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Women’s Suffrage in the Early Twentieth Century

The women’s suffrage movement in New Jersey underwent important changes in the early twentieth century. The New Jersey Woman Suffrage Association built a more formal organizational structure with an affiliation to the national group. The 1900s was an era of progressive activism in the state. Women joined with men to protest machine politics and the monopolies held by railroads and public utilities. Throughout the state, clubwomen participated in reform efforts, achieving legislation on public kindergartens (1898), traveling libraries (1899), and preservation of the Palisades (1900).

During this period, the radical women’s suffrage movement in Great Britain began to have an impact on New Jersey women. The Women’s Social and Political Union, led by Emmeline Pankhurst (1858–1928), gained attention because of its militant tactics. Known as the “suffragettes,” these women put on parades, held open-air meetings, demonstrations, and engaged in civil disobedience, which got them attention in the press. At the time, exposing themselves in public in this way was a radical gesture for women. Alice Paul (1885–1877), a young Quaker woman from Moorestown, New Jersey, and graduate of Swarthmore College, became involved in the suffrage movement while studying at the London School of Economics. Harriot Stanton Blatch (1856–1940), a daughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, had also lived in Great Britain and was influenced by the tactics of the suffrage movement there. She founded a new organization, the Equality League of Self-Supporting Women in New York in 1907 with the goal of organizing working-class and professional women and using British tactics such as open-air meetings, parades, and actively campaigning in election districts. Blatch’s organization influenced Mina C. Van Winkle (1875–1933) of Newark to found an Equality League for Self-Supporting Women in New Jersey in 1909. This organization, which was smaller and more militant than NJWSA, changed its name to the Women’s Political Union of New Jersey in 1912. At this time, NJWSA also adapted British-style tactics such as questioning members of Congress about their positions on women’s suffrage. The first open-air suffrage meeting in New Jersey was held in downtown Orange and Newark in 1909. Under the sponsorship of the Progressive Woman Suffrage Society, the meeting featured guest speakers from England.

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Everett Colby

In Essex County, Republican Everett Colby (1874–1943) emerged as a progressive leader who was elected first to the state Assembly and then to the Senate. Both he and his wife Edith Hyde Colby (1876–1962) were active in the suffrage movement. In 1912, the Woman’s Progressive Party endorsed him for Governor of New Jersey. This party was founded by Middlesex County suffragists Mary Pattison, Margaretta DeMott, Emma McCoy, and Alice Carpender. McCoy and Carpender were also leaders in the New Brunswick Political Study Association. This flier lists ways that women, even without the vote, can be involved in political action.

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Alice Paul

Women’s suffrage leader Alice Stokes Paul (1885–1977) was born in Moorestown in Burlington County to a prominent Quaker family. After graduating from Swarthmore College, she trained as a social worker at the New York School of Philanthropy (Columbia University) and received a master’s degree in economics and sociology from the University of Pennsylvania. She then studied in England at the Quakers’ Woodbrook Institute in Birmingham and the London School of Economics. She returned to the United States to finish her doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania in 1912.

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Women’s Social and Political Union

Founded by Emmeline Pankhurst in Manchester, England in 1903, the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) pioneered civil disobedience in its campaign for women’s suffrage. While in England, Alice Paul became a trusted organizer for the WSPU. She was imprisoned, went on hunger strike and was force-fed. Returning to Moorestown in 1909, Paul reconnected with the American suffrage movement and began to speak openly about her experiences in London. This ticket is for a WSPU march from Marylebone to Hyde Park in London.

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The Women’s Political Union

The Women’s Political Union of New Jersey (WPU), founded in 1909 by Mina Van Winkle, was a smaller and more militant organization than the New Jersey Woman Suffrage Association. Based primarily in Essex County, where this broadside was published, the WPU was adept at attracting attention to the suffrage movement.

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Teachers and Women’s Suffrage

In New Brunswick, women teachers in the public schools played an outsize role in the suffrage movement. In this undated photograph of a New York women’s suffrage parade, private school teachers are well-represented by this Women’s Political Union banner.

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Madam, Who Keeps Your House?

This National American Woman Suffrage Association broadside illustrates the progressive era belief that the vote would allow women to improve civic health, living, and working conditions.

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Mary Philbrook and Carpenter v. Cornish

Suffragist Mary Philbrook of Jersey City (1872–1958) was the first woman to be called to the New Jersey Bar. In November 1911, she brought a test case pertinent to women’s suffrage, Carpenter v. Cornish, to the New Jersey Supreme Court. Harriet Carpenter, a Newark school teacher who owned property in Passaic Township, claimed that since she paid taxes, she be registered as a voter there. The defendants were Charles A. Cornish and other members of the Board of Registry and Elections in Passaic. In April 1912, the court found against Carpenter, stating that women had no right to vote under the 1776 New Jersey constitution: women’s voting had been a privilege rather than a right. The case was upheld by the Court of Errors and Appeals. This outcome, although bitterly disappointing, was significant in that it made future legal challenges unlikely. In turn, New Jersey women refocused their energy on gaining the right to vote through an amendment to the New Jersey Constitution.

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Profile: Lillian Feickert

Lillian Ford Feickert (1878–1945) was a leading New Jersey suffragist. In 1910, she became enrollment chair of the New Jersey Woman Suffrage Association. From 1912 to 1920, Feickert served president of the NJWSA. Born in Brooklyn, Feickert often emphasized her family’s roots in colonial America. She married Edward Foster Feickert, a banker from New York, in 1902, and the couple moved immediately to Plainfield, New Jersey. Tragically, their only child died in infancy. Edward Foster’s banking career was successful, enabling the couple to move to a much larger property in the foothills of the Watchung Mountains in 1909. After the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920, Feickert was named vice-chairman of the Republican State Committee and given the job of organizing the Republican women of the state. From 1920 to 1925, she was president of the New Jersey Women’s Republican Club, which at one time had 100,000 members In 1923, Feickert successfully pushed for the Night Work Bill, which made it illegal for women to work from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. in many kinds of jobs. Even as vice-chairman,
Feickert was critical of New Jersey’s Republican leaders. In a May 1926 New York Times article, she stated, “They have got to learn that they must live up to their pre-election promises, that they cannot win without the woman voters of the state.” With its strong prohibitionist stance and focus on women’s issues, the New Jersey Women’s Republican Club was gradually supplanted by mainstream party organizations. In 1925, Edward Feickert sued for divorce, claiming that his wife’s “nonstop political activities” caused him “extreme suffering” and “neglected” the care of his home. Although her husband was a suffragist, he would have preferred that his wife left politics in 1920. Six weeks after the divorce, Edward married his secretary. In 1928, Lillian Feickert ran for U.S. Senate on an anti-alcohol platform but did not win. She stepped away from politics in the early 1930s when prohibition was repealed.

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Lillian and Edward Feickert’s home in the foothills of the Watchung Mountains bordered on Somerset, Union, and Middlesex counties; their mailing address, however, was Dunellen in Middlesex County, pictured here.