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 Sylvia 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

Harriet Beech

Harriet Beech was a free African American woman who lived at the Searcy residence in Princeton in the 1830s. While not much is known about Beech’s life – an unfortunate effect of the pervasive lack of documentation and will to preserve histories pertaining to African Americans and women – a primary source from the Historical Society’s collection indicates that she came to Princeton from New York, where she was a member of St. Philip’s African Church, the second Black Episcopal church in the United States. In this January 6, 1838 letter from Beech to that congregation, Beech spoke of her life and the religious opportunities (including the recently opened Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church) in her new town:
“Dear Brothers & Sisters I have taken the pleasure to write these few lines to inform you that I am in a good state of health and that I have … three times on the Sabba family prayers held twice a day every. My self to church more so than I thank God that he hath so provided for me a fine … by … Church has been opened on the second Sabbath after I came to Princeton. There is also an Episcopal Church and a few Colored churches. The college is close by have been informed that there is a Baptist Church within two miles of this place. This place is fifty five miles off New York. This session will be out on the last of march they may expect to see me if nothing happened. I do endeavor to improve every opportunity I have in writing and studying my book. I would have written before but I was anxious for you to see my own hand writing. If any of you wish to write to me as I shall be happy to hear from you my residence is at Mr. Searcy Princeton New Jersey. Harriet Beech.”

Margaret Breckinridge

Margaret Elizabeth Breckinridge, a Civil War nurse, was born in Philadelphia on March 24, 1832. Breckinridge (along with her sister Mary) moved to Princeton to live with her maternal grandparents after the death of her mother in 1838. Her grandfather, Samuel Miller, was a professor at Princeton Theological Seminary. When Mary married Peter A. Porter in 1852 and moved to Niagara Falls, NY, Margaret joined them.

At the beginning of the Civil War, Margaret packed and sent supplies to troops, and, in an effort to shed light on the needs of soldiers on the front, began writing articles for the Princeton Standard. In April 1862, she travelled to Lexington, Kentucky, volunteering as a hospital nurse and ministering to sick and suffering soldiers. In St. Louis, Missouri, she made two excursions on a hospital boat that travelled up and down the Mississippi River, carrying sick and dying troops from the front.

About a year later, Margaret began to suffer from disease, exhaustion, and weakness. After she recovered, she returned to Philadelphia to study surgical nursing at the Episcopal Hospital, but it was short-lived; a month into her studies she developed a skin infection, then was grief-stricken after the death of her brother-in-law. She became gravely ill and died in Niagara Falls on July 27, 1864. Her tomb in Oakwood Cemetery is inscribed: “A life most precious and most beautiful such as consecrated to God and to duty and laid down in its prime in her devotion to her country and to humanity.”

Sarah Clarke and Susannah

Sarah Clarke lived and worked with her brother Thomas on the farm that is now Princeton Battlefield. Though they were Quakers, the Clarkes, along with their siblings, owned an enslaved woman named Susannah. On the morning of January 3, 1777, Sarah and Thomas, along with Susannah and David de la Force, a French Huguenot farmhand, were starting their chores when they witnessed a long column of American soldiers and militia marching up a little-used dirt road. The army encountered British troops and the ensuing battle damaged the Clarke home. Following the conflict, Washington’s troops arrived on their doorstep carrying wounded men, including General Hugh Mercer. Sarah and Susannah helped army doctors take care of them for several days.
Susannah was granted her freedom in 1779. When Sarah died at age 88 – on April 8, 1840 – she was the last surviving person to have attended to General Mercer.

Silvia Dubois

Silvia Dubois was the subject of an 1883 biography by Dr. C.W. Larison, “Silvia Dubois (Now 116 Yers Old) A Biografy of the Slav who Whipt Her Mistres and Gand Her Fredom,” based on a series of interviews.

Dubois was born into slavery in the Sourland Mountains; her father, Cuffy Baird, was a fifer in the Battles of Trenton and Princeton. When Dubois was 14, her enslaver moved to Great Bend, PA; there, Dubois worked the field and ferried passengers across the Susquehanna River. Her enslaver repeatedly beat her, and eventually Dubois struck back. She was granted her freedom, provided she returned to New Jersey; she walked the entire 152-mile trip back, carrying her young child all the way.

Upon her return, she lived with her mother in New Brunswick and found household work. In 1811, she moved to Princeton and became a house servant for the Tulane family. Around 1830, she returned to Sourland Mountain to help run “Put’s Tavern,” which her maternal grandfather owned. Dubois not only served as a bouncer, but she was also a prize fighter. She inherited the tavern after he died.

Dubois had six children: Moses, Judith, Charlotte, Dorcas, Elizabeth, and Rachel, who lived in Princeton. While some accounts have her living to 125 and listed as the oldest person in America, she was actually around 100 years old when she died in 1888.

The December 1980 edition of the Princeton Recollector was dedicated to Dubois and her biographer Larison. Click here to view the entire issue.

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. Founded in 1887 by Joshua Hall McIlvaine, it 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. 

Eleanor Flexner

Eleanor Flexner was an activist and writer considered a pioneer in the field of women’s studies. Born in Kentucky, but raised in New York City, Flexner’s mother was a successful playwright and children’s author; her father was the founder and first director of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. Both parents supported passage of the 19th Amendment and marched in the 1915 New York women’s suffrage parade. ⁠

⁠After her 1930 graduation from Swarthmore College, where she received high honors in English and history, Flexner supplemented her writing career with activism. She helped organize workers to break down racial segregation in the nursing profession. In 1946, she became the executive director of the Congress of American Women, whose members included the granddaughter of the suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the grandniece of Susan B. Anthony. ⁠

Flexner’s activist background prepared her for writing and researching her most acclaimed work, “Century of Struggle: The Women’s Rights Movement in the United States.” Believing it was imperative to include the experiences of working class women and politically active women of color, she struggled to find a publisher. The book was eventually published in 1959 by Harvard University Press; the text continues to be taught in schools and consulted by historians to this day.⁠

In October 2020, Flexner was profiled in the New York Times series, “Overlooked,” which can be found here.

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. 

Marian T. MacIntosh

Born in Ireland, artist Marian T. MacIntosh demonstrated a talent for painting as a child. She graduated from Bryn Mawr College in 1890 and started a teaching career; however, she gave it up to pursue her passion for art. Her first recognition as an artist came in 1919 when her painting, “Evening in the Harbor,” was accepted for the Chicago Art Institute’s annual exhibition. She went on to exhibit at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the Cincinnati Art Museum, the National Academy of Design and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and was awarded the landscape prize of the National Association of Women Painters and Sculptors in 1927.

MacIntosh moved to Princeton in 1920, where she had a studio behind her home at 291 Nassau Street. She was a member of the Present Day Club, often exhibiting her work there; from 1922 to 1929 she organized an annual exhibit of Princeton artists. In 1929, she was on the Committee assigned to the task of choosing a new home for the Club. MacIntosh died unexpectedly on a summer trip to New England in 1936. Two years later, funds were raised by alumni and friends of St. Paul School to purchase her mural, “The Feast of St. Peter,” which depicts the annual pageant of Gloucester fishermen in honor of the saint. 

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. 

Dorothea van Dyke McLane

Dorothea van Dyke McLane was a volunteer social worker assisting Princeton’s newly arrived Italian immigrants in the early 1900s. She was the daughter of Dr. Henry van Dyke, a Princeton University professor, poet, and diplomat. On June 10, 1911, she married Guy Richard McLane, a New York City stockbroker, but less than a year later, Dorothea (and her daughter) died during childbirth.

In her honor, Dorothea’s father and husband founded the Dorothea van Dyke McLane Association in 1913 with the purpose of serving Princeton’s growing Italian community. McLane contracted for a two-story Italianate building to be constructed on land donated by Dr. van Dyke. Dorothea’s House officially opened on October 7, 1914. A Princeton Press article reported that “over 300 Italians were present who showed by their enthusiasm their appreciation of the effort to give them a place where they can meet for instruction, recreation, and entertainment.” A memorial plaque reads: “This is the house of Dorothea van Dyke McLane – “Ray of Light” “Song of Joy” “Heart of Love” – who Befriended the Children of Italy and Worked for the Welfare of Princeton. This Memorial is Given by her Husband For the Same Good Cause.” 

Local awards also honor McLane: Princeton University’s Department of French and Italian awards the Dorothea van Dyke McLane Award to outstanding first-year students in Italian; and the Dorothea van Dyke McLane scholarship program provides financial assistance for college to students from Princeton.

Isabella Guthrie McCosh

Isabella Guthrie McCosh, was the wife of James McCosh, Princeton University’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.

Agnes Miller

Miss Agnes Miller served for 25 years as the librarian for the Princeton Public Library. Born November 1859, Miller emigrated with her family from England to the United States in 1864. When the Library was established by a group of women in 1909, its original headquarters was a rented room at 16 Witherspoon Street. Miller was hired as its first librarian, and soon after the library moved to Bainbridge House on Nassau Street.

During her tenure, Miller was responsible for the development of the library; she led the Princeton Reading Club and the Princeton Nature Club. Miller was appointed President of the New Jersey State Library Association in 1928 and was a director of the Business and Professional Women’s Club of Princeton, serving as a local, State and National officer. She was a member of the Princeton Suffrage Committee and became involved with a growing antiwar movement, supporting an international body for world peace.

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.

Dr. Jeanette Munro

Dr. Jeanette Munro was the first female physician in Princeton. She graduated from the Medical School at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and interned at Worcester Memorial Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. In 1933, Munro moved to Princeton from New York City, becoming the town’s first practicing pediatrician. Initially serving as the doctor for Princeton Nursery School, she treated children in their homes, sometimes caring for her patients’ sick pets as well. Before ambulance service was available in Princeton, Munro would even transport a child to the hospital in an emergency.
Her first office was located at 293 Nassau Street; she later practiced at the Medical Arts Building near the hospital, and in 1958, began to see patients out of her home at Two Queenston Place. Munro closed her practice in 1964 and moved to a retirement community in Hightstown. She continued to work part-time for several years, donating services to a nursery school, starting a well-baby clinic, and working for pay in the local schools. In 1975, fully retired from medicine, she channeled her energy into writing “prolific and popular” reminiscences for the “Princeton Recollector.”

Mary B. Moss

Mary B. Moss was a community leader in the historic Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood in the mid-20th century. She worked as a teacher and nurse 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.

Frances Folsom Cleveland Preston

Frances Folsom Cleveland Preston was an activist and the youngest First Lady in U.S. history. She married President Grover Cleveland – a close family friend and her late father’s law partner – in a White House ceremony on June 2, 1886. As First Lady, Frances supported the fledgling careers of young women musicians and lent her support to organizations headed by women, including the Women’s Christian Temperance Union’s “Hope and Help” project. She helped establish The Washington Home for Friendless Colored Girls and supported the Colored Christmas Club, which provided food and clothing to poor children. She also served on the board of trustees for Wells College, her alma mater, and helped found the University Women’s Club. The college’s Cleveland Hall is named in her honor.

In 1897, at the end of Grover’s second term, the Clevelands retired to Princeton; a year later, Frances helped organize the Neighborhood Nurse Committee, which allowed for visiting nurses to take on Princeton cases. Grover died in 1908; Frances became the first presidential widow to remarry in 1913 when she wed Thomas J. Preston, Jr., a professor of archeology.

In the years that followed, Frances was active in a variety of causes, some controversial. She campaigned against women’s suffrage, lecturing in Princeton’s Alexander Hall. She was elected Vice President of the New Jersey Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage, and was the founding President of the Princeton Branch when it was formed in 1914. However, she was influential in urging New Jersey to “open up educational opportunities for girls, like young men,” which resulted in the 1918 founding of the New Jersey College for Women (now Douglass Residential College at Rutgers University.)

Frances became a member of the pro-war National Security League; in November 1918 she became its Director of the Speaker’s Bureau and the “Committee on Patriotism through Education,” but her speeches proved to be too controversial for the organization, and she resigned a year later. During the War, and throughout the Great Depression, Frances participated in the Needlework Guild by making clothing, linens, and bedding; she served as treasurer of the Princeton branch from 1921 to 1924, then national president from 1925 to 1940. She was also appointed to the Board of Directors of the Campfire Girls in 1925, serving as president of the organization until 1939.

She is buried in Princeton Cemetery, next to her first husband and daughter Ruth.

Jessie Woodrow Wilson Sayre

Jessie Woodrow Wilson Sayre, second daughter of Woodrow and Ellen Wilson, was an activist and suffragist. She attended private school in Princeton and graduated from Goucher College. She worked for three years in a Philadelphia settlement home, which provided services including daycare, education and healthcare to the poor.⁠

On November 25, 1913, Jessie married Francis Bowes Sayre at the White House; they had three children together. After World War I, the Sayres moved to Cambridge, MA, where Jessie worked in support of the Democratic Party, the League of Nations, and the League of Women Voters. She also served on the national board of the YWCA. Jessie made the introductory speech for presidential nominee Al Smith at the 1928 Democratic National Convention and she went on to become the secretary of the Massachusetts Democratic State Committee. After her premature death at age 45, the Boston branch of the Women’s Democratic League was renamed in her honor. 

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.”

Sonia Sotomayor

Sonia Sotomayor has served as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States since August 8, 2009. Sotomayor was the court’s first Hispanic and Latina justice, and the 11th Princetonian to serve on the court.

Sotomayor graduated summa cum laude in history from Princeton University in 1976; she was recipient of the Pyne Prize, awarded to the senior who best combines excellence in scholarship, character and leadership. She was a leader of the Latino Student Organization and sat on the governing board of the Third World Center (now the Carl A. Fields Center for Equality and Cultural Understanding). She successfully advocated for hiring Latino professors and offering classes in Latin American studies, writing several opinion pieces on the subject for the Daily Princetonian.

In 2001, Sotomayor was presented with an honorary doctor of laws degree by Princeton for her “wisdom and judgment that cross cultural boundaries.” She has maintained a leading role in the Princeton community, serving on the University’s Board of Trustees and speaking at University events like Alumni Day in 2014, the “¡Adelante Tigres!” conference for Latino alumni in 2017, and the 2018 “She Roars” conference, celebrating women at Princeton. In 2019, a group of alumni established the Sonia Sotomayor 1976 Scholarship Fund, awarded to Princeton students from first-generation backgrounds who have demonstrated a commitment to service.

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 Belgrade, at 50 Stockton Street. After Senator Thomson’s death, 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 and the building renamed Thomson Hall. 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.

Mary Watts

Mary Watts was an unforgettable general store owner in Princeton. In 1928, she and her husband Raymond bought land on Route 206 and built a ramshackle roadside market to sell vegetables and “anything else passersby could ask for.” Inventory included everything from gasoline to wash tubs, stationary to mousetraps, newspapers to tire patches, toys to Miracle Whip. Watts believed if something wasn’t selling now, someday someone would buy it, so it sat in the store until it sold. Patrons would often play the game of “I’ll bet she doesn’t have (fill-in-the-blank),” but she always did.⁠

Watts was beloved by her customers, which included movie stars Loretta Young and Julie Christie. Growing up, George Gallup Jr.’s sons bought presents at the store every Christmas Eve. Each year, her regulars would install a 30-foot sign in front of the store, saying, ”Happy Birthday Mary.” On Thanksgiving, they would bring her platters of their turkey dinners. The store was open 24 hours a day, including all holidays. Watts loved her customers too – she would hang articles and photographs featuring them from the store’s ceiling. Patrons could run a tab for milk and bread until their next paycheck. She loved the children (whom she called “small fry”) who grew up visiting her store, following them on their college choices and careers. In running monologues, Watts would share her views of right and wrong with visitors. ⁠

After 58 years in business, Watts closed the store, selling the land to developers who built the Princeton Gateways Corporate Campus. Jean Silvester, a local radio station broadcaster and loyal customer, said, “There just isn’t going to be any place like this anymore, where they know every customer by name.”⁠ Watts died in 2001 at the age of 98, and is buried in Princeton Cemetery. 

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.