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Women’s Early Voting in New Jersey

In the early nineteenth century, some women and African-Americans actually voted in New Jersey. According to the 1776 state constitution, “inhabitants of this Colony, of full age, who are worth fifty pounds proclamation money, clear estate in the same, and have resided within the county in which they claim a vote for twelve months immediately preceding the election, shall be entitled to vote….” Since married women’s property rights were limited, only single women could vote. There is little evidence of women actually voting until after 1797. With the development of political parties, get-out-the vote efforts began to target women. As many as 10,000 women may have voted in New Jersey up to 1807, although records of women voting in Middlesex County have not been yet located. Politicians of both parties tended to blame women when they lost, saying that women were manipulated into voting for candidates they knew little about. Competition between the parties ultimately led to the passage of an 1807 law that took away the women’s vote in the name of “election reform.” The new law limited the franchise to “free, white, male citizens,” excluding all women, African-Americans, and aliens. With no political power and limited access to the public sphere, women had little recourse. The fact that New Jersey women voted during this early period, however, gave inspiration to later suffrage advocates who fought to restore this right.

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An Eighteenth Century Polling Place

This nineteenth century cartoon from the Frank Leslie Popular Monthly depicts women voting in New Jersey at the end of the previous century.