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Jennie C. Van Ness

Jennie C. Van Ness (ca. 1890-unknown), a Republican from Essex County, was one of the first two women elected to the New Jersey Assembly after women were granted the right to vote in 1920.

Van Ness was active in the New Jersey Woman Suffrage Association (NJWSA) and ran its citizenship schools throughout the state. Her goal was to educate women’s clubs and organizations about the science of government and politics.

Van Ness became the director of the sixth region of the New Jersey League of Women Voters when the NJWSA dissolved and reorganized under this new name. In 1920, Van Ness was appointed as the first chair of a board within the league that worked to draw up a state program of legislative issues for study.

During her single term on the New Jersey Assembly, Van Ness served on the committees for Education and for Unfinished Business and on the joint committees for the Industrial School for Girls, the School for Feeble-Minded Children, and the State Library. She oversaw the passage of four bills affecting women’s political and legal status. Van Ness was also present for the granting of two positions for women on the State Board of Education and in the Department of Health.

Her career suffered from the passage of the Van Ness Act, a bill that worked to “liberalize search and seizure procedure” in the state (Past and Promise 203). It also defined minor violations of prohibition law as petty offenses that could result in trial by judge and fine or imprisonment. Van Ness faced a great deal of criticism and her support of the bill played a major role in her inability to get reelected. Once she had reached the end of her term, Van Ness went on to work on behalf of the New Jersey Women’s Republican Club. In 1926, she served as the club’s legislative chair.

Questions to Explore

How did educating Women about the science of government and poltics help women to stand up for themselves and protect themselves?

How did Ness’s career suffer after the Van Ness Act? 

Was the Van Ness Act Successful?

Additional Resources

Burstyn Joan N. 1990. “Jennie Carolyn Van Ness.” Past and Promise Lives of New Jersey Women. https://worldcat.org/title/54486268.

“Van Ness Jennie Carolyn (b. C. 1880; D. Date Unknown).” 2004. Encyclopedia of New Jersey. https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/rutgersnj/van_ness_jennie_carolyn_b_c_1880_d_date_unknown/0