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NJ Women in Congress: just 6 of 310

By David Wildstein, January 24 2018 12:45 am

New Jersey has elected 304 men and six women to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives.  So you don’t have to reach for a calculator, that’s 98% men, 2% women.   If you start the clock in 1922 — the first election a woman was eligible to run in New Jersey – it’s 108 men and six women (95%-5%).

The current New Jersey delegation is eleven men and one woman: Bonnie Watson Coleman, elected in 2014.  At the time of her election, New Jersey had not sent a woman to Congress in twelve years.

The first woman to win a House seat from New Jersey was Mary T. Norton, an ally of Jersey City Mayor Frank Hague.  She was elected in 1924, the fifth woman to ever serve in Congress.  Norton was an ally of Jersey City Mayor Frank Hague; she was the first Democratic State Committeewoman from Hudson County (elected in 1920), the first woman Freeholder in New Jersey (elected 1922), and the first woman to serve as New Jersey Democratic State Chair (elected 1933).  She chaired four full House committees during her 26 years in Congress – the longest-serving Congresswoman in New Jersey history.

After Norton retired – President Truman hired her as a “Womanpower Consultant” for the U.S. Labor Department’s Defense Manpower task force – New Jersey didn’t have a woman in the delegation until Florence Dwyer, a Republican Assemblywoman from Elizabeth, defeated Rep. Harrison Williams in 1956.  Dwyer served sixteen years in Congress before retiring in 1972.

Two women were elected to Congress in 1974, back when New Jersey had fifteen districts: Democrat Helen Meyner, who beat Rep. Joe Maraziti; and Republican Millicent Fenwick, who won Peter Frelinghuysen’s open seat.  Meyner lost her bid for a third term in 1978 and Fenwick left to run for U.S. Senator in 1982.  Roukema ousted Rep. Andy Maguire in 1982.

Democrats nominated a woman for U.S. Senate in 1932, although it was in a special election to fill the remaining ten weeks of an unexpired term.  The party nominated a man for the six-year term.  New Jersey has never had a woman U.S. Senator, although the Republicans nominated women in 1982, 1984 and 1990.  Republicans elected the first woman governor in 1993; Democrats nominated a woman to run for governor in 2013.

New Jersey elected the first two women to the State Assembly in 1921 – about fifteen months after the 19th Amendment was ratified.  It took 44 more years to elect a woman to the State Senate.  The first woman Assembly Speaker was elected in 1965 – and not again until Sheila Oliver won the post in 2011.  It took until 1957 for a black woman to win an Assembly seat, and it wasn’t until 1971 that a black woman was elected to the State Senate.  Watson Coleman was the first black woman to be elected to Congress.

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