January 22, 2009

Cornell’s First Vice President Constance Cook ’41 Passes Away at Age 89

Print More

A lawyer, New York State assemblywoman and the first vice president at Cornell, Constance Eberhardt Cook ’41 was influential at Cornell as well as the larger community. She died from a heart attack at her home on Tuesday. She was 89.
Cook was a woman of firsts. She was the first woman to head a major legislature committee when she became the chair of the Assembly Education Committee in 1969 as a Republican representing the 128th Assembly District. She was even ahead of the U.S. Supreme Court — while the ruling of Roe v. Wade legalized abortion for the whole country in 1973, Cook was able to legalize abortion for women in N.Y. in 1970 by getting her bill approved by the state Assembly. Cook spent her last day watching another first when Barack Obama was inaugurated as the 44th president of the United States and the country’s first African-American president.
Cook was born in Shaker Heights, Ohio on Aug. 17, 1919. She attended Cornell as both an undergraduate and a graduate student, earning a bachelor’s degree in 1941 and a law degree two years later. Cook worked for a prestigious law firm, Shearman and Sterling, and for Gov. Thomas Dewey (R-N.Y.) before opening up a private law firm in Ithaca in 1953. In both her careers as a lawyer and an assemblywoman, Cook was a constant advocate and fighter for women’s rights.
N.Y. Supreme Court Justice Walter Relihan, who worked with Cook throughout her life, told The Ithaca Journal that Cook was a “leader, reformer, legislator and person of great integrity and warmth.”
In honor of Cook’s devotion to women’s rights, an award has been named in her and Alice Cook’s honor. The vice provost for diversity and faculty development bestows the award each spring to an individual who displays a commitment to women’s issues and betters the atmosphere for women at Cornell.