Political Life and Government

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New Jersey women have had a unique and interesting political history that has impacted the policy and direction of state-level governance. Subject to restrictive gender-defined legal status under the Constitutions of 1776 and1844 and state legislation, women have worked to gain equal rights with men. Even when they could not vote, women found ways to make their voices heard and to shape the communities in which they lived. Most people think of political life in terms of partisan, electoral politics, yet political activity – the effort to make opinions heard and to influence government policy – goes far beyond that. In the 19th century, women organized associations to exert pressure on government, petitioned and lobbied the legislature, lectured in public, published opinion tracts, engaged in direct action protest, and even, for a brief period, voted in school elections. After women gained the vote in 1920 they became active voters in partisan electoral politics. The nature of their political involvement changed as they worked to gain representation and power within municipal, county and state government. Since 1920, women have had to struggle with bias against women in the partisan and elective process.

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    Monmouth Battlefield State Park

    Mary Hays, nicknamed “Molly,” joined her husband, as many wives of the time did, while he was serving in the artillery. Her husband was a gunner in Captain Francis Proctor’s company of the Pennsylvania Artillery Regiment.

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    Mary Teresa Norton House

    Mary Teresa Norton lived in this house when she was elected to Congress in 1924, becoming the first Democratic woman in the country elected to the U.S. Congress without being preceded by her husband.

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    Wildwood Civic Club

    Katherine Baker was recognized nationally and overseas for her efforts during World War I. Early in the war, she went to France and joined the French Hospital Service as a nurse. She was awarded the “Croix de Guerre et Fourragere” for her contributions there, and was the first woman to attain the rank of corporal in the French Army.

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    Beesley’s Point

    According to legend, Rebecca and Sarah Stillwell were sisters who each performed heroic efforst during the Revolutionary War. Rebecca Stillwell was at home near the American naval base on Beesley’s Point one autumn day in 1777 when she sighted armed British barges on the Egg Harbor River.

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    Dr. John Wiley House

    This Italianate style home, now a bed and breakfast, was the home of Edith Elmer Wood, a pioneer in community planning, from 1919 to 1945. Wood’s grandfather, Dr. John Wiley, a medical doctor influential in local politics, built this home in 1854.

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    Elizabeth Haddon Estaugh Brew House

    The Elizabeth Haddon Estaugh Brew House, built in 1713, is the oldest building in Haddonfield. The property on which this building is located belonged to Elizabeth Haddon Estaugh, who is considered to be the founder of Haddonfield.

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    Estell Manor Mansion

    Rebecca Estell Bourgeois Winston was the first female mayor in New Jersey. Winston’s grandfather, Daniel Estell, was a prosperous entrepreneur who built this mansion in 1832 in what was then called Stephen’s Creek, where he owned a glass factory.