Yeah, Hillary’s a ‘first,’ but New Jersey’s history is rich with them
Tuesday night, Hillary Clinton became the first woman to accept a major party's nomination for president, just across the Delaware River in Philadelphia.
By any measure, she's made history.
New Jersey's own history of electing women to positions of power is mixed — they make up more that half the state population but only about half of the current state legislature.
"New Jersey’s record in electing women to office is mediocre at best," Susan J. Carroll and Kelly Dittmar wrote in a 2012 paper on women in the state legislature, published by the Center for American Women and Politics at Eagleton Institute of Politics.
The Garden State has sent six women to Congress, but none so far to the U.S. Senate.
"On the positive side, New Jersey is one of only 26 states that have had women governors," the 2012 paper's authors noted.
And across many demographics, New Jersey's seen several important "firsts." Here's a look at just some of the key ones.
FIRST WOMEN ELECTED TO ASSEMBLY: Jennie C. Van Ness and Margaret B. Laird, Republicans, elected 1920 from Essex County. Van Ness was active in the women’s suffrage movement and prohibition. She helped pass the eponymous Van Ness Act, which severely punished anyone found guilty of selling or manufacturing alcoholic beverages. Laird supported juvenile justice reform and equal pay for women.
FIRST WOMAN ELECTED TO CONGRESS FROM NJ: Mary T. Norton, Democrat, first elected in 1924 from Jersey City, and served several terms until 1951. She was the first woman Democrat in the country to serve in Congress. She was a protégé of Jersey City's infamous Mayor Frank “I am the Law” Hague. In 1920 she became the first woman official in the New Jersey Democratic Committee and a year later became the first woman to serve as the party’s vice chairman. In Congress, she served on the Labor (serving as chairwoman in 1937), District of Columbia (serving as chairwoman in 1931), Memorials, and House Administration committees. She helped pass the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which called for a 40-hour work week and established a 25-cent hourly minimum wage. She opposed the Equal Rights Amendment and Prohibition, but backed equal pay for men and women and supported tax breaks for lower income families, as well as raising survivor benefits for mothers of fallen World War I veterans.
“I am no lady,” she once corrected a fellow member. “I’m a member of Congress, and I’ll proceed on that basis.”
FIRST WOMAN ELECTED TO STATE SENATE: Mildred Barry Hughes, Democrat from Elizabeth, 1965.
FIRST WOMAN STATE SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: Marie Garibaldi, Republican from Hudson County, 1982.
FIRST WOMAN GOVERNOR: Christine Todd Whitman, Republican from Somerset County, 1994-2001
FIRST WOMAN SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: Barbara Buono, Democrat from Metuchen, first elected 2010.
FIRST WOMAN LT. GOVERNOR: Kim Guadagno, Republican from Monmouth County, elected 2010 in the newly created office, re-elected 2014
FIRST BLACK MAN ELECTED TO ASSEMBLY: Walter G. Alexander, Republican of Orange, elected 1920 from Essex County. Was elected on same slate as the first two women elected to the Assembly. Had served as vice president of New Jersey National Medical Association.
FIRST BLACK WOMAN ELECTED TO ASSEMBLY: Madaline A. Williams, Democrat of East Orange, elected 1957.
FIRST BLACK MAN ELECTED TO STATE SENATE: Hutchins F. Inge, Democrat of Newark, 1965.
FIRST BLACK WOMAN ELECTED TO THE STATE SENATE: Wynona Lipman, Democrat of Newark, 1971. Also was elected first black woman freeholder in 1968, serving as president of the Essex County board in 1971.
FIRST BLACK MAN TO SERVE AS ACTING GOVERNOR: S. Howard Woodson Jr., Democrat from Trenton, also served as the Assembly’s first black speaker in 1974.
FIRST BLACK MAN ELECTED TO CONGRESS FROM NJ: Donald Payne, Democrat from Newark, served 12 terms from 1989 to 2012.
FIRST BLACK MAN ELECTED TO U.S. SENATE FROM NJ: Cory Booker, Democrat from Newark, first elected 2013.
FIRST BLACK WOMAN ELECTED TO CONGRESS FROM NJ: Bonnie Watson Coleman, Democrat of Ewing, elected 2015 from the 12th Congressional District. She was the first black woman to lead the New Jersey Democratic State Committee in 2002.
FIRST BLACK STATE SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: James H. Coleman Jr., 1994.
FIRST LATINO ELECTED TO CONGRESS FROM NJ: Robert Menendez, Democrat from Union City, served in the House of Representatives from 1993 to 2006, when he was appointed to the U.S. Senate, also as the first Latino the state sent to that legislative body. Menendez, of Cuban descent, also was the first Latino to serve in the state Assembly and Senate, from 1987 to 1991 and then from 1991 to 1993, while simultaneously serving as mayor of Union City.
FIRST LATINA ELECTED TO ASSEMBLY: Nilsa Cruz-Perez, Democrat from Camden, 1995 to 2010. Now serves in the state Senate.
FIRST LATINA ELECTED TO STATE SENATE: M. Teresa Ruiz, Democrat from Newark, 2007.
FIRST OPENLY GAY
FIRST OPENLY GAY GOVERNOR: Jim McGreevey, Democrat, announced his sexuality in same speech announcing his resignation in 2004. He became the first openly gay governor in the country.
FIRST OPENLY LESBIAN MAYOR: Gina Genovese, elected in 2005 in Long Hill.
FIRST OPENLY GAY ASSEMBLYMAN: Reed Gusciora, Democrat from Princeton. First elected in 1996, but first publicly acknowledged his sexuality in 2006. Has been re-elected since.
FIRST OPENLY GAY MAYOR: Tim Eustace, elected 2007 in Maywood. Elected to the Assembly in 2011.
CORRECTION: State Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz was first elected in 2007, not 1997.
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