Women's history

From the mid-nineteenth century onward, women battled for full legal and political rights. After women won the right to vote in 1920, debate continued over reform legislation designed to protect women factory workers and those who supported the controversial Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), which still has not been ratified. During the second wave or women’s liberation movement of the late 1960s and 1970s, New Jersey women continued to advocate for ratification of the ERA as well as many other reforms.

Rutgers Special Collections and University Archives (SC/UA) has a number of collections that document the struggle of women to have a voice in a world dominated by men, which often yielded to conflicting views among women.

Left: suffragette march in New York City, 1915 (source)


Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815–1902)

Elizabeth Cady Stanton lived in Tenafly from 1868 to 1885. In 1880, she caused a stir by attempting to vote in an election there. Stanton organized the first women’s rights convention at Seneca Fall, New York in 1848, and with Susan B. Anthony, founded the National Woman Suffrage Association. As well as her support forvotes for women, she took controversial stands by supporting divorce and critiquing the portrayal of women in the Bible.

Lucy Stone (1818–1893)

Lucy Stone was an abolitionist and crusader for the rights of women. Born in Massachusetts, she lived in New Jersey from 1857 to 1869. She became celebrated for refusing to pay taxes on her home in Orange in protest against her lack of the right to vote. As a leader of the American Woman Suffrage Association, Stone advocated for the rights of both African Americans and women.

Alice Paul (1885–1977) and the Equal Rights Amendment: conflicting views

Alice Paul was born into a Quaker family in Moorestown, New Jersey. While studying in England, she became influenced by the Women’s Social and Political Union, the more militant wing of the suffrage movement. Returning to the U.S., she broke with National American Woman Suffrage Association to create the National Woman’s Party. The party’s militant tactics landed Paul in jail three times.

After women won the right to vote in 1920, the National Woman’s Party turned its attention to achieving full equal rights for women. Paul drafted the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), which faced stiff opposition, including from other women’s organizations, and has still has not been ratified. Rutgers holds the records of the several of these organizations:


Thelma Parkinson Sharp (1898-1983)

A graduate of Smith College, Thelma Parkinson Sharp of Vineland, New Jersey, was a Democratic party activist and a 1930 candidate for the U.S. Senate.

Shirley Chisholm (1924-2005)

U.S. Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm of New York was an outspoken advocate for the poor, particularly African-Americans. In 1972 she became the first black major-party candidate and first African-American woman to run for the democratic presidential nomination.

Mary G. Roebling (1905-1994)

A resident of Trenton, New Jersey, Mary G. Roebling was a banker, philanthropist, and member of government councils whose successful career included a number of firsts, including becoming the first woman to head a major U.S. bank. Active in community and government organizations, Roebling also advocated for equal opportunity and equal pay for women

New York Feminist Art Institute (1979-1990)

The New York Feminist Art Institute (NYFAI) was founded in 1979 to balance the inequities of male-dominated art schools and colleges. NYFAI sought to bring women of diverse experiences and backgrounds together to form a supportive community in which to create art.

  • New York Feminist Art Institute (NYFAI) Records: finding aid available online. N.B. Stored offsite: Advance notice required to consult these records.