Until 1972, when a woman registered to vote in New Jersey, she had to disclose whether she was single or married. That’s when the Legislature passed a bill that would end the requirement that women identify themselves as Miss or Mrs. on their voter registration forms.
One of the original sponsors of the bill was Assemblyman Joseph Robertson (R-Spring Lake Heights). Robertson thought the proposal would be a “motherhood bill” — his words — but he wound up pulling his name off the legislation and voting no after receiving letters from women who objected to the plan.
“I had the Mrs. telling me they are proud of being Mrs., and the Miss were writing me they are proud of Miss and and want people to know they are available for marriage,” Robertson said during the floor debate on the bill.
He proposed an amendment that would allow women to use Miss, Mrs. or Ms., but that option was voted down, 23 to 42.
“It would keep the married gals happy, the single gals happy, and all of those who don’t want it happy,” Robertson said. “The only ones unhappy would be those who don’t want to be women.”
Some legislators complained that the bill would force counties to incur greater costs in changing their voter registration forms. One legislator maintained it was easier for election workers to prevent voter fraud if they could tell the difference between a mother and daughter living in the same house with the same name.
“It’s not a monumental bill, but it’s significant. Let women sign their own names, as men have been doing,” said Assemblywoman Ann Klein (D-Morris Township), one of three women in the Assembly.
The Senate approved the bill five weeks later.
“This being the year of women’s liberation, I think this bill is appropriate. I just hope when they get completely liberated, they won’t get completely out of hand,” said Senate Majority Leader Alfred Beadleston (R-Rumson).
One of the four Senators to vote no was Wayne Dumont (R-Phillipsburg), the 1965 GOP candidate for governor. He said the matter belonged “in the silly stuff department.”
Robertson resigned from the Assembly in August 1973 to take a job with the New Jersey Turnpike Authority. His seat captured by a Democratic woman, Gertrude Berman.