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Mary Gardiner Jones Papers

An inventory of her papers at Syracuse University

Finding aid created by: MPK
Date: 20 Nov 1978

Biographical History

Mary Gardiner Jones (1920-2010) was a Federal Trade Commissioner and attorney. Her family had a long history of public service dating back to the 17th century, including her aunt, Rosalie Jones, who was a Senator's wife and suffragette, and the first woman lawyer to pass the District of Columbia bar exam.

Ms. Jones attended private schools and graduated from Wellesley College where she studied history and political science. She taught briefly at the George School (near Philadelphia) then in the 1940s joined the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency. In 1946 she entered Yale Law School, one of only two women in her class, where she was Law Journal editor and Order of the Coif. After graduation, her interest in policy issues and in international and antitrust law eventually led to a position with the Justice Department's Anti-Trust Division (1953-1960).

In 1960 she left to take a position as antitrust litigator with the New York law firm of Webster Sheffield, where she worked for four years. In 1964 the Johnson Administration, who under Johnson's leadership was actively recruiting talented women for various positions, was searching for a politically-neutral candidate for Federal Trade Commissioner and offered her the appointment. In an oral interview in 2003, Ms. Jones recalled her first months in office:

I knew the antitrust side. I didn't know anything about the consumer side. I learned the consumer side and then I developed an agenda. Being the only woman on the Commission, I was constantly invited by small consumer groups to speak. I wouldn't have known a consumer if I fell over one in those days, but I learned...

As she grew more comfortable in her role, Jones began to alter the focus of the FTC.

I suddenly realized that the purpose of the FTC up to that time had been to try and educate business as to what its responsibilities were...[and] I suddenly realized that what we needed was to have consumer supporters and to have them know what their rights were. We started to turn this around. We began to issue guidelines that talked to consumers about what their rights were and how they could exercise them.

Jones strove to get the FTC more involved in social justice issues, such as the higher prices and questionable marketing practices experienced by low-income inner-city consumers. During her tenure the Commission produced the Kerner Report, a study done just after, and partly in response to, the Watts Riots of 1965, which explored fraud, deceptive pricing, the resale of installment contracts, and other inner-city problems. The FTC also brought a series of cases in an attempt to address some of these practices that primarily affected the urban poor. She saw the FTC as "a very small, but significant tool to impact these larger issues." She also campaigned vigorously, and successfully, to get the FTC the power to impose sanctions on businesses rather than being limited to simple "cease and desist" orders. Two of the most useful sanctions were corrective advertising and ad substantiation (documentation of claims prior to using them in advertisements), both of which significantly strengthened the FTC's ability to act on the behalf of consumers.

Jones was a frequent and talented speechmaker for the FTC, capable of "throwing away" a speech in the middle of it if it wasn't working for her audience or for her purposes. Her speeches often concerned inner city problems but she was also deeply interested in the cultural and social impact of advertising on American society.

After leaving the FTC in 1973, Jones taught briefly at the University of Illinois' law and business schools. In 1975 she became vice president in charge of consumer affairs for Western Union, which brought her back to Washington, D.C. for seven years until she officially retired in 1982.

Recognizing the shift in consumer dissatisfaction from products (cars, clothing, false advertising) to services (health care, insurance services), she then founded the non-profit Consumer Interest Research Institute, which existed briefly before folding due to lack of funding. However, the Alliance for Public Technology, of which she was co-founder and president, throve in the technology-rich environment of the early 1980s, and still actively promotes consumer interest in telecommunications today (2007). In 1998 she became President of the Mental Health Association of D.C. where she instituted programs as diverse as children's services and mental health education for senior citizens in African-American churches.

Jones is the author of numerous articles and papers as well as 21st Century Learning and Health Care in the Home: Creating a National Telecommunications Network and the autobiographical Breaking Down Walls, One Woman's Triumph. In 2003 she received the Florence Kelley Consumer Leadership Award from the National Consumer's League for her efforts on behalf of consumers. She is also the recipient of distinguished service awards from the Society of Consumer Affairs Professionals, an honorary member of the American Home Economics Association, and was the Colston E. Warne Distinguished Lecturer at the Association of Consumer Interests (1992).

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Mary Gardiner Jones Papers includes materials from her tenure as a Federal Trade Commissioner from 1964-1973. Material is arranged in eight series.

General files contains subject files on a variety of topics. Circulations consists of circulations produced by the FTC. Proposed upgraded ADP system contains material relating to the FTC's adoption of an automated reporting system in the late 1960s. Printed material consists of miscellaneous printed matter.

Correspondence includes official and personal; correspondents include government personnal (congressmen, the Federal Bar Association), professional organizations (American Association of University Women, American Political Science Association, National Council of Jewish Women, National Industrial Conference), media and marketing organizations (New York Times, Marketing Committee, National Association of Food Chains), academic institutions (Emory University, Northwestern University, Cornell Law School, Yale Law School), and individuals (David Buswell, Leon Sullivan, Don Wilmer). Companies represented in Legal files include American Cyanamid Company, Campbell Soup Company, Firestone Tire and Rubber, Standard Educators, and Zale Corporation.

Memorabilia contains awards and appointment books, scrapbooks, and an oral history. Writings contains speeches, opinions, articles, unidentified fragments, and a taped interview.


Access Restrictions:

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions:

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

Related Material

Copies of two books were found to be duplicates of items already in our holdings and were deacessioned. These were The Regulators: Watchdog Agencies and the Public Interest (1969) by Louis M. Kohlmeier, Jr. and Documents Illustrative of the Formation of the Union of the American States (1927) by the Government Printing Office.

Audiocassettes of oral history have been digitized. Please contact the repository listed above for more information.

Subject Headings


Jones, Mary Gardiner, 1920-2009.

Corporate Bodies

United States. -- Federal Trade Commission -- Officials and employees.


Consumer protection -- United States.


United States -- Politics and government -- 1963-1969.
United States -- Politics and government -- 1969-1974.

Genres and Forms

Appointment books.
Speeches (documents)

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Mary Gardiner Jones Papers,
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

Bulk of collection, gift of Mary Gardiner Jones, 1968-1973.

Binders of speeches and opinions, scrapbooks, oral history recording, gift of Charles Watkins, 2010.

Table of Contents

General files


Proposed upgraded ADP system

Printed material


Legal files




Note on alternate formats:

Audiocassettes of oral history have been digitized. Please contact the repository listed above for more information.