Anna Moscowitz Kross—lawyer, judge, public official and advocate for women and the poor—was born in Neshves, Russia, on July 17, 1891. One of two surviving siblings out of nine, she was brought to New York City at age two by her immigrant parents, Maier and Esther (Drazen) Moscowitz. Her parents were poor but deeply supportive of her ambitions and social goals. While still in high school, Anna helped to support her family by teaching English and by working in a factory at night. She studied at Teachers College, Columbia University in 1907 and won a scholarship to New York University’s law school, receiving her LL.B (Bachelor of Laws) degree in 1910 at age nineteen. In 1911 she received an LL.M., but could not take the bar examination until 1912, when she reached the age of twenty-one. She married Dr. Isidor Kross, a noted surgeon, on April 15, 1917. They had two daughters: Dr. Helen K. Golden and Dr. Alice K. Frankel.
Kross became a lawyer so that she could help others and create better opportunities for the disadvantaged. Her first related activities were campaigning to reform New York City’s Women’s Night Court and crusading for woman suffrage. In 1918, after serving as head of the women’s division of Tammany Hall’s speakers’ bureau, she won a political appointment as assistant corporation counsel for the City of New York. The first female to hold such a position, she served the city as a prosecutor until her resignation in 1923. She then developed a legal practice specializing in workers’ compensation cases for building union members. Appointed a judge in the city court on December 31, 1933, Kross was only the second woman to hold such a post in New York.
In her twenty years on the bench, Kross attained national prominence for her sociological approach to cases. For example, in 1946, she initiated, and then presided over, the Home Term Court, a special court section that heard domestic cases, such as spousal battery, desertion, and children’s issues. The Home Term Court facilities included one of the first day care centers for the children of parents in court, equipped privately through Kross’s efforts, as well as social workers who met with the plaintiffs and defendants of each case.
In 1954 Kross was appointed commissioner of corrections for New York City, only the second woman ever to receive such an appointment. Her “contributions to the administration of justice and to the conservation of youth through juvenile crime prevention” were commended in the citation accompanying an honorary LL.D. she received from New York University in 1956. As commissioner, Kross was responsible for making the city’s prison system less dungeonlike and more humane. She installed new shower rooms and mess halls, established token wages for some prison jobs and built separate facilities for adolescents. She also introduced programs for rehabilitating prisoners through training in trades such as baking, stenography and woodworking. Program graduates received certificates of proficiency and help in placement. During her tenure as commissioner, Kross received a great deal of publicity for her outspoken manner and criticism of government policies that discriminated against poor people. She served with the corrections department until her retirement (after several extensions) in 1966 at age seventy-five.
Kross received numerous citations, awards and honorary degrees, including the first Eleanor Roosevelt Memorial Award in 1963 and a doctorate from Hebrew Union College in 1965. She belonged to numerous organizations, including American and international law associations, groups concerned with law enforcement and correction, the Lucy Stone League, the national board of Hadassah (1930–1933) and the United Jewish Philanthropies. She died on August 27, 1979, aged eighty-eight.
The repository for Kross’s papers is the American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati, Ohio, to which Anna Kross donated the Anna M. Kross Papers collection in 1975. An additional collection is at the Smith College Archives, Northampton, Massachusetts.
Frankel, Alice K., and Helen K. Golden. Interviews with author, April–May 1996.
Kross, Anna Moscowitz. Papers. Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati, Ohio.
Mamaroneck Daily Times, August 29, 1979.
NYTimes, June 7, 1956, and August 29, 1979, and December 21, 1980.
WWIAJ (1928, 1938).
Who’s Who of American Women (1966–1967).
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How to cite this page
Goodman, Naomi. "Anna Moscowitz Kross." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 27 February 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on August 7, 2020) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/kross-anna-moscowitz>.