interview with The Oakland Tribune. “I had an aggressive nature, a creative spirit.’’

A Chicago native and Sarah Lawrence College graduate, she made a name photographing Hollywood stars.

Her goddaughter, Libby Schaaf, described Mrs. Morris Lawrence as brave and able to “talk her way into any scene.’’

“That journalist’s mind never left her, even after she stopped taking pictures professionally,’’ Schaaf said. “She was always digging for information, always trying to connect people with each other.’’