2020 Spotlight on Women

In honor of the hundredth anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment, allowing women the right to vote, Wednesdays on our social media channels (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) are dedicated to Women’s History. This is an alphabetical list of women and women’s institutions profiled so far — keep checking back to learn more about the women who shaped Princeton, or follow us on social media for the most up-to-date stories!

Sylvia Beach

Sylvia Beach was a bookseller, writer, and publisher. Born Nancy Woodbridge Beach on March 14, 1887 in Baltimore, Maryland, she also lived in Bridgeton, NJ and Paris, France before moving to Princeton in 1906, when her father was called to become Minister of the First Presbyterian Church of Princeton (today Nassau Presbyterian Church). On November 19, 1919, Beach opened Shakespeare and Company, a small bookstore and lending library, in Paris. It became a meeting space for acclaimed writers like Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and James Joyce, for whom Beach acted as a source of knowledge, inspiration, and encouragement. A vocal adversary of censorship, Beach published and sold Joyce’s “Ulysses” after it was deemed indecent.

During World War II, she was forced to close Shakespeare and Company, reportedly after refusing to sell her last copy of Joyce’s “Finnegans Wake” to a Nazi officer. When he visited the store again, Beach, with the help of her friends, moved the books out of the shop, dismantled the shelves, and painted over the store’s sign, leaving no trace of it behind. She was later held at a Nazi internment camp for six months; after her release, she assisted the French Resistance in sheltering Allied airmen whose planes were shot down over France.

Beach is buried in Princeton Cemetery, and the one-way street by the Princeton Public Library is named in her honor. The Silvia Beach Papers, a collection of her notes, letters, and writings, is archived at Princeton University Library. The Shakespeare and Company Project, a digital humanities project, uses sources from this special collection to reveal what lending library members read and where they lived. To see the actual lending cards of Hemingway, Joyce, Gertrude Stein, Simone de Beauvoir, and more, click here

Emma Epps

Emma Epps, a lifelong Princeton resident, was born in 1902. Epps was the daughter of Mrs. Joseph Greene, founder of the African-American branch of the Princeton YWCA. Epps became a self-employed caterer and followed in her mother’s footsteps as a stalwart volunteer in her community.

Outspoken and deeply dedicated, she volunteered for various organizations over many, many years. To name just a few examples: she served 50 years with the NAACP, 19 years as a Friend of the Princeton Public Library, and 11 years as a “Pink Lady” and Auxiliary member of the Princeton Medical Center. In 1932 Epps helped found the Friendship Club, an African-American women’s club that raised money for scholarships, promoted the arts as well as artists, and provided aid to those in need.

It is no wonder that in 1983, when Emma Epps was 81 years old, she was awarded the Robert E. Clancy Award for Outstanding Volunteer Service. After all, as the award committee had discovered when they tallied up the years she had served as a volunteer, she had donated 294 years of service to the Princeton community.

(Written by Wiebke Martens & Jennifer Jang, authors of Discovering Princeton and creators of HSP’s walking tour, In Her Footsteps: How Women Shaped Princeton.)

Evelyn College for Women

Evelyn College for Women was the first women’s college in New Jersey. Evelyn College, founded in 1887 by Joshua Hall McIlvaine, was named for Sir John Evelyn, an English lawyer and scientist. Though not legally tied to Princeton University, many Princeton professors taught there and served on its board.

Evelyn College’s admission requirements and curriculum were similar to Princeton University. Classes included Classical languages, Astronomy, Ethics, Psychology, and Metaphysics, but also Home Economics, Weaving, Music, and Fine Arts. According to a report to the Trustees, Evelyn students performed as well as, if not better than, their male counterparts at Princeton.

After just ten years, Evelyn College closed. While financial difficulties were a primary reason, McIlvaine’s daughter Elizabeth, principal of the college, attributed its closure to “the opposition of Princeton University to any work for the higher education of women.”

Beatrix Farrand

Beatrix Farrand was a renowned landscape architect. Born in 1872 to Mary Cadwalader Rawle and Frederic Rhinelander Jones, Beatrix, inspired by summers spent at the family’s Bar Harbor cottage, Reef Point Estate, decided to pursue a career in landscape architecture. After studying landscape gardening, botany, and land planning under Charles Sprague Sargent (a professor of horticulture at Harvard), Beatrix attended Columbia University’s School of Mines, where she learned elevation rendering, surveying, drafting to scale, and engineering.

Though women at this time were largely prohibited from working on public projects, with the help of her mother and aunt – and their high-profile connections – she was able to overcome this obstacle and work on a number of high-profile private projects, including the design of the White House’ East Colonial and West Gardens, and the layout and design of Princeton University’s grounds. She also became one of the founding members of the American Society of Landscape Architects. A proponent of natural environmental beauty in her designs, Farrand is perhaps best known for her propensity to showcase native plant species in all of her works, like the hanging ivy that covers Princeton University’s Nassau Hall.  

May Margaret Fine

May Margaret Fine had a major influence on hundreds of Princeton’s children. Fine came from a family of educators: her brother John founded Princeton Preparatory School, and her other brother, Henry, was Dean of the Departments of Science at Princeton University. In 1899, at age 30, May founded Miss Fine’s School, which offered a college-preparatory curriculum including English, French, Latin, history, and math. According to the Princeton Recollector, “Miss Fine herself, not being married, had time at college to study and read so many of the classics that she was naturally the person to whom parents turned when they faced the requirements of sound education for their children.”

Starting with 40 students, enrollment grew exponentially over Fine’s 34 years as headmistress. While girls were enrolled from kindergarten through twelfth grade, boys attended only through third grade. In 1924, a separate school for boys opened; and in the 1960s, the two schools merged, becoming Princeton Day School.

Fine was also a member of the Princeton Suffrage Committee, a group of 70 women advocating for women’s suffrage in Princeton. Her sister, Jean, was also a member, but her brother Henry was an anti-suffragist. 

Margaret Matthews Flinsch

Margaret Matthews Flinsch founded Princeton Nursery School to help working mothers in need of care for their young children. PNS executive director Rosanda Wong told the Town Topics in 2018, “She was moved to start the school when she found that her laundress was locking her child in the servants’ quarters while she worked. She saw there was a need, and she asked her wealthy friends to contribute. That’s how it began.” Following the philosophy of Dr. Maria Montessori, PNS encouraged the development of the whole child. The multicultural school has occupied the location pictured here, converted from two houses into one, since its establishment in 1929.

In 1982, with a small group of interested parents and teachers, Flinsch founded Blue Rock School in North Carolina; five years later, it relocated to New York. According to the school’s website, Flinsch’s “lifelong interest in the educational process, her insight, and her experience have led others to re-examine the role of the teacher, what a school can be like, and how it can better serve children.” Flinsch remained active in the school throughout her life, attending meetings up to the age of 102. (She died in 2011, at the age of 103.) Caty Laignel, Flinch’s granddaughter, has served as the school’s director and drama teacher for 20 years.

Nancy Kate Greene

Nancy Kate Greene, born in 1875, was one of thirteen children – ten girls and three boys. She married Joseph H. Greene and raised two daughters, Elsie (Phox) and Emma (Epps), in Princeton. In the early 1900s, Nancy founded the Witherspoon branch of the YWCA (Young Women’s Christian Association). Offering educational programs, job registries, and housing support for African American women in the community, the “Colored” YWCA started with fifteen girls and originally met in private homes. It also developed civic agendas challenging racism, segregation, and educational disparities. Nancy passed away in 1926, and is buried in Princeton Cemetery. She is pictured here in 1904 with her daughter Emma (Epps), who also became a community leader in Princeton.  

Christine Moore Howell

Christine Moore Howell, born in Princeton on March 19, 1899, was the owner of “Christine” Vanity Parlors and the founder of Christine Cosmetics. Her parents were Adelaide Williams and William Moore Sr., the latter of whom owned two businesses – a second-hand clothing store, and a furniture and antiques store – that operated out of adjacent buildings on Spring Street. Christine was the first African American to graduate from Princeton High School, and later studied Chemistry in Paris, France. Upon her return to the United States, Christine purchased the Spring Street buildings – formerly occupied by her father – for use as a beauty parlor. She formulated her own line of cosmetics and hair care products, and later became the first African American head of the New Jersey Board of Beauty Culture Control.

Ella Johnston

Ella Johnston, a visiting nurse for Princeton’s Neighborhood Nurse Committee, lived at 25 Bayard Lane, which also served as a medicine dispensary, emergency room, and infirmary.

Organized by Elizabeth Leavitt Howe and Frances Cleveland, the Neighborhood Nurse Committee became part of the Village Improvement Society in 1898. With the goal being to improve the health of Princeton residents, in the absence of a Princeton hospital, the Society employed a visiting nurse to take on local cases. Ella Johnston became the Society’s nurse in 1917, just before Princeton Hospital opened in 1919, and stayed on until 1921, at which point she decided to enter private duty work. Lauded for her selflessness, Ella was re-appointed as the Society’s nurse in 1922, and remained in that position until 1951. Because there was usually only one nurse at a time, Princeton’s visiting nurses typically worked 12 hours per day, six days per week, driving between the homes of their patients. Ella Johnston was not an exception, answering almost 2,000 calls per year in the 19-teens, an average of 6 cases a day. As Princeton’s population grew, so did Ella’s workload; in 1935, she had 4,358 cases.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Anne Morrow Lindbergh, wife of aviator Charles Lindbergh, had her own career as a pilot, and earned many “firsts” for women: she was the first American woman to earn a first-class glider pilot’s license, and the first to win the National Geographic Society’s Hubbard Gold Medal (for serving as radio operator and copilot to Charles Lindbergh on two flights, spanning five continents and totaling 40,000 miles). Anne also received the U.S. Flag Association Cross of Honor for her role in the Lindberghs’ 1933 North Atlantic Ocean survey flight for Pan American Airways’ potential commercial routes.

The Lindberghs lived at White Cloud Farm in Princeton before moving to Highfields, the home they built on their 400-acre property in East Amwell (the site of the 1932 kidnapping of their young son, Charles Jr.)

Anne became a bestselling author and one of the leading feminist voices of her time. She wrote more than two dozen books of prose and poetry, including five volumes of diaries. Good Housekeeping voted her one of their 10 most admired women of 1975. 

Bessie Brown Mention

Bessie Brown Mention was a suffragist and welfare advocate born in 1873. She married George M. Mention, an entrepreneur, and moved to Princeton in 1896. A staunch advocate for the welfare of migrant workers – of which there were many in Princeton during the summer months – Bessie was a member of the Migrant Welfare Commission, which monitored the working conditions of African-American migrant workers in New Jersey. Bessie was also extremely active in the suffrage and early voting community, working with the New Jersey Women’s Republican Club and the New Jersey Colored Republican Women Voters (Bessie was the President of the NJCRWV from 1926-1927) to help empower women to participate in voting and politics.

Developed for the centennial of the passage of the 19th amendment, the Online Biographical Dictionary of the Woman Suffrage Movement in the United States contains more than 2,600 biographical sketches of grassroots women suffragists, an inclusive collection, including white and black suffragists, mainstream, and militant suffragists.

Eleanor Cross Marquand

Eleanor Cross Marquand was an expert on the representation and symbolism of flowers and trees in art. In 1887, she and her husband Allan Marquand, an art history professor at Princeton University, moved to a Princeton estate that was once part of a 30-acre farm owned by Judge Richard Stockton Field. They renamed the mansion Guernsey Hall, and Eleanor managed the landscaped gardens. A pioneer in her field, she contributed recurrent scholarship to the Garden Club of America and wrote frequently for the Journal of the New York Botanical Garden. Eleanor was often consulted by scholars and museums, including the Princeton University Art Museum. She was a member of the Garden Club of Princeton, the New York Botanical Garden, and the Horticultural Society of New York.

Eleanor died at Princeton Hospital on February 27, 1950, and is buried in Princeton Cemetery. In 1953, the Marquand family donated 17 acres of their estate, Guernsey Hall, to the municipality of Princeton to serve as an arboretum and passive recreation park. 

Isabella Guthrie McCosh

Isabella Guthrie McCosh, was the wife of James McCosh, Princeton University’s’s 11th president. As the daughter of a surgeon, Isabella had extensive medical knowledge. When she arrived at the University – then the College of New Jersey – in 1868, she learned it didn’t have an infirmary. Dismayed, she decided to treat sick students herself, essentially becoming one of Princeton University’s first physicians. In honor of her unwavering dedication, and her efforts to protect the health and welfare of Princeton’s student body, the first campus infirmary – the Isabella McCosh Infirmary, built in 1892 – was named after her, and remains named for her to this day.

Sarah Sergeant Miller

Sarah Sergeant Miller was a trailblazer in charitable work and education in Princeton. Sarah was the great-granddaughter of Jonathan Dickinson, the first president of the College of New Jersey, and the daughter of NJ Continental Congressman Jonathan Dickinson Sergeant. On October 24, 1801, she married Samuel Miller, the second professor at Princeton Theological Seminary; they had ten children, though one died in infancy.

In addition to raising her family, entertaining students and guests at the Seminary, and supporting her husband’s work (“Hundreds of times have I profited by her remarks on my sermons, and other public performances”), Sarah devoted her time to the children of Princeton. She created a school in her own home, giving daily instruction for African American children, as well as offering Sunday school lessons for both Black and white children. In addition to helping to establish the Mount Lucas Orphan and Guardian Institute in 1842, Sarah worked to secure its financial endowment. When the orphanage closed in 1851, she arranged for the remaining funds to be transferred to the Ashmun Institute (renamed Lincoln University in 1866), the nation’s first degree-granting Historically Black College and University.

Sarah also organized the women of Princeton, leading an association for mothers to support each other in raising their children. She helped form – and served as president of –  the Female Benevolent Society of Princeton, which strived to help the poor, care for the sick, and educate needy children. The Society opened its own school in 1825; Sarah lobbied the First Presbyterian Church to provide the land for a new schoolhouse on Witherspoon Street. It operated for more than 60 years, even after public education was available. Sarah was the chief manager of the school, overseeing its operations.

Mary B. Moss

Mary B. Moss was a community leader in the historic Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood in the mid-20th century. She worked at Princeton Nursery School on Leigh Avenue and served as chairman of the Y.W.C.A. World Fellowship Committee. For decades, Moss spent summers supervising the neighborhood children at the John Street Pool (pictured here). In 1992, a petition was brought before the Princeton Borough Council requesting the John Street playground’s name be changed to the Mary B. Moss Playground. The petition, signed by 75 residents, stated that Moss “was loved and known by all the families in the neighborhood” and was “their children’s mother away from home.”

Frances Perkins

Frances Perkins, former U.S. Secretary of Labor, was the first woman cabinet member in American history and served longer than any Secretary of Labor (twelve years, from 1933 to 1945). Prior to this appointment, she was secretary of the New York Consumers’ League, and the first woman to serve on the New York State Industrial Commission. She became chair of the Commission in 1926 and Industrial Commissioner of the state of New York in 1928.

Perkins executed many aspects of President Roosevelt’s New Deal to bring an end to the Great Depression. She helped draft the Social Security Act (1935), which included a system of old age pensions, unemployment benefits, workers’ compensation, and welfare for the needy and disabled. She supervised and garnished support for the Fair Labor Standards Act (1938), which established a minimum wage and 40-hour work week, and banned child labor. It is no wonder that in 1980, the U.S. Department of Labor headquarters in Washington, D.C. was renamed the Frances Perkins Building. She is also the topic of a 2020 documentary, “Summoned: Frances Perkins and the General Welfare.” To watch a clip of the documentary, click here

In 1961, at age 81, Frances Perkins taught a seminar on the New Deal at Princeton University. For more on Perkins, click here to visit the Frances Perkins Center.

Barbara Boggs Sigmund

Barbara Boggs Sigmund was born on May 27,1939 to Hale and Lindy Boggs. Sigmund, a native Louisianan, was an educator, writer, politician, and civic leader. After graduating from Manhattanville College, she taught at Stuart Country Day School and worked as a letter writer for John F. Kennedy. She later served on the Princeton Borough Council and the Mercer County Board of Chosen Freeholders. In 1983, she was elected as the first woman mayor of Princeton – a position she held until her death in 1990 following an 8-year battle with cancer, to which she lost an eye. At events, Sigmund was distinguished by her iconic eye patch, which she matched to her outfits. During her time in office, Sigmund grappled with issues concerning affordable housing and urban development. Inscribed on her tombstone in Princeton Cemetery are the words, “A passion for beauty and justice.”

Mary Louise Snook

Mary Louise Snook was a beloved teacher at Princeton Township’s Stony Brook School. For thirty-three years, she taught all eight grades in the one room schoolhouse on Stockton Street. For one year, she taught sixth grade at Princeton Elementary School, but she preferred the smaller school and returned to Stony Brook. She organized holiday performances by the students at the Stony Brook Chapel and community service trips to clean up the Quaker cemetery. Everyone loved Miss Snook, or “Miss Louie,” as younger students called her. She was described as “wonderful” and “a very good teacher.” 

Click here to read the Princeton Recollector article, “Stony Brook School Students Never Forgot Miss Snook.”

Annis Boudinot Stockton

Annis Boudinot Stockton was a staunch revolutionary, and one of the first published female poets in the Colonies. Born in 1736 to Elias Boudinot and Catherine Williams, Annis married lawyer and future Declaration of Independence signer Richard Stockton in 1757; she named their Princeton estate “Morven” after a mythical Gaelic kingdom. Annis, nicknamed the “Duchess of Morven,” was considered one of the most cultured, literary, and patriotic women of the Revolutionary period. She was held in high esteem by George Washington, with whom she corresponded and sent poems. Her literary work largely reflected themes of life, courtship, marriage, nature, and patriotism. Unfortunately, many of Annis’ poems were destroyed when the British ransacked Morven in 1776.

Throughout the Revolutionary War, Annis raised money for the Continental Army and published stirring patriotic poetry. Upon her husband’s death in 1781, Annis took over the management of Morven; she lived there until 1796, and died in 1801.  

Betsey Stockton

Betsey Stockton was an educator and missionary who was born into slavery in Princeton in 1798. She was still a child when her owner, Robert Stockton, gave her to his daughter Elizabeth upon her marriage to Reverend Ashbel Green, who later became the 8th president of the College of New Jersey (Princeton University).

In 1816, Betsey became a member of Princeton’s First Presbyterian Church and was soon freed, taking on the surname Stockton. She remained with the Green family as a paid domestic servant. In 1822, she became a missionary, traveling to the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii), Canada, and Philadelphia, teaching school and sometimes serving as an unofficial nurse. She returned to Princeton in 1833; she helped establish the Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church and the Witherspoon School for Colored Children, for which she was a teacher for almost 30 years. She died in Princeton at the age of 67.

The Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church has a stained glass window in her honor, donated by her former students, and Princeton University named the garden between Firestone Library and Nassau Street for her. Betsey Stockton’s full story is included in the Princeton & Slavery Project, which can be found here

Josephine Ward Thomson Swann

Josephine Ward Thomson Swann was a founding member of the Princeton Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Born in 1820 in Westchester County, New York, Swann was the daughter of Congressman Aaron Ward and Mary Lucy Watson; her maternal grandfather was Elkanah Watson, a Revolutionary War messenger for the American colonies.

Swann’s first husband was John Renshaw Thomson, a U.S. Senator and College of New Jersey graduate. Their home was Thomson Hall, at 50 Stockton Street. After Senator Thomson’s death, the house was renamed Belgrade. Swann renovated it in the Victorian style; she continued to maintain it for the rest of her life. Upon her death in 1906, the property was bequeathed to Princeton Borough; Monument Hall and the Princeton Senior Resource Center stand there today. She also left $325,000 to Princeton University to help found its Graduate School.

Swann established the Princeton Chapter of the DAR in January 1893, and became its first Regent. Swann and her fellow members were essential in the preservation and restoration of Rockingham, George Washington’s final wartime headquarters. The Princeton Chapter dedicated a plaque at her grave in Princeton Cemetery in 2015.

Lucy Toto

Lucy Toto, born Lucia D’Andrea on June 20, 1896 in Abruzzi, Italy, was the wife of Florindo F. Toto, and mother to Albert, Florindo Jr., Pearl, Eva Lucia and William. After emigrating to Princeton in 1912, Lucy and Florindo opened Toto’s Market, a grocery store and meat market. First located at 114 Witherspoon Street before moving in 1927 to a permanent location at 72 Witherspoon Street, Toto’s served the Princeton community for 75 years.

Lucy’s grandson, Albert Toto Jr., in an April 1972 “Town Topics” article, described her as “the driving force in the business;” she even did all the butchering herself. Whether it was veal, lamb, pork, or beef, “Meat cutting was her pride and joy. She continued to lug 150-pound sides of beef all by herself until she was 72 or 73. She never asked for any help. You couldn’t keep her away.” Lucy continued to work at Toto’s Market until she was 75. She died a year later, in 1972, and is buried at St. Paul’s Parish Cemetery. Pictured here is Toto’s Market in 1982.

Ludmilla B. Turkevich

Ludmilla Turkevich was an expert in Russian language and literature. Her education included degrees from New York University and Bryn Mawr, as well as a doctorate from Columbia University. In 1944, she was the first woman on the faculty at Princeton University. With increased interest in the Soviet Union at that time, the University was in need of a Russian teacher, and Ludmilla’s husband John had been a professor of chemistry there since 1936. For 17 years, Ludmilla taught Russian language and literature, Spanish literature, and a course on the modern European novel; however, her title was “lecturer,” and she had to renew her contract annually.

In addition to teaching, Ludmilla held research positions at the Institute for Advanced Study and the Center for Theological Inquiry at Princeton. She served as the president of the American Association of Teachers of Slavic and Eastern European Languages, and wrote several books on Russian literature. From 1947 to 1952, Ludmilla and John edited the monthly “Guide to Russian Scientific Literature;” together they wrote the 1959 textbook “Russian for the Scientist.” For her work in “advancing understanding and goodwill between peoples of the US and the peoples of other countries,” Ludmilla was awarded a United States Information Agency citation. In 1961, she was offered a full professorship at Rutgers University’s Douglass College, and spent 18 years as chairwoman of the Russian department.

Ellen Axson Wilson

Ellen Axson Wilson was the first wife of President Woodrow Wilson and the First Lady of the United States from March 4, 1913 until August 6, 1914, when she succumbed to Bright’s Disease. A talented artist, at age 18 Ellen won a bronze medal for freehand drawing at the Paris International Exposition. She attended the Art Students League in New York, and her landscapes were featured in a one-woman show in Philadelphia. She designed the gardens at Prospect House, including a rose garden, which was later used as a model when she established the White House Rose Garden in 1913. In 1898, Ellen helped found the Present Day Club, “an intellectual and social center of thought and action among the women of Princeton.”

An online exhibition of her work can be found in the Digital Exhibitions section of our History@Home resource page. Visit the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum’s website to read Ellen’s letters to her husband, like this one from a trip to Italy with her daughters.