New Jersey Women's History



Notable Facts



 Material Objects


New Jersey Women's Heritage Trail 

 Topical Index








Period One
- 1775
Period Two
1776 - 1843
Period Three
1844 - 1879
Period Four
1880 - 1920
Period Five
1921 - 1960
Period Six
1961 -

With European immigration curtailed during WW I, New Jersey industries sent labor agents south to recruit black workers. More black women and men settled in New Jersey during this great migration north than in any other northeastern state. Between 1900 and 1930 the black population of the state increased from 69,844 to 208,828; with 84% living in urban areas.

1921   The first Miss America Pageant was held in Atlantic City as a public relations device to extend tourism beyond the Labor Day weekend. In 1968 supporters of the early feminist movement protested at the televised pageant, bringing feminist issues into the homes of millions of Americans for the first time. (Contrary to popular legend, the protesters did not burn bras.) 
    Mary T. Norton (1875-1959), a Jersey City social worker, became the first woman to serve on the Democratic State Committee. Her task was to organize newly enfranchised women.
    Jennie C. Van Ness (ca. 1890-unknown) and Margaret Laird, both Republicans from Essex County, were the first two women elected to the New Jersey Assembly after women were granted the right to vote in 1920.
    Viola Wells (1902-1984), "Miss Rhapsody," began her career in jazz, blues and religious music at Newark's Orpheum Theater Amateur Hours.
  Historical marker at Clara Barton's School, Bordentown, New Jersey.  In 1921, the school children of New Jersey raised the money to restore one of the first free public schools in New Jersey where Clara Barton once taught. 
1922 parker_tn.jpg (2781 bytes) Nellie Morrow Parker (1902- ) surmounted controversy to become the first African American public school teacher in Bergen County (Hackensack).
1923 The New Jersey Legislature enacted the New Jersey Consumers’ League-sponsored Night Work Bill prohibiting women from working between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. Supporters of such legislation were attempting to improve working conditions for women. the National Woman's Party criticized such "protective legislation" on the basis that it penalized women with children to care for during the day, and put women in a special category that legitimized inequality in the workplace.
  tn_nightwork2.gif (1939 bytes)  
  katzenbach_tn.jpg (11041 bytes) Marie Hilson Katzenbach (1882-1970) began her 50-year association with the State School for the Deaf in Trenton.
    Jennie E. Precker (1892-1981) founded the Susan B. Anthony Building and Loan Association, the nation's first women's bank, in Newark.
    The New Jersey State Federation of Colored Women's Clubs reorganized after World War I.
1924   Margaret Creswell (1899-1978) became the first woman employed by a police force in New Jersey, in Atlantic City.
  tn_ladiesof80.gif (3257 bytes) Mary T. Norton was elected to the first of thirteen terms in the House of Representatives from the Twelfth Congressional District of New Jersey. She was the first woman not succeeding her husband to be elected to the U.S. Congress, after 1920. She served as Chair of the Labor Committee of the House of Representatives (1932-47) and oversaw the 1938 passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act that, for the first time, established a federal minimum wage on the basis of occupation.
    Ida Rosenthal (1886-1973) and her husband, William, established Maiden Form Brassiere Corporation in Bayonne; it was known for its successful print advertising campaign.
    The Sisters of Mercy bought the estate of Jay Gould in Lakewood, and founded Georgian Court College for Women.
1926 tn_njdiscriminate.gif (1412 bytes) The National Woman’s Party, founded by Mount Laurel’s Alice Paul, published a pamphlet describing "How New Jersey Laws Discriminate Against Women." The pamphlet contained a copy of the Equal Rights Amendment as drafted by Paul. The League of Women Voters argued that legal equality threatened protective legislation.
  woolen_tn.jpg (3352 bytes) Women were a significant factor in the success of the major woolen strike of 1926 in Passaic and neighboring towns. As a result, woolen workers won the right to organize in Passaic.
  childstrikers_tn.jpg (4391 bytes)  
    New Jersey led the nation in the proportion of women (15%, 9 women) in the lower house of its state legislature.
1927   New Jersey Bell Telephone Company began employing women as switchboard operators.
  Elsie Driggs, a resident of Lambertville, New Jersey was the only woman artist who participated in the Precisionist movement in American art.
1928   The first New Jersey birth control clinic, the Newark Maternal Health Care Center, was opened by the New Jersey Birth Control League, under the leadership of Henrietta Hart and Cora Louise Hartshorn (1873-1958) of Short Hills.
  lffeichert2_tn.gif (1547 bytes) Former suffragist leader, Republican Lillian Feickert, of Plainfield, was the first woman to run for a U.S. Senate nomination from a major party.
1930   The population of New Jersey was 4,041,000 people, 49.8 % of whom were female, and 5.2% of whom were black. The 1930s marked the peak of the state’s urban population.
    Dorothy Harrison Wood Eustis (1886-1946) founded The Seeing Eye in Morristown, the first American school training guide dogs for the blind.
  African American teachers in New Jersey, most of whom were women, founded their own professional organization, the New Jersey Organization of Teachers of Colored Children, because the New Jersey Education Association was not racially integrated at the time.
1931 egg_tn.jpg (5389 bytes) Paterson athlete, Eleanor Egg (1909- ), won the American sprint championship. A bas-relief of Egg is featured in Paterson's Hinchcliffe Stadium.
  fauset_tn.jpg (2888 bytes) Jessie Redmon Fauset (1882-1916) of Montclair, literary editor of Crisis, the official publication of the NAACP, published The Chinaberry Tree, set in Red Brook, a fictional small New Jersey town. During her career, Fauset fostered the careers of many black writers, especially women.
1932   State assemblywoman Florence Lillian Haines (1869-1955) of Newark, founded the Organization of Women Legislators of New Jersey and became its first president.
  The New Jersey State Manual Training and Industrial School for Colored Youth, formerly the Bordentown Manual Training and Industrial School, prepared young women for employment.
1933 radiumDial_tn.jpg (5229 bytes) The death of Katherine Schaub (1902-1933), a watch dial painter at the U.S. Radium Corporation plant in Orange and an early victim of radium poisoning, alerted authorities to the dangers of radio-activity.
1934 finkler_tn.jpg (2821 bytes) Rita Sapiro Finkler (1888-1968) became the first woman on the senior medical staff at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center.
    Balloonist Jeanette Redlon Piccard (1895-1981) of Sparta, and her husband Jean Piccard flew nearly 58,000 feet high in a balloon. In 1963 she became an adviser to the National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA).
    Antoinette Quinby Scudder (1888-1958) co-founded, with director Frank Carrington, the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn.
    Mildred Fairbanks Stone (1902- ), of Bloomfield, became the first woman officer of a major American life insurance company (Mutual Benefit).
    Mary Norton was elected the first woman to serve as state chair at the Democratic Party State Convention in Trenton.
1935 Suzy Frelinghuysen (1911 - 1988), painter and opera singer, began to show her abstract paintings.
1936   Archaeologist Hetty Goldman (1881-1972), the first female professor at Princeton University, was appointed to the Institute of Advanced Studies in Princeton.
  tn_mroebling.gif (1561 bytes) Mary Herbert Roebling (1905-1994) of Trenton became president of the Trenton Trust bank, the first woman to serve as head of a major commercial bank. In 1958, she was named the first woman governor of the New York Stock Exchange, and in 1978, she helped found the Womenís Bank of Denver, the nationís first chartered bank established by women.
    Margaret Bourke-White (1904-1971), of Bound Brook, was one of four photographers chosen for the original staff of Life magazine, and her photo of Fort Peck Dam in Montana appeared on the first Life cover. The following year she published her classic Great Depression photo-essay You Have Seen Their Faces.
  Historian Mary Beard and a committee of prominent New Jersey women called for the founding of a World Center for Women's Archives.
 1937 tn_sterile1.gif (438 bytes) Marian Stephenson Olden (1888-1981), of Princeton, established the Sterilization League of New Jersey to advocate the sterilization of the "mentally defective" and those with "inheritable disease."
    Julia Sims was the first women to serve as foreman of a federal grand jury in the US district court in Newark.
1938   Cordelia Greene Johnson (1887-1957) founded the Modern Beautician Association and served as its first president to 1957. She was also president of the Jersey City branch of the NAACP.
1939 The League of Women voters became a significant force for reform legislation in New Jersey, endorsing bills dealing with voting, night work for women, child labor, and others.
    Wealthy philanthropist Ethel Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge (1882-1973) founded St. Hubert's Geralda; it developed into an animal shelter and education center in Madison.
1940   The population of New Jersey was 4,160,000 people, 50.3% of whom were women and 5.5% of whom were black.
  childfarmwork1_tn.jpg (3473 bytes) Advocacy by the Consumers' League of New Jersey and the League of Women Voters led to the passage of the comprehensive Child Labor Law of 1940 which raised the age limit for child labor, restricted work hours, and prohibited night work for young workers. 
  childfarmworker2_tn.jpg (3007 bytes)  
1941 cross_tn.jpg (2270 bytes) Dorothy Cross (1906-1972) of Trenton published her first major work, Archaeology of New Jersey, as a result of her surveys and excavations between 1936 and 1940. As a specialist on Delaware Indians (she wrote The Indians of New Jersey in 1953), Cross devoted her efforts to educating the public about the importance of understanding the Native American background of the state.
  wright_tn.jpg (2674 bytes) African American historian and teacher, Marion Thompson Wright, (1902-1962) of Newark, wrote her path-breaking doctoral dissertation, "The Education of Negroes in New Jersey" to become the first black historian to receive a Ph.D. from Columbia University. She documented the varied patterns of school segregation that existed in the state in spite of an 1881 law outlawing racial discrimination in public schools. Her study helped to provide hard data for the NAACP’s court challenge to the "separate but equal" doctrine that was overturned by the Supreme Court in 1954 in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas.
1942 Singer, Sarah Vaughan,  launched her jazz career in the Apollo theatre amateur-night contest.
    Drew University in Madison first admitted women to its undergraduate college of liberal arts.
  ration_tn.jpg (5831 bytes) Every New Jersey housewife became part of the World War II home-front effort when nationwide rationing and price controls were mandated during the spring of 1942. Sugar, butter, coffee, and beef-steak were especially scarce and valued items. Home canning and the "victory garden" were added to the homemaker's duties.
  victorygradens_tn.gif (4471 bytes)  
  destroyer_tn.gif (4187 bytes) U. S. Congresswoman Mary T. Norton (1875-1959) of Jersey City championed the passage of the Lanham Act that provided federal funds to build and run day care centers for the children of working women in World War II defense plants.
1943 streeter_tn.jpg (3723 bytes) Ruth Cheney Streeter (1895-1990) of Morristown was appointed the first director of the U.S. Marine Corps Women's Reserve by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
  wac_tn.gif (4453 bytes)  New Jersey women served in the Armed Forces during World War II in a variety of non-combatant roles.
    Elizabeth Hawes (1903-1971) wrote Why Women Cry: or Wenches with Wrenches, a book describing women’s experiences working in the Wright Aeronautical Plant in Paterson.
   Thousands of women were employed in the many, New Jersey factories that produced war materials.
1944 nagao_tn.jpg (4090 bytes) Japanese American women, men, and children who had been interned in the western United States under Executive Order 9066 during World War II resettled in New Jersey in Upper Deerfield Township to work at Seabrook Farms.
1946 hancock_tn.jpg (3887 bytes) Joy Bright Hancock (1898-1986) of Cape May County became head of the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service in the Navy (WAVES) and lobbied to integrate women into the regular Navy and the Naval Reserve.
    Libby E. Sachar (1904-1994), South Plainfield, was the first woman appointed to the bench in New Jersey. She served as a judge from 1946 to 1956.
1947   The third New Jersey Constitution included an equal rights clause as a result of lobbying organized by Jersey City attorney Mary Philbrook (1872-1958).
classroom_tn.gif (2701 bytes)  The new New Jersey Constitution (Article I, paragraph 5) outlawed school segregation. As a result, girls and boys and their teachers were assigned to classrooms without regard to race.
    As a result of pressure from women's groups, the new New Jersey Constitution incorporated non-gendered language, using the word "person" where earlier constitutions had used the word "man." Thereby women's right to equality under the law was implied and recognized.
1949   Assemblywoman Grace Margaret Freeman (1897-1967) of East Orange sponsored The New Jersey Civil Rights Act to outlaw all forms of discrimination.
1950   The population of New Jersey was 4,835,000 people, 50.7% of whom were women and 6.6% of whom were black.
    Frances Elkus White (1906-1985) became the first woman mayor of a New Jersey city (Red Bank).
    Athlete Althea Gibson (1927- ), sponsored by the Orange Lawn Tennis Club, became the first black of either sex to play in a tournament at Forest Hills. In 1957, Gibson won both the Wimbledon singles and doubles titles and the Forest Hills singles title.
1951 Grace Hartigan (1921 - )  an abstract painter born in Newark, held the first exhibition or her work.
1952   Dr. Virginia Apgar (1909-1974) of Tenafly developed the Newborn Scoring System--the Apgar System--for quickly evaluating the medical condition of newborn infants. She was the first full professor of anesthesiology at the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University (1949).
  wage_tn.gif (5290 bytes) The New Jersey legislature passed a law sponsored by Republican Florence Price Dwyer (1902-1976), from Elizabeth, prohibiting "discrimination in the rate of wages on the basis of sex."
    Eleanore Kendall Pettersen (1916 - 2003) was the first woman to open her own architectural practice in New Jersey (Saddle River) and, in 1975, she became the first woman president of the New Jersey State Board of Architects.
1954 Gonzalez_tn.jpg (2693 bytes) In the summer of 1954, Alberta Gonzalez (1914 - 1996) became the first Puerto Rican woman crew leader to supervise a labor camp for migrant farm workers in New Jersey.
1955   Anne Morrow Lindbergh (1906- 2001), Englewood, won the first book award of the National Council of Women of the United States for Gift from the Sea, a "mediation" to reconcile the dual roles of wife-mother and creative writer.
1956 tn_flodwyer.gif (1410 bytes) Republican Florence Price Dwyer (1902-1976), from Elizabeth, became the second woman from New Jersey elected to Congress.
  eagleton_tn.jpg (2774 bytes) The Eagleton Foundation, now the Eagleton Institute of Politics, was established at The Douglass Campus of Rutgers, the State University, as a result of the bequest of Florence Peshine Eagleton (1870-1953) to provide education in practical politics for young women.
  foodrelief_tn.jpg (3132 bytes) Women members of the International Union of Electronic, Electrical, Salaried, Machine and Furniture Workers, AFL-CIO (IUE) struck the Westinghouse plant in Metuchen.
1958 eldridge_tn.jpg (5170 bytes) Peace activist Dorothy Daggett Eldridge (1903-1986) of Nutley, helped found the New Jersey Citizens for a Sane Nuclear Policy.
    Democrat Madeline Worthy Williams (1894-1968) of East Orange became New Jersey's first African American assemblywoman.
1960   The 1960 census provided numerical evidence of the demographic trends that had been shaping the face of New Jersey since World War II. A long period of economic expansion had resulted in 60% of all American families having incomes over $3,000 a year. In Atlantic City in 1960, however, 63% of families had incomes less than $5,000. In Camden and Newark, 43% of families were in that category. In Millburn, 44% of families had incomes over $15,000, while in Livingston, the median family income was over $9,500.

Selected Sources

Barbara Cunningham, ed., The New Jersey Ethnic Experience. (Union City, NJ: Wm. H. Wise & Co., 1977).

Felice Gordon, After Winning: The Legacy of the New Jersey Suffragists, 1920-1947. (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1986).

Barbara Tomlinson, "Making Their Way: A Study of New Jersey Congresswomen, 1924-1994," (Unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation, Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, 1996).

Howard L. Green, ed., Words That Make New Jersey History. (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1995).

Judith Freeman Clark, Almanac of American Women in the 20th Century. (New Jersey: Prentice Hall Press,1987).

Joan N. Burstyn, ed., Past and Promise: Lives of New Jersey Women. (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1995).

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