Women’s Heritage.

New Jersey has a long, rich history. From being first settled by Native Americans over 10,000 years ago, to the first Dutch colonies in the 1630s, to its transformation into a British colony in 1738, to its admission to the United States as the third state of the union, New Jersey’s story is as old as any part of the nation (via nj.gov). Women have played a critical role in the history of the state, and in 2000, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection established a series of historical markers throughout the state to celebrate individuals who have not always received the recognition they deserved. The Women’s Heritage Trail honors the women of New Jersey for their work, their role in domestic life, volunteer efforts and work in reform organizations, participation in political life and government, involvement in education, engagement with the arts, culture, and sports, and their work in historic preservation. No fewer than ninety-three sites can be found spread across every county in the state (via nj.gov).

Despite having lived in New Jersey for most of my life, I had never heard of the Women’s Heritage Trail until my wife and I watched an episode of the PBS series Drive By History in which the host visited several spots along the trail. We found an excellent online guide published by the state of New Jersey, which lists all of the sites, including their locations (please note: unless otherwise indicated, all of the information in the captions below are from the guide). On a beautiful Saturday that also marked the first day of Spring, we loaded up the Accord and set off, trying to see how many sites we could uncover in a weekend.

Let’s begin:

The Women’s Heritage Trail

Map of route to several locations on Women’s Heritage Trail in New Jersey.
With a copy of the Women’s Heritage Trail guidebook, we mapped out several locations across the southern half of New Jersey that would form the basis of our trip.

The Clara Barton School

Exterior of Clara Barton Schoolhouse.
Our first stop was this modest one-room schoolhouse in Bordentown. Clara Barton was a nurse during the Civil War who went on to found the American Red Cross. In 1851, Barton, a Bordentown resident, was concerned at the number of children who spent their days roaming the streets (many of whose parents could not afford private school fees), so she decided to establish her own, free school.

 

Interior of Clara Barton School.
The school proved so successful that after one year, attendance was up to six hundred students. The town built a larger school, but claiming that leading a large school was not a job for a woman, Barton was replaced as principal by a man. She quit, and moved to Washington D.C., where she would eventually leave education to become a nurse.

Patience Lovell Wright’s House

Exterior of Patience Lovell Wright House, a brick two-story house.
Across town from the Barton school is the home of Patience Lovell Wright. Known as America’s first professional sculptor, she would frequently travel to London to sell her work. During the Revolutionary War, she used her time in London to spy on the British, and then send secret information back to the colonies hidden in her sculptures.

Paulsdale

2012 Honda Accord parked in front of two-story mansion.
Our next stop was to Paulsdale, a historic mansion located in the middle of a residential neighborhood in Mt. Laurel. The house, built in 1840, once sat on over 170 acres of farmland. It is best remembered, however, for being the birthplace of firebrand suffragist Alice Paul.

 

Signage outside Paulsdale mansion, with a small cardboard sign on lawn that says AUDIO TOUR STOP 1.
Tours of the house are currently suspended due to the pandemic, but the Alice Paul Institute, which manages the property, has set up an audio tour around the grounds where visitors can learn more about the house, the estate, and Alice Paul.

 

Remnants of brick wall with mansion in distance.
The mansion is the only remaining structure from when Paulsdale was an operating farm. This brick wall is the last remnant of one of the barns. We enjoyed the audio tour – it was a creative way for the Alice Paul Institute to keep visitors engaged and interested, while also respecting the need for public health safety.

 

Exterior of Paulsdale mansion.
Alice Paul was raised on this property, a member of a Quaker family. She attended a Quaker school in nearby Moorestown, and then enrolled at Swarthmore College, a prestigious college in Pennsylvania that was founded by her maternal grandfather. After college, she pursued a career in social work… Alice had a strong desire to affect positive social change (via the Alice Paul Institute).

 

Display on women's suffrage, viewed through the window of Paulsdale.
It was the women’s suffrage movement that would prove to be Alice’s life work, however. At times facing violent opposition, Alice led protests around the nation in support of women receiving the right to vote. The demonstrators were often taken to jail and left in deplorable conditions. The public pressure resulting from these actions, and those of countless other supporters of the suffrage movement, led to the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920.

Mt. Pisgah A.M.E. Church

Exterior of Mt. Pisgah African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Our next stop was to Mt. Pisgah African Methodist Episcopal Church in Lawnside. Established in 1808, the church was also home to the first female preacher in the A.M.E. church – Jarena Lee, who as born in Cape May in 1783. Called to preach from a young age, Jarena at first held prayer meetings and spoke when invited by the church’s pastor. In 1817, however, she became licensed as a preacher within the church, and spent her life as an evangelist, traveling the nation to share her message of faith.

 

Graveyard behind Mt. Pisgah Church.
Jarena Lee is buried in an unmarked grave behind the church. As I did the research for this post, I discovered that not only was she the first female A.M.E. preacher, but that she is the first known African-American to have a published autobiography. Writing in her book, she boldly states: “For as unseemly as it may appear now-a-days for a woman to preach, it should be remembered that nothing is impossible with God. And why should it be thought impossible, heterodox, or improper for a woman to preach? seeing the Saviour died for the woman as well as for the man” (via JSTOR Daily).

Boxwood Hall

Tan two-story house, with two chimneys, surrounded by a wrought iron fence.
Our next stop was Boxwood Hall, located in the colonial-era town of Haddonfield. This house, built in the 1700s, was home to two sisters, Sarah and Rebecca Nicholson, who founded a charity to help African-American mothers and children in the nearby town of Snow Hill (now Lawnside). The charity worked to teach marketable skills such as sewing, and to help people who were jobless find work. Later in their lives, the sisters would donate land across the street to start a library… the Haddonfield Public Library, where my mom spent much of her career!

Dr. John Wiley House

Exterior of Dr. John Wiley House.
Our drive next took us toward the southern New Jersey shore. We visited the Dr. John Wiley House in Middle Township, former home of Edith Elmer Wood. She was dedicated to helping less fortunate members of society, earning her MA and PhD from Columbia University in the field of social economy. Many of her writings were used as the basis for New Deal programs instituted by President Franklin Roosevelt.

Cold Spring Village

Exterior of white two-story house in Cold Spring Village.
Our next stop was in Cape May: Cold Spring Village, a collection of historic buildings that tells the story of life in New Jersey in the 1800s. A large focus in the Village is of women’s domestic life on area farms.

Wildwood Civic Club

Exterior of Wildwood Civic Club.
Located in the shore resort town of Wildwood, this was once the summer home of Katherine Baker, who worked as a nurse in France during the First World War, tending to injured French and American soldiers. After returning from the war, she spent the next several years working to secure the right to vote for women.

Hotel Brigantine

Exterior of Hotel Brigantine.
Now known as the Ramada Vacation Suites, this hotel, overlooking the beach in Brigantine, was once owned by Sara Spencer Washington, an African-American business entrepreneur who established a chain of profitable beauty schools. By the 1940’s, her empire was worth millions of dollars, and she used her wealth to invest in a string of properties. She also established that the beach outside of the Hotel Brigantine was racially integrated – the first beach in this area of the New Jersey coastline to do so. 

Previous Visits

While scrolling through the Women’s Heritage guidebook, I discovered that several sites I had previously visited in New Jersey are also on the trail. I wanted to share a few of those sites with you as well.

Sandy Hook

Exterior of Sandy Hook lighthouse.
Sandy Hook Lighthouse, located in Gateway National Recreation Area, was maintained in the 19th century by Sarah Patterson Johnson, one of the first female assistant lighthouse keepers. It was common for lighthouse keepers to be assisted in their duties by their wives or daughters, but Sarah stayed on in her position after her husband passed and a new head lighthouse keeper was hired.

Double Trouble State Park

Pond in Double Trouble State Park.
Double Trouble State Park was once a factory town for cranberry farming, and women played key roles in both farm work and operating the cranberry packing plant.

Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association

Exterior of Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association Auditorium.
The Methodist camp auditorium in Ocean Grove was a major destination for visitors in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Among the visitors were Presidents, musicians, celebrities, and clergy. It also became a meeting spot for organizers of the women’s suffrage movement… including Alice Paul!

Ann Cooper Whitall House

Exterior of Ann Cooper Whitall House, a brick two-story house.
British and American forces fought a pitched battle on this site across the river from Philadelphia in southern New Jersey. Despite the danger of being so close to a battlefield, Ann Whitall refused to leave her home. She was a Quaker and trusted in her faith that she would survive (she didn’t budge even when a cannonball tore through the house and landed in the room where she was sitting). After the battle, she tended to wounded soldiers on both sides of the conflict.

Wrapping Up

During this time of a pandemic, it might seem challenging to find places to visit that are socially distant, safe, and educational. However, dig a little deeper, and new opportunities for adventure abound. The Women’s Heritage Trail was a fascinating way to learn more about my home state, along with the stories of important women who worked to create a better world. My only criticism is that the state government should do a much better job promoting this awesome route through history! 

Thanks for coming along on this special journey down the open road ahead.

‘Til next time.

 

6 thoughts on “Women’s Heritage.

  1. It was cool to read all the women’s history and to see the connection of women’s history to some of the past places you have visited. But there weren’t any birds on this trip?

    Liked by 2 people

  2. That sounds like a busy day. I’ve learned a lot about the rich history of your state thru your blog. If this drone pilot thing doesn’t pan out, you may have a future in teaching.

    LOL at the lack of bird pics comment.

    Liked by 1 person

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