Remembering… and then Forgetting… Female Suffrage in Early New Jersey
1524 Giovanni de Verrazano, an Italian explorer in the service of France, becomes the first European in New Jersey when he makes land at Sandy Hook.
1660 Bergen is the first European settlement in what would become New Jersey. Originally part of the Dutch settlement New Netherland, it is taken over by the British four years later.
1702 April 17, New Jersey is ceded to the British Crown. One woman was among the proprietors who signed the agreement, which also outlawed female suffrage in the colony.
1776 April 14, John Adams responds to his wife Abigail’s request to ‘remember the ladies,’ by comparing her to the worst of humanity. He will not remember the ladies.
1776 July 2, the New Jersey State Constitution is ratified. It leaves off any gendered requirements for voting, instead using the word ‘inhabitant’ to describe voters.
1776 December 25 and 26, George Washington crosses the Delaware river and defeats the British army at the Battle of Trenton. This begins four years of consistent warfare in the state, ending with the Battle of Springfield on June 23, 1780.
1778 March 17, Harry Lee responds to his sister Hannah Lee Corbin’s request to either let feme soles vote or be free of taxation. While sympathetic, he ignores her request for help.
1787 December 18, New Jersey becomes the third state to ratify the US Constitution. The questions of voter qualification and inclusion are left up to the states. Most states will redraft new state constitutions, but New Jersey decides not to.
1789 November 20, New Jersey becomes the first state to ratify the first ten amendments to the US Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights.
1790 November 18, “An Act to regulate the Election of Members of the Legislative Council and General Assembly, Sheriffs, and Coroners, in the Counties of Bergen, Monmouth, Burlington, Gloucester, Salem, Hunterdon and Sussex” includes the language ‘he or she’ for those counties.
1792 The new State Capitol building opens for business in Trenton.
1797 February 22, “An Act to regulate the election of members of the legislative council and general assembly, sheriffs and coroners,” includes ‘he or she’ to describe all voters in the state.
1799 William Griffith prints “Eumenes: being a collection of papers, written for the purpose of exhibiting some of the more prominent errors and omissions of the Constitution of New-Jersey.”
1800 “A General Election of Members of Congress for the state of New Jersey” bill is passed without including language specifically ensuring widows, unmarried women and African Americans can vote.
1800 Thomas Jefferson is elected president. While John Adams carries New Jersey, Jefferson’s party, the Republicans, wrests power from Adams’ Federalists and takes control of the state government.
1804 July 11, Aaron Burr shoots Alexander Hamilton in a duel in Weehawken, New Jersey. Hamilton’s death the next day weakens the Federalist party beyond repair.
1804 Thomas Jefferson is reelected in a massive landslide, winning New Jersey this time as well. Women vote in wide numbers, perhaps as many as 10,000, throughout the state. The Federalist party in New Jersey loses almost every local and state election.
1806 February 10, massive fraud in an Essex County referendum over the location of a courthouse leads to widespread fear that women are ruining elections despite any proof.
1807 November 16, the “Act to regulate the election of members of the legislative council and general assembly, sheriffs and coroners in this state” states that a person must be a “free, white male citizen of this state, of the age of twenty-one years…” to vote. This act takes away the right to vote from single women, African-Americans, and non-citizens.
1839 Mississippi becomes the first state to give married women the right to own their own property, as long as they had permission from their husbands.
1844 June 29, A new state constitution is written and passed, declaring only “white male citizens” may vote. This enshrines the 1807 act into New Jersey’s highest law.
1848 July 19 and 20, three hundred people attend the Seneca Falls Convention, which is generally considered the beginning of the women’s rights movement in America.
1868 July 9, the Fourteenth Amendment is adopted. This is the first time the Constitution uses the word ‘male’ to describe voters and citizens. New Jersey ratified this amendment in 1866, and then rescinded their approval in 1868. They would not ratify it again until 2003.
1869 December 10, Wyoming becomes the first territory to grant women the vote. Women maintain the franchise in Wyoming upon the state entering the Union in 1890, becoming the first state since 1807 where women could vote.
1870 February 3, the Fifteenth Amendment is adopted. States can no longer deny suffrage based on “race, color or previous condition of servitude.” This was intended to grant suffrage to all men, including former slaves. New Jersey didn’t ratify it until in 1871.
1872 November 5, Susan B. Anthony attempts to vote in New York and is arrested.
1920 February 6, New Jersey ratifies the Nineteenth Amendment. It will be adopted later that year, declaring that “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”
1947 September 10, New Jersey ratifies its present constitution, which allows “every citizen of the United States of the age of eighteen years” to vote.
1994 January 18, Christine Todd Whitman is sworn in as the first female governor of New Jersey.
2019 There are currently two women serving in the US House of Representatives from New Jersey, ten female senators and twenty-seven assemblywomen in the New Jersey state assembly, and eleven of the twenty one members of the Governor’s cabinet and the state’s second lieutenant governor are women.
2019 The National Women’s History Alliance’s Timeline of Legal History of Women in the United States notes that by 1777 “All states pass laws which take away women’s right to vote.”