Women's History Month
Remember the Ladies
by Christine Wiltanger
Equality for women was rooted in the very foundations of this country and American women have more than proved their worth. In her March 1776 letter to her husband John Adams and the Continental Congress, Abigail Adams, long an advocate for married women’s property rights and more opportunities for women, wrote “...Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors....If particular care and attention is not paid to the Ladies we are determined to foment a Rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice or Representation.”
Despite the fact the Continental Congress declined to “Remember the Ladies,” American women took action. From Margaret Corbin and Molly Pitcher, who took up arms when their husbands fell fighting the Revolution, to a young lady from Morristown, New Jersey named Tempe Wick, who, upon hearing that mutinous unpaid Pennsylvania soldiers were commandeering livestock, had the presence of mind to simply hide the family horse upstairs in her bedroom. Tempe Wick not only saved her family’s livelihood, but by keeping the animal out of the hands of deserters, who planned to ride to Philadelphia to collect their promised wages, she helped keep the Continental Army intact, aiding the Revolution.
In 1828, a young former slave named Isabella Van Wagenen learned that despite emancipation when New York abolished slavery in 1827, her son Peter had been sold into slavery in Alabama. She sued in court and won his return. In 1843, she would change her name to Sojourner Truth. Active in the abolitionist and suffragist movements, Sojourner Truth became a widely renowned speaker, delivering her most famous speech, Ain’t I A Woman?, in Ohio in 1851.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott met at the World Anti-Slavery Conference in London in 1840, where they and other women delegates were denied admittance because of their gender. Eight years later, in an effort “to discuss the social, civil, and religious condition and rights of woman,” the two convened the Seneca Falls Convention on women’s rights. Stanton, the mother of three sons, drafted eleven resolutions asserting women’s equality in all areas, including the right to vote. Seventy-two years after Abigail Adams’ letter, the Women’s Rights Convention opened on July 19th,1848, drawing a crowd of 300 people. All the resolutions in Stanton’s Declaration of Sentiments easily passed, except the right to vote. Frederick Douglass, editor of the Rochester North Star and a former slave, made an eloquent appeal which persuaded the audience to back the resolution. Three years later, Elizabeth Cady Stanton would meet Susan B. Anthony and together they would struggle in the long fight for women’s suffrage.
It would be another 72 years after the Seneca Falls Convention before Congress would ratify the 19th Amendment in 1920, giving women the right to vote in federal elections. Three years later, New Jersey Feminist Alice Paul formed the National Women’s Party and proposed the first Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex. It has never been ratified.
Even though gaining the right to vote failed in many ways to produce the social and political changes suffragists had hoped for, American women still surged forward, involving themselves in politics, sciences, and the arts. Today, when millions of people around the world sit down at their computers, they can thank Admiral Grace Murray Hopper. Known to many as ‘Amazing Grace’, Admiral Hopper made substantial contributions to the new field of computing, inventing, among other things, the compiler (1951), which allows computers to recognize English language instruction. From 1959 to 1961, she led the team which invented the COmmon Business Oriented Language known as COBOL.
The actress Hedy Lamarr was not only beautiful and scandalous (performing in the first nude scenes in film) and one of MGM’s biggest stars, she was also co-inventor of an early form of frequency hopping wireless communication, which makes WiFi possible today. Originally designed to make torpedoes undetectable, Lamarr and the composer George Antheil patented their invention in 1942. While the device was never used during World War II, it was later utilized by U.S. Military ships during the 1962 blockade of Cuba, after the patent had expired.
Jersey City Women’s History
While Abigail Adams was organizing local Massachusetts women to make saltpeter for the Continental Army and Tempe Wick was secreting away the family horse in her bedroom, Bergen Township farm wife Jane Tuers was taking the ferry across the Hudson River to sell produce and milk to the residents of British-occupied New York City. A patriot, she kept her eyes and ears open.
During a stop at the popular Fraunces Tavern, the owner whispered that, strangely enough, the British soldiers frequenting his establishment were toasting the health of the American General Benedict Arnold, who commanded the strategic American post at West Point. Rumor was, the owner informed her, that Arnold was going to turn traitor, and hand West Point over to the British. Returning home, Tuers immediately informed her brother about the conspiracy. He delivered the news to General “Mad Anthony” Wayne, who in turn tipped off George Washington, Commander of the Continental Army. When Arnold found out he had been discovered, he fled West Point barely ahead of the Continental troops sent to arrest him, and immediately defected to the British, becoming America’s most infamous traitor.
Today, Tuers Avenue in the McGinley Square section of Jersey City runs through the old Tuers farm. Hudson Catholic High School stands on the site of the old Tuers homestead.
In an era when bossism ruled the day, Jersey City Congresswoman Mary T. Norton more than held her own. With the exception of Mayor Frank Hague, Norton is considered by many to be the City’s most prominent political figure of her day. The daughter of Irish immigrants, Norton committed herself to public service, and after the passage of the 19th amendment, threw herself into politics. After becoming the first woman member of the Democratic State Committee, she ran for a seat on the Hudson County Board of Freeholders in 1923 and won. As the first woman freeholder in the State, Norton successfully lobbied the Board and won approval for the building of the Margaret Hague Maternity Hospital. From there she went on to be elected in 1924 to New Jersey’s 12th Congressional District, where she would serve for 13 successive terms. During her tenure, Norton would serve on three Congressional Committees, and would continue to actively work on behalf of labor and working women.
When Dr. Lena Edwards came to Jersey City in 1924, it was to take over the practice of the late Dr. George Cannon. A graduate of Howard University Medical School, Dr. Edwards’ practice on Pacific Avenue in the Layfayette section quickly grew as she set to treating Jersey City’s poor and working class immigrant factory workers. Over the course of her career, Dr. Edwards would deliver more than 5,000 babies and was an early advocate for natural childbirth. While she became a staff physician at Margaret Hague Maternity Hospital when it opened in 1931, because of her race, she was denied a residency until 15 years later. During her career she would become a Fellow of the International College of Surgeons, and was named Woman Doctor of the Year in 1954. At the age of 60, Dr. Edwards became involved in humanitarian work among migrant Mexican farm workers in Texas, and went on to work with Project Head Start. President Lyndon B. Johnson awarded Dr. Edwards the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964. A playground named in her honor stands at the intersection of Pine and Johnson Streets today.
If Morris Pesin is considered the Father of Liberty State Park (LSP), then Audrey Zapp is certainly considered the Park’s Godmother. As a Jersey City housewife in the 1960s, Zapp always traveled by bus. “I don’t drive,” she says, “and I would be on the bus looking out the window and I would think, this city is wall to wall concrete. I would see children playing in the gutters. I would think, what a shame there isn’t enough green for them. The City was poorer then, and there were very few playgrounds.”
At the time, Zapp had heard that the Central Railroad was fading. “I knew it was ripe for something, “she says. “A friend told me there’s a wonderful wildlife population there–you better get on top of this.”
With Councilman Pesin, Zapp formed the Friends of Liberty State Park and worked tirelessly throughout the Seventies to transform what was once a dilapidated railroad hub into an 1,100 acre expanse of green in the center of New Jersey’s second largest urban area. After securing the Green Acres funding necessary to purchase the parklands from the City, Zapp served on both the Governor’s Liberty State Park Study and Planning Commission and LSP’s Public Advisory Commission. She received many awards for her environmental advocacy, including the New Jersey Audubon Society’s Conservation Award and the United States Department of the Interior’s American Motor’s National Conservation Award. The Environmental Protection Agency awarded Zapp with a Special Award of Merit in 1977. The cobblestone road leading into LSP is named Audrey Zapp Drive in her honor.
Today, at the age of 83, Audrey Zapp resides in Colorado, near her son Rennie, where she continues to be active advocating for the environment and senior citizens.
Remember the Ladies, indeed.