Contact the NJ Historical Commission
NJ Historical Commission
P.O. Box 305
Trenton, NJ 08625
Tel: (609) 292-6062
Fax: (609) 633-8168
The Petticoat Politicians of 1776: New Jersey’s First Female Voters
In May of 1776, anticipating independence, the Constitutional Convention sent out instructions that each state devise a new governmental structure. In response, New Jersey’s legislature broke new ground when it drafted a state constitution that not only gave the vote to men who met certain property requirements, but also gave it to some women, blacks, and aliens.
1936 State House Occupation
By 1936, New Deal programs that offered direct relief came to end and it became the responsibility of the state and local governments to address the needs of those still trying to recover from the Great Courtesy of Office of Legislative Services Library Depression. On April 21, 1936, a group of citizens, known as the “Army of Unoccupation” marched into Trenton and remained in the Capitol building for the next eight days. Peacefully protesting and causing no damage, the 250 members of this “Army” simply wanted to bring attention to the dire needs of those affected by the Great Depression. Eventually, the state government would provide over six million dollars in direct relief to the citizens of New Jersey.
Morristown: “So Hard a Winter”
In a letter dated March 17, 1780 to the Marquis de Lafayette, George Washington wrote “… the oldest people now living in the country do not remember so hard a winter as the one we are now emerging from. In a word the severity of the frost exceeded anything of the kind that had ever been experienced in this climate before.” Conditions, in fact, were much worse that Morristown winter than the better known Valley Forge encampment of 1777-78 in which nearly 3,000 soldier perished.
The First Science Experiment in the United States
One night Paine and Washington spoke with two colonels about the will-o-the-wisp, fiery globes that people sometimes claimed to see floating over marshes. The next night the men sought to test their theory. They set sail on Millstone River in a scow with some soldiers who poked poles into the mud while Washington and Paine held torches nearby. They saw
bubbles rise, and then a flash of light broke out across the water, as flames danced between the water’s surface and scraps of paper held by each man. Washington and Paine were right. The gas would turn out to be methane, produced by the microbes in the mud. This experiment happened within weeks of the end of the American Revolution, making it the first scientific undertaking of the new United States of America.
The West Jersey Concessions: A Model for the Bill of Rights
In the beginning, New Jersey was not one colony but two. It was divided into East and West Jersey, a division which roughly corresponds to our modern distinction of North Jersey and South Jersey. West Jersey had a strong Quaker influence which can be seen in the group of laws the new colony adopted in 1677 known as the West Jersey Concessions.
William Carlos Williams: The Poet of Paterson
Born in 1883, William Carlos Williams grew up in New Jersey, spent two of his teen years in Europe, but returned home to attend Horace Mann High School. He earned his M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania, built a private practice, and served as head pediatrician at Passaic General Hospital. In 1913, he bought a house with his wife Flossie, at 9 Ridge Road, Rutherford, and lived there until his death in 1963.
Message in a Bottle: Wistarburgh Glass
Glassmaking requires an important raw material, sand—something southern New Jersey has in abundance. Not surprisingly this portion of the state became a center of glassmaking by the early eighteenth century after a German immigrant named Caspar Wistar founded the United Glass Company near Alloway, NJ in 1739.
The Voice of Jersey: Frank Sinatra
Frank Sinatra is among the twentieth-century's greatest popular performers. He drew on several influences, including Bing Crosby’s crooning, trombonist Tommy Dorsey’s breath control, and blues singer Billie Holiday’s rhythmic swing, but is principally credited with the concept of singing colloquially, or treating lyrics as personal statements and handling melodies with the ease of a jazz improviser.
The New Jersey Plan
As the nation’s top political leaders gathered in Philadelphia in 1787 to devise a new plan of government for the young republic, small states like New Jersey had much to fear. But small states had an advocate in William Paterson from New Jersey. He is probably best known, however, as the author of “The Small State Plan,” alternately called “The New Jersey Plan” or “The Paterson Plan,” proposed on June 15, 1787.
The Bordentown School
It was called the “Tuskegee of the North,” it was formally known as the New Jersey Industrial and Manual Training School for Colored Youth. Eventually, it was best known simply as the Bordentown School, a leader in black education from Reconstruction until the 1950s. Founded in 1876, the school was a boarding school for boys and girls. Bordentown could be mistaken for an elite private boarding school, but it was actually a co-educational public school operated by the State of New Jersey.
Miss America and The Protest of 1968
The Miss America Pageant began as a publicity stunt — the brainchild of Atlantic City businessmen in 1921 who were trying to keep tourists in town after Labor Day. The first event lasted two days, concluding with a beachfront parade called the Bather’s Revue. Margaret Gorman, a slight, freckled sixteen-year-old from Washington, D.C. took home the first crown. “Margaret Gorman represents the type of womanhood America needs,” the New York Times declared, “strong, red-blooded, able to shoulder the responsibilities of homemaking and motherhood. It is in her type that the hope of the country rests.”
The Founding of New Jersey
The colonial history of New Jersey began in 1609 when Henry Hudson first claimed the region on behalf of Holland and renamed it New Netherlands. The Dutch West India Trade Company subsequently gave out land grants to encourage settlement, attracting many migrants from Sweden as well as Holland. These newcomers arrived in an area already populated by an estimated eight to ten thousand Delaware Indians. Holland retained political control until 1664, when English Royal Navy warships sailed into what is today New York Harbor and Holland ceded the colony to Britain without bloodshed.
Elizabeth White and the Blueberry Business
But until the early twentieth century, most farmers thought that wild blueberries could not be cultivated successfully. Elizabeth Coleman White changed all of that. She helped organize the New Jersey Blueberry Cooperative Association, was the first female member of the American Cranberry Association, and the first woman to receive the New Jersey Department of Agriculture citation. Her agriculture and horticulture work went far beyond the cranberry and blueberry, as her gardens celebrated the indigenous plants of the Pine Barrens.
New Jersey and the Drive-In Movie Theater
Movie-goers in depression-ravaged Pennsauken made history on the night of June 6, 1933. As afternoon gave way to evening, residents hopped into their automobiles, drove to the local theater, and paid 25 cents to watch the new film “Wife Beware” starring matinee idol Adolphe Menjou. And they never left their cars. It was the beginning of a new entertainment phenomenon: the drive-in theater.
Alexander Hamilton’s Dreams of Industry
On July 7, 1804, Weehawkin, New Jersey became the site of the most infamous duel in American history—one that left one man dead and killed another man’s political career and reputation. A vote of the House of Representatives decided the tie; the candidate with the most votes became president, the runner-up became vice president. Burr’s political and personal rival, Alexander Hamilton, was influentional in getting Jefferson the presidency, and Burr became the nation’s second-in-command.
Albert Einstein is one of the most important figures of the twentieth century. Born in Germany and overcoming initial failures, Einstein excelled in his schooling, especially in the fields of math and science. Einstein would reach the pinnacle of his career by winning the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921.
The Hindenburg Tragedy
Herbert Morrison, the radio announcer from Chicago’s WLS radio station, was on assignment in Lakehurst, New Jersey when the majestic airship Hindenburg approached the air station. It was approaching nighttime, and Morrison described how the ship’s windows were “sparkling like glittering jewels on the background of black velvet.” Moments later the commentary turned to horror as the ship exploded in a ball of flame and crashed to the ground.
One such program was the Farm Security Administration (FSA). Managed by the Department of Agriculture, the program was designed to combat poverty in rural areas of the nation. One such project, found in the Garden State, was the resettlement of a community in western Monmouth County that became known as Jersey Homesteads.
The Lindbergh Baby Kidnapping: “The Crime of the Century”
“Mrs. Lindbergh, do you have the baby?” These dreadful words were uttered by Betty Gow, a nursemaid at Highfields, shortly after 10:00 pm of March 1, 1932. Newspapers quickly reported on the kidnapping of the hero’s twenty-month-old infant son, Charles Jr. A ransom note found on a windowsill in the nursery demanded a payment of $50,000 for the child’s safe return. Lindbergh paid the ransom, but the child’s dead body was later found in the woods not far from the home.
Women at Work: Rosie the Riveter and World War II
One of these tactics centered on the fictional character of “Rosie the Riveter” as the quintessential female worker: loyal, efficient, patriotic, and pretty. A song entitled “Rosie the Riveter” became very popular in 1942. Norman Rockwell’s image on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post on May 29, 1943 was the first widely publicized pictorial representation of the new “Rosie the Riveter,” which led to many other “Rosie” images.
Effa Manley and The Newark Eagles
Of the nearly 300 members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, only one is a woman. Effa Manley and her husband, Abe, were co-owners of the Newark Eagles from 1936 to 1948. The Eagles played in the old Negro League, the home of black stars who were banned from Major League baseball because of their skin color.
Alice Paul, Women's Rights Activist
On March 3, 1913, the day before another resident of New Jersey, Woodrow Wilson, was sworn in as president, Alice Paul led a march in Washington, D.C. to demand equal voting rights for women. Some 8,000 women endured jeers and occasional violence as they paraded through the nation’s capital in an event that was hailed as a milestone in the suffrage movement.Video: Alice Paul, Women's Rights Activist
Thomas Mundy Peterson, First African-American Voter
The 15th Amendment, granting African-American men the right to vote, was formally adopted into the U.S. Constitution ensuring that “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” On March 31, 1870, one day after it was adopted, Thomas Peterson Mundy of Perth Amboy, New Jersey became the first African American to vote under the authority of this new law.
Paul Robeson: Civil Rights Activist
Paul Robeson was one of the best-known African American actors and Civil Rights activists of the early twentieth century. But questions about race confronted him much earlier in his career. Born in 1898, Robeson grew up in Princeton, New Jersey. At seventeen, he received a scholarship to Rutgers University, where he participated in almost all varsity sports teams, graduated with honors in four years, and was his class valedictorian.
Abraham Lincoln in New Jersey
Abraham Lincoln’s visit to New Jersey as President-elect began as many such visits do: traveling from Manhattan to Jersey City across the Hudson River on a route approximating that of the Lincoln Tunnel. On February 21, 1861, Lincoln was met by large crowds in Jersey City, Newark, and New Brunswick. He made brief remarks at each location before arriving in Trenton.
Women made up less than 5% of the total number of Representatives when Millicent Fenwick joined the U.S. House of Representatives in 1974. In 2013, women make up nearly 20% of the total number of both houses of Congress. How did Fenwick help to change the face of politics, during her own time and thereafter?
Paterson Silk Strike
In the late 19th century, Paterson, New Jersey became a manufacturing powerhouse. The Great Falls of the Passaic River provided energy for mills that produced nearly half the nation’s silk. Conflicts between the mill owners and workers were not uncommon. But in 1913, when the owners tried to push workers to produce even more with less, the workers decided to strike. The house of Pietro Botto, a skilled weaver from Italy, and his wife Maria, a silk inspector, became the strike’s headquarters. Speakers would address crowds of up to 25,000 from the second floor porch.
The Campbell Soup Company was founded in 1869 by fruit merchant Joseph Campbell and icebox manufacturer Abraham Anderson as a small canning company in Camden, New Jersey. They started out packing three products: French peas, fancy asparagus, and beefsteak tomatoes, then expanded to other vegetables, jellies, soups, condiments, and mincemeat.
Additional Resources: Campbell Soup Slideshow
On March 4, 1913, Woodrow Wilson became the first governor of New Jersey to take the oath of office as president of the United States. In the hotly contested national election of 1912, Wilson defeated two presidents: incumbent William Howard Taft, a Republican, and ex-president Theodore Roosevelt, who ran as a third-party candidate.
Fort Lee Studios: Where the Movie Magic Began
Although most people think Hollywood is the motion picture capital of the world, New Jersey was the real birthplace of the modern film industry. Motion pictures were invented and first produced at Thomas Edison’s laboratory and studio in West Orange. Fort Lee - just across from New York City - became a key site for early film production.
Thomas Edison: The Wizard of Menlo Park
With over one thousand patents to his name, Edison easily fits this description. He was renowned for his hard work and for persistence. “I have not failed,” he argues, “I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.” What impact did Edison’s attitude have on his ability to be an innovator? What lessons can we take away from Edison’s attitude and work ethic?