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Choosing to Conquer: The Local Women Who Won the Vote

By Anna Reinalda | December 16, 2021


In a lecture on the suffragettes at Hopewell Theater, Author Nancy B. Kennedy informed her audience that the women of Montgomery Township were some of the first women in the country to legally vote.

Nancy Kennedy with Hopewell Librarian Anne Zeman of Kingston.

A Hopewell resident for more than 25 years, Kennedy brought the women’s rights movement close to home. Kennedy recalled viewing the signatures of 46 women on the 1801 voter rolls from Montgomery during a visit to the American Revolution Museum. The rolls came from the old Rocky Hill Inn, now a private residence, which was the polling location for the town.


New Jersey was the only state whose original constitution allowed women the right to vote, she explained. Although New Jersey’s voting laws were unusually forward thinking for the time, Kennedy said they were still strict, and the only women who were allowed to vote per the constitution had to have at least 50 British pounds. This is equal to just over $5,000 in today’s currency.


“Women had a hard lot in those days,” Kennedy said, citing that any wages a woman might earn were managed by her husband, making working wives ineligible for voting. To make matters worse, Kennedy said, there were men in the state who would wear dresses on election day. They would vote once as themselves, and again as women.


Ironically, though it was men who were committing voter fraud, an 1895 issue of the Hopewell Herald incorrectly reported that “the sensation of voting was so agreeable that some women voted 17 times.” Because of these antics and accusations, New Jersey stripped voting rights from all citizens except “white, propertied males,” Kennedy said. Rejoining the women’s suffrage movement on February 9, 1920, New Jersey became the 27th state to ratify the 19th Amendment, which was implemented August 18 of that year.


Originally scheduled for May of 2020, Kennedy’s participation in Hopewell Public Library’s Wednesday Night Out Lecture Series was postponed due to COVID- 19. Decked out in period dress and donning a suffragette sash, Kennedy’s captivating lecture on November 17 was worth the wait. The event fell just a few days after the 104th anniversary of the Night of Terror, in which around 30 suffragettes were arrested for picketing outside the White House.


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The women were “dragged by their hair” and “thrown like ragdolls” into the cells of the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia, Kennedy said. Almost immediately after the arrests the prisoners began a hunger strike, which the Occoquan warden combated by ordering the women to be force fed cold milk and raw eggs via feeding tubes, which were pushed through the women’s noses and mouths. In addition to being “painful, bloody, and terrifying,” Kennedy said, the procedure caused immediate vomiting. It was obvious it was not intended to feed the women, but rather, “to break the women’s will.”


This was just one episode in a fight for women’s suffrage that lasted 72 years, 18 presidencies, three generations, and two wars. Detailing the efforts of an array of suffragettes who refused to stand down in the face of patriarchy, Kennedy highlighted Alice Paul. Paul was a resident of Mount Laurel, who, Kennedy said, loved to mock President Woodrow Wilson by using his own words against him. Kennedy showed a photo of Paul holding a sign which read: “The time has come to conquer or submit. For us, there is but one choice. We have made it.”


Paul’s Mount Laurel home is now a museum dedicated to gender equality, which Kennedy highly recommends visiting. Kennedy released her book, Women Win the Vote! 19 for the 19th Amendment in time for the 100-year anniversary of the advent of women’s suffrage. The youth-oriented history book biographies 19 wise women who fought for justice on behalf of the modern generation. “I found my niche in writing about the suffragists as young women,” Kennedy said. Kennedy noted a deep emotional connection to the women who fought so tirelessly for the vote. “I had to read that speech about 100 times before I could do it without crying,” she said.


While endlessly thankful to the suffragettes for their work and determination, Kennedy recognized their flawed humanity. “These women were not saints,” she said. A “certain class ... wrote history,” and their privilege of status left them prone to racism, classism, and even sexism. An apt reminder that historical figures must always be examined holistically. Kennedy’s work was not always in the historical and political realm.

Nancy Kennedy, left, with her husband John at the Titusville Independence Day parade in July.

Prior to the release of her newest book, she was an editor and journalist for the New Jersey Herald and Dow Jones. She later released a collection of books entitled “Miracles & Moments of Grace,” featuring collections of stories from mothers, doctors, and chaplains. Finding her calling in relaying inspiring nonfiction, Kennedy’s latest publication brings out the personhood of the suffragettes. And her research on this topic is not done yet. “I would love to find voting rolls in Hopewell,” she said. “Go home and check your attics.”


The American Revolution Museum’s online exhibit “When Women Lost the Vote,” which features New Jersey voter rolls, can be found at www.amrevmuseum.org.


Tours at the Alice Paul Institute can be booked at www.alicepaul.org.

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