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Identifier: MC 1148

Mary L. Dyckman Papers


  • Majority of material found in 1903-1982 ( 1940-1972)

Scope and Content Note

This collection consists of the papers of Mary Lang Dyckman, social worker and former president of the Consumers League of New Jersey, from her late school years (1903) to her death in 1984. The collection is 2.8 cubic feet in size and is composed of seven manuscript boxes and one oversize, encapsulated broadside.

The Mary Dyckman Papers are divided into four sections: personal correspondence and miscellany (13 folders), files documenting Dyckman's major involvements in social reforms (2.2 cubic feet), subject files (0.7 cubic feet) and reference publications (8 folders).

The files which document Mary Dyckman's personal interests and correspondence include biographical materials such as photographs, self-authored curriculum vitae, press clippings, papers of Louise Dyckman and Richard Dyckman (Mary's mother and brother), awards, letters of recognition and letters from friends and acquaintances.

The materials which document Mary Dyckman's substantial activity in social causes include files on child labor, migrant labor and worker's compensation. Papers concerning short-term or sporadically-documented interests, such as gun control and minimum wage, are preserved in the subject files. Many of the booklets, pamphlets, reports and other materials Dyckman used to inform herself and others about social concerns are found in the reference publication files.

The bulk of the Mary Dyckman papers pertains to her activities in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, after her retirement from professional work. The documentation of that period is enriched with copies of legislation, articles and press clippings, statements, and state and federal publications. Unfortunately, there is little evidence of her early work in social welfare and politics, such as with the Boston Associated Charities or as Republican Committeewoman of her district in Orange. Also, a key accomplishment for which Dyckman has been recognized, chairing an inter-organization committee to negotiate the 1940 Child Labor Act, is scantily represented in the collection. Further documentation of the child labor campaign, as well as Dyckman's advocacy of a minimum wage and improved conditions for migrant laborers, can be found in the Consumers League of New Jersey records (Manuscript Collection 1090) in Special Collections and University Archives.

Mary Dyckman composed several drafts of her letters and retained numerous copies of her correspondence and reference materials. When identical, one copy has been retained and the rest discarded. In order to preserve as much information about Dyckman as possible, brittle papers and small, loose notepad sheets have been photocopied and the originals discarded. Press clippings from various local papers which document Dyckman's activities and interests have also been photocopied.

Within this collection there are several photographs, maintained within their original files, including Mary Dyckman and friends at the Beard School, 1903 (filed under "Biographical Data"); students working under the Student Service Commission and Victory Farm Volunteers, circa 1942-1945; a migrant shack in Marlboro, New Jersey, circa late 1950s-early 1960s; and Dyckman attending a retirement party, 1964. In addition, there are four small, folded broadsides, 1936-1937, concerning local taxation, printed by the Princeton University Local Government Survey, and an oversize broadside pertaining to Richard Dyckman.


2.8 Cubic Feet (7 manuscript boxes and one oversize folder)

Language of Materials


Conditions Governing Access

No restrictions.


This collection consists of the papers of Mary Lang Dyckman, social worker and former president of the Consumers League of New Jersey, from her late school years (1903) to her death in 1984. The collection is 2.8 cubic feet in size and is composed of seven manuscript boxes and one oversize, encapsulated broadside.

<emph render="bold">Biographical Sketch</emph>

Little is known about Mary Lang Dyckman's youth. She was born in Sleepy Eye, Minnesota, on August 19, 1886, the first child of Frank and Louise (Heroy) Dyckman who were originally from Orange, New Jersey. The family moved back to Orange when Mary was four, and from 1891 to 1905, Mary, known as "Marie" by classmates and friends, attended Miss Beard's School for Girls at Clarendon Place and later Berkeley Avenue. Enjoying astronomy, Mary graduated from the Latin-Scientific course in 1905.

Though Frank Dyckman died in 1904, he wanted his children to have "a lot of varied experiences" and brought Mary to factories in town. At a young age, Mary witnessed the mercury-induced "mad hatter" disease of workers at a South Jefferson Avenue plant, an experience that doubtlessly informed her concerns for occupational hazards and industrial health as an adult. At the age of 16, she and her family also went on a tour of Europe, and it was in Italy that Mary began to develop a life-long interest in the problems of foreign workers. From 1909 to 1911 she trained as a visiting case worker for the Boston Associated Charities, and two years later, she enrolled as a part-time student at the New York School of Social Work. While she was a student, she also worked as a case work visitor in Orange, New Jersey, and in Brooklyn, New York.

Mary Dyckman accepted executive and managerial responsibilities in the field of social work quite soon after her training. Finding her work "exciting," she told one newspaper reporter, "The case-worker lives in the midst of constant crises. From the moment a woman stands before her desk and says, 'my husband left me last night,' or 'my daughter didn't come home last night,' there is need for her to act. Once you have done this kind of work you will miss it amazingly if you withdraw. You miss the stimulation, the contacts, the demands on your resourcefulness." From April 1914 to June 1917 she was the District Secretary of the Bureau of Associated Charities in Newark, where she sought out and trained both paid workers and volunteers for an Italian district in the city. Her office saw over 400 cases per year. She also aided in raising funds and spoke in various clubs and churches on behalf of the needy. From August 1917 to December 1921, Mary Dyckman served as Executive Secretary for the League for Friendly Service of Bloomfield and Glen Ridge, New Jersey. In this capacity she saw 170-200 families each year, as well as assisted the General Finance Committee and the Anti-Tuberculosis Committee in publicity and fund-raising. For three years, Dyckman was also the Assistant Financial Secretary for the New York Charity Organization Society. From the late 1920s through the early 1930s she acted as Chair of the Case Work Committee of the Family Welfare Association of America. By the Great Depression, Mary Dyckman was recognized for her political sway throughout northern New Jersey. In 1930, she helped organize a concerned group of citizens to urge the sale of Orange's municipal light plant, and this move was passed through referendum. As the Republican County Committeewoman of her district and a member of the state Republican Club and League of Women Voters, her voice was so influential that a newspaper article (circa 1932) acknowledged, "for eleven years a candidate not backed by Miss Dyckman was conceded no chance of success in the district."

Following her retirement from professional work in 1936, Mary Dyckman turned to volunteer work and began to focus especially on the plight of working children. At this point in her life, she also became heavily involved in the Consumers League of New Jersey. Under the slogan of "Know the facts -- then act!," this group, organized by Mrs. G.W.B. (Juliet) Cushing in 1900, sought to improve the working and living conditions of laborers through the influence of customers' patronage of manufacturers, businesses and political leaders. The League also supported protective legislation, such as a Night Work Bill (1923) which barred women in bakeries, laundries and factories from working after 10 pm Mary Dyckman was elected to the CLNJ's Executive Board in 1938 and chaired an inter-organization committee to address violations to children's physical, psychological and moral well-being allowed by contemporary child labor laws. Her efforts, and those of the committee, led to New Jersey's Child Labor Act of 1940, which both raised the minimum working age for children and also lessened the weekly number of hours children could work, stipulating that no children, even those employed in agriculture, could work if they were under the age of 12, and that both in- and out-of-state children under the age of 16 could not work in New Jersey during hours that school was in session.

Each decade brought new threats to the existing child labor law. Dyckman and the Consumers League of New Jersey, which Dyckman led as its president from 1944-1956, sought to combat these challenges by voicing their support and dissent for many key pieces of legislation that were proposed. From 1941 to 1945, labor shortages and the need for military manufacturers increased demands upon child labor, and Dyckman took it upon herself to oversee youngsters' involvement in the necessary wartime production. When the New Jersey State Commission on Student Service was established to provide programs for 14- and 15 year-olds to be released from school to work on farms, Mary Dyckman served on this commission and visited the camps. When another emergency act extended working hours for minors from 8 to 10 hours a day in essential wartime industries, Dyckman served as an appointee to the Emergency Child Labor Committee. In this capacity, she reviewed businesses' applications to employ youngsters during the extended hours and investigated, approved or revoked the petitions as she and other committee members saw fit. Dyckman and the Consumers League also vigorously opposed various New Jersey State bills that were introduced by legislators pressured by key industries in their districts. For example, S-88 proposed that boys of 15 should be allowed to work as pinsetters in bowling alleys until 12:30 am. The Consumers League believed that it was unjust that children's health and performance at school be endangered for the enjoyment of adults. Another argument of Dyckman's and the League's was that the health of older adolescents needed to be protected in case they were drafted into the armed forces if the war continued, leading them to campaign against A-210, which sought to allow the Commissioner of Labor to suspend the entire Child Labor Law for the canning industries.

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, there were other campaigns to weaken child labor laws as a response to growing rates of child delinquency. Many educators, correctional officers and judges such as Judge William G. Long urged that maladjusted or idle youngsters be allowed to work so as to reduce the risk of their falling into delinquency. Such proponents of slackening the child labor law also pointed to technological and safety improvements in machinery and equipment which made working safer and thus rendered many of the protections of the child labor law unnecessary. Mary Dyckman and the Consumers League aggressively opposed these contentions, arguing, for one, that children were already allowed to work after school and during summer vacation, keeping them quite busy. In addition, the League felt it was unfair to thrust problem children into the hands of employers. Dyckman and the League also pointed to contemporary statistics and horror stories of children maimed and killed in the workplace. Mary Dyckman was in favor of a 1953 New Jersey bill (S-234) that set up an apprenticeship program to assist in the occupational adjustment of young adults. She also followed actions of the 1959 White House Conference on Education, as well as the subsequent New Jersey Citizens Committee on Children and Youth.

Another area that drew Mary Dyckman's attention was the predicament of migrant workers. Her interest in migrants can be seen to be related to her efforts to protect child workers, since agricultural establishments were often exempt from child labor law provisions. This exception to the law involved Dyckman in the other problems of agricultural migrant laborers, which included permanent injuries and disfigurements from accidents with equipment, unsanitary living conditions and the lack of schooling for migrant children. In 1944-1945 Mary Dyckman compiled a brief of recommendations and submitted it to then-Governor Walter E. Edge, leading to the Migrant Law of 1945 -- the first of its kind in the United States.

Dyckman also supported a minimum wage and increased provisions for worker's compensation. Although a state minimum wage bill was passed in 1954 (providing for 75 cents per hour and time and a half for overtime in non-agricultural pursuits) and this bill did not cover women and children, the battle over who would issue working permits for children remained contested throughout the 1950s and 1960s. The eligibility of young people to receive worker's compensation was also a hotly debated topic. A key example of both questions coming into play was the struggle over the status of 25,000 boys delivering newspapers in New Jersey. S-184 (1964) moved to shift the responsibility of issuing permits from schools and place it with the employers, a group who clearly had financial interests at stake. Dyckman and the Consumers League of New Jersey argued that this legislation would inhibit youngsters from reporting complaints about their employers since the employers could revoke the permits. S-134 of 1965 was also opposed by the League, since it defined newsboys as "merchants," who were by definition unable to receive worker's compensation. Such legislation, it was feared, would open the door for other industries to apply for similar treatment. Despite the League's opposition, however, these bills passed.

From the mid-1960s through the last days of her life, Mary Dyckman continued to be interested in the physical and social well-being of her neighbors in New Jersey. Among the issues on which she maintained files were gun control, taxes, identification cards for children and radiation. In the later years of her life, Dyckman saw many of the protections she and the Consumers League had secured erode -- particularly those for girls and women. In her eyes as well as those of many of her contemporaries, the social changes that admitted women into the workplace -- including the permitting of girls to deliver newspapers and women to work at night -- were an undoing of the early law that protected women's health, and, by extension, that of their families and society. During these years, the words she had shared with a news reporter in the 1930s echoed: "It is creative work. People don't change, but our understanding of them does. We are building with human material. Sometimes, to be sure, the house we have built up with such care falls down." Indeed, Mary Lang Dyckman was an architect, supplier, carpenter, maintenance worker and restorer, of both human health and the human spirit.

Inventory to the Mary L. Dyckman Papers MC 1148
Edited Full Draft
Bernadette A. Boucher
September 2013
Language of description note
Finding aid is written in English.
Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University received an operating support grant from the New Jersey Historical Commission, a division of the Department of State.