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Rep. Mary T. Norton (D-Jersey City), right, with Thelma Parkinson Sharp.

Trailblazer: Thelma Parkinson Sharp

First woman to run for statewide office in N.J. and first woman to serve in the governor’s cabinet

By David Wildstein, February 09 2021 12:16 am

Thelma Parkinson Sharp (1898-1983) was the first woman to run for statewide office in New Jersey and the first woman to serve in the governor’s cabinet.

At age 32, she is also the youngest person to ever win a statewide nomination.

Thelma Parkinson – she did not get married until 1941 – was the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator in 1930.

The incumbent senator, Walter Edge, resigned in 1929 to become the U.S. Ambassador to France.  Edge had thirteen months left in his second term.

Republicans nominated one of the state’s wealthiest men, Dwight Morrow, to run in two elections in 1930: a November special election to fill the remaining two months of Edge’s term, and another for a full six-year term.

Morrow won 71% of the vote in a Republican primary against Rep. Franklin Fort (R-East Orange) and former U.S. Senator Joseph Frelinghuysen.

Democrats ran State Sen. Alexander Simpson (D-Jersey City) for the full-term but decided to run Parkinson, a Democrat from Vineland, in the special election as a way of attracting women voters to the Democratic ticket.

Morrow, a former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico and father-in-law of aviator Charles Lindbergh, defeated Parkinson by 198,267 votes, 59%-39%.  Morrow carried 19 counties, with Parkinson beating him with 69% in Hudson and 51% in Middlesex.

Parkinson ran slightly better than Simpson, who lost his race by 200,490 votes.

She had become a Democratic State Committeewoman from Cumberland County in 1924, at age 26, and was the longtime Democratic National Committeewoman from New Jersey at a time when the state had just one.

After her Senate bid, she served on the New Jersey State Board of Tax Appels from 1932 to 1945.

Known after 1941 as Thelma P. Sharp, Gov. Robert Meyner appointed her to the New Jersey Civil Service Commission in 1954.

In 1959, Meyner nominated Sharp to serve as Civil Service Commission president, a cabinet post.  Sharp served in the cabinet until Republican Gov. William Cahill replaced her in 1970.  She is the longest-serving woman cabinet member in state history.

She attended her first Democratic National Convention in 1924, when her party nominated dark horse candidate John W. Davis on the 103rd ballot to run against President Calvin Coolidge.  Parkinson seconded the nomination of House Speaker John Nance Garner for Vice President in 1932.

Sharp nominated a woman, India Edwards, for the Democratic vice presidential nomination in 1952 to run with Adlai Stevenson.

“Women in politics are no laughing matter,” she said at the convention.  “They could do more than knot campaign doilies and serve tea to the men folk.”

Her husband, Howard Sharp (D-Vineland), was elected to the New Jersey State Assembly in 1947 and the State Senate in 1949.  He died in 1958.

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