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Identifier: MC 833

Women's Project of New Jersey Records


  • 1984-2004

Scope and Content Note

The Women's Project of New Jersey, Inc. records consist of 14 cubic feet of material, spanning the period 1984 to 2004, with the bulk dating between 1985 and 1990. The records reflect the life of the organization, from its early period of formation and incorporation, through the process of creating a reference publication and the activities and projects that supplemented and promoted the publication. Fewer records document the quieter period after the publication when the organization's main function was to create and maintain its Web site and provide reference on women's history in New Jersey.

Most of the collection is in paper format, comprising of correspondence, minutes, reports, and newspaper clippings. Other formats are photographs and audio-visual materials, stored separately by format. Publications that arrived with the donations have been separated from the archival collection and placed in the book collection in Rutgers University Libraries Special Collections and University Archives.

These records are the files kept by the presidents and the secretary. They reflect the administration of the organization, as found in the series ADMINISTRATIVE FILES, FINANCIAL RECORDS, GRANTS FILES, LEGAL FILES, PUBLICITY FILES, and RELATED PROJECTS FILES. The records kept by the treasurer, legal counsel, and other board members are not present, although their letters and reports can be found in the general correspondence files and their reports in the bimonthly meeting minutes. These minutes also contain summarized details of the organization's operation. Summaries of less detail are located within the grant applications, the president's annual December letter to the researchers and writers, and in the PUBLICITY FILES.

As the presidents were also on the editorial board, the records also reflect the production of Past and Promise, as found in the series PAST AND PROMISE CONTENTS FILES, BIOGRAPHICAL DATA FILES, PHOTOGRAPHS, and AUDIO-VISUAL MATERIALS. The refining of the arrangement of the biographical information, as well as the selection of subjects, for the publication is revealed in these files. They also include specific data compiled for each biographical subject, including drafts of the essays. Some of the biographical subjects have samples of their work, which can be found in the BIOGRAPHICAL DATA FILES and in the AUDIO-VISUAL MATERIALS. Images corresponding to the subjects are located in the folders of PHOTOGRAPHS.


14 Cubic Feet (11 records center cartons, 5 document boxes, 1 newspaper box)

Language of Materials



The Records of the Women's Project of New Jersey document the work undertaken by the Women's Project of New Jersey to produce Past and Promise: Lives of New Jersey Women. The papers also provide details of the Project's other endeavors to promote understanding of the roles of women in the history of New Jersey. The records consist of documents, photographs, audiovisual materials, and an artifact.

Historical Sketch

The Women's Project of New Jersey, Inc. (WPNJ) was a non-profit corporation organized in October 1984, originally for the purpose of publishing a reference book on representative and extraordinary women in New Jersey's history. As the organization developed and its work progressed, related projects emerged. Its interests became broader to encompass "promoting the understanding of the role of women in the history and culture of New Jersey." By the end of 2004, the WPNJ had produced the publication and a paperback reprint, a traveling exhibition, a lecture series, a speakers' panel series, two school workbooks, a speakers' bureau, posters, and a Web site.

The comprehensive volume, Past and Promise: Lives of New Jersey Women, was published in 1990. The idea for a publication about New Jersey women began under the auspices of the Mendham Free Public Library, but the dimensions of the project soon outgrew the resources of the public library. A separate organization was formed and incorporated in July 1985. The Board of Trustees was composed of a variety of professionals, including historians, librarians, writers, a lawyer, an accountant, a publicist, an educational equity specialist, women's studies specialists, and an art historian. The Board met monthly or bi-monthly from October 1984 to September 1990 and less frequently after the book was published.

During the first year of operation, the organization focused on the contents of the publication. The initial activities included defining research methods and scope, and establishing an editorial board. Over 250 researchers and writers were selected, trained, and assigned subjects. The editorial board grew to included Joan N. Burstyn, editor-in-chief, Delight Wing Dodyk, Carolyn DeSwarte Gifford, and Carmela Ascoleses Karnoutsos, associate editors, Caroline Wheeler Jacobus and Gayle Samuels, managing editors, Patricia Smith Butcher, bibliographic editor, Lois Krieger, copy editor, and Doris Friedensohn, Ferris Olin, and Barbara Rubin, photographic editors.

The managing editors devised several means of keeping this relatively disparate group cohesive and involved. They sent annual summaries of the project in December, issued notices regularly, and offered workshops on research methodology. To bring the board members, writers, and researchers together, they planned special events such as the 1986 performance of "Solo Flight" about the life of Rev. Jeannette Piccard, who was a New Jersey women and the first woman to pilot a stratosphere balloon.

The editorial board selected biographical subjects, all born in or before 1923 (the year of the introduction of the first Equal Right Amendment by Alice Paul), "whose lives illustrated the role of women in the more private domains of family, community, and religious life, along with those who made outstanding contributions in the public spheres of science, medicine, letters, sports, government, business, education, the arts and entertainment." [Past and Promise, p. ix]. They contacted the living subjects, some of whom were interviewed, and asked all to review their biographies before publication.

During 1986 and 1987, the researcher/writers composed the biographical essays, which were edited by the associate editors and then re-worked by the writers. Subjects were withdrawn and others were added over the course of this period. Researchers and editors located photographs, images and audio-visuals about the subjects, and inventories were made. Some were collected later for the publication and exhibition.

During 1988 the editors prepared the final manuscript and worked with the publisher, Scarecrow Press in Metuchen, New Jersey. The WPNJ controlled the editorial process and hired their own professional book designer, Linda C. Quinn. The publishers handled the advertising, sales, and distribution of the book and agreed to keep it in print.

The board focused on fundraising for projects throughout the life of the WPNJ. A fundraising committee's 1987 event, "The Violin Octet," a performance by musicians playing a family of violins invented by Carleen Maley Hutchins, a New Jersey women, raised money while highlighting the contribution of women to the science of music. Corporations, foundations, and state and federal agencies granted funding for the writers/researchers' honoraria, administrative costs, and special projects. Sources of money included the Community Foundation of New Jersey, the Florence and John Schumann Foundation, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, the New Jersey Council for the Humanities, the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs Division on Women, the New Jersey Historical Commission, and Worldworks Foundation, Inc., among others. By 1991 over $100,000 was raised for the reference volume and exhibition, primarily by Project Director and President Gayle Samuels.

While the main goal of the WPNJ was the production of the reference book, the information gathered during the research allowed the creation of other educational formats: a traveling exhibition, classroom workbooks, lectures and presentations, an educational poster set, contributions to the New Jersey Women's Heritage Trail, and entries in The Encyclopedia of New Jersey. A speakers bureau engaged essay authors for lectures to organizations and schools. With the advent of the Internet, the WPNJ board created a Web site in 1997 to take advantage of the new technology to put forward more biographical and historical materials, documents, images, a time line, educational tools on New Jersey women, not included in the reference volume.

WPNJ curators created the traveling photographic exhibition during 1988 and 1989. It presented five themes: law and politics; the economy (agriculture, business, and industry) community life; arts and letters; sports and physical fitness. The curators for the exhibit were Doris Friedensohn and Barbara Rubin, of Jersey City State College, and Ferris Olin, of Rutgers University. The exhibition preview coincided with the book's debut on March 1, 1990 at the New Jersey State Library. A gala opening at the Newark Public Library was held a few days later on March 11. Under the direction of Caroline Coughlin, head of the Drew University Library, the exhibition traveled throughout the state to colleges and universities, schools, museums, libraries, corporations, and conferences until June 1994.

Early in the project three of the essay writers initiated a workbook for students at the upper elementary level. Created by WPNJ contributors Arlene Ferman, Helen Svihra, and Grace A. Aqualina, Better Than Our Best: Women of Valor in American History was published in 1991. In 1993 the Women's Project sponsored a publication on women's suffrage in New Jersey, Reclaiming Lost Ground: the Struggle for Woman Suffrage in New Jersey by Neale McGoldrick and Margaret Crocco. This volume was designed for use in secondary schools and is filled with archival documents and images, as well as narratives.

During the academic year 1985-1986, the WPNJ collaborated with the women's studies program of Drew University to launch "Women's History Through Biography," a project promoting the study of women's history and based on the research being gathered for Past and Promise. A series of lectures by nationally known scholars, followed by workshops for the local contributors to the WPNJ's publication, were held at Drew University. A documentary film series was offered for public viewing. Finally, the public was invited to attend panel sessions with Past and Promise essayists held in various communities. These educational events, many conceived by Wendy Kolmar of the Drew women's studies department and funded by a state grant, kept the writers and researchers of the WPNJ involved and productive, while also serving to keep the work of the WPNJ in the public's eye.

Newspapers and academic journals, radio talk shows, and later, announcements on their Web site and on the New Jersey History Listserv publicized the projects of WPNJ. The American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) awarded the WPNJ its Certificate of Commendation in 1986 for the "Women's History Through Biography" project. In 1991, the WPNJ was honored with awards from the AASLH and the New Jersey Historical Commission for the book and exhibition's contributions to the advancement of state and local history.

The organization's activities quieted for a few years after the publication of Past and Promise, although articles and presentations about the project continued, and biographical files on the subjects were maintained. In 1997 WPNJ produced an updated paperback edition, published by Syracuse University Press, with a new introduction and a necrology of subjects who had died since 1990.

Seven years after its completion of the initial publication goal, the WPNJ still found new ways to disseminate information about New Jersey women. In 1997 the WPNJ launched a Web site entitled "New Jersey Women's History," in collaboration with the Margery Somers Foster Center, Rutgers University Special Collections and University Archives, and Rutgers University Libraries Scholarly Communication Center. The New Jersey Historical Society joined the effort the following year. This Web site was designed, researched, embellished and edited in several phases, and was publicized broadly to educators. These activities were funded through grants from the New Jersey Historical Commission.

The Web site is "a resource for students, teachers, and all interested people who want to know more about the history of New Jersey women." [WPNJ Web site, 2001] The site includes facts, images, documents, material objects, educators' resources, as well as a topical index, a bibliography, and a listing of related Web sites. The American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) again awarded the WPNJ a Certificate of Commendation in 2004 for the Web site. The administration of the Web site was transferred to the Alice Paul Institute in Mt. Laurel, New Jersey in 2006. During the time the WPNJ administered the Web site it was the only such state women's history Web site in the country.

In addition to providing a virtual presence of women's history on the Internet, the WPNJ was involved in the creation of a survey of historic sites in New Jersey. It provided an historical context essay and bibliography for the New Jersey Women's Heritage Trail, a project of the Department of Environmental Protection's Historic Preservation Office. The selection of historic sites was established in 2002 and detailed in the DEP's guidebook, New Jersey Women's Trail. Preservation Partners published its own book, Women's Place in New Jersey History (2004), using the historical information provided by the WPNJ.

Most recently, WPNJ President Delight Dodyk served on the advisory board of The Encyclopedia of New Jersey (2004) and helped select subjects from Past and Promise for inclusion in the encyclopedia. The research for WPNJ's initial project continued to nurture the dissemination of women's importance in American society, culture and history.

The records of the WPNJ document the enormous effort exerted to accomplish the organization's mission to promote the understanding of the role of women in the history and culture of New Jersey. Gathered in this collection is a wealth of primary and secondary materials about people who have made contributions to the state as well as to the nation and world. More than that, these records reveal how the lives of ordinary and extraordinary New Jersey women were illuminated the members of the Women's Project of New Jersey.

Arrangement Note

The Records of the Women's Project of New Jersey are arranged into eleven series:



This summary was culled from examining various documents in the collection, from telephone conversations and email exchanges with Delight Dodyk, the current President, and from the Web site. Below are printed sources with summaries of the WPNJ's history. Jacobus, Caroline Wheeler. "The Women's Project of New Jersey: The Issues and Process of a State-Based Women's History," The Journal of the Rutgers University Libraries, December 1991 (v. 53, n. 2), pp. 27-42. Past and Promise: Lives of New Jersey Women (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1990).
  • Jacobus, Caroline Wheeler. "The Women's Project of New Jersey: The Issues and Process of a State-Based Women's History," The Journal of the Rutgers University Libraries, December 1991 (v. 53, n. 2), pp. 27-42.
  • Past and Promise: Lives of New Jersey Women (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1990).
  • Jacobus, Caroline Wheeler. "The Women's Project of New Jersey: The Issues and Process of a State-Based Women's History," The Journal of the Rutgers University Libraries, December 1991 (v. 53, n. 2), pp. 27-42.
  • Past and Promise: Lives of New Jersey Women (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1990).

Women's Project of New Jersey, Inc. Officers and Board Members

  1. Board of Trustees
  2. Millicent H. Fenwick, Honorary
  3. Anne E. Aronovitch
  4. Joan N. Burstyn
  5. Caroline Coughlin
  6. Robert J. DiQuollo
  7. Delight Wing Dodyk, Vice-President and President (April 1989 - present)
  8. Doris Friedensohn
  9. Carolyn DeSwarte Gifford
  10. Barbara Smith Irwin
  11. Caroline Wheeler Jacobus, Secretary
  12. Carmela Ascolese Karnoutsos
  13. Rebecca L. Lubetkin
  14. Ferris Olin, Treasurer
  15. Barbara Polk Riley
  16. Barbara Rubin
  17. Gayle Samuels, President (1984 - March 1989 )
  1. Editorial Board
  2. Joan N. Burstyn, Editor-in-Chief
  3. Delight Wing Dodyk, Associate Editor
  4. Carolyn DeWarte Gifford, Associate Editor
  5. Carmela Ascolese Karnoutsos, Associate Editor
  6. Caroline Jacobus, Managing Editor
  7. Gayle Samuels, Managing Editor
  8. Patricia Smith Butcher, Bibliographic Editor
  9. Doris Friedensohn, Photographic Editor
  10. Ferris Olin, Photographic Editor
  11. Barbara Rubin, Photographic Editor

Conservation Note

The newspaper clippings were photocopied onto acid-free paper, and the originals discarded. Articles found in whole issues of journals and magazines were photocopied and the journal and magazine removed to the book collection or discarded. The photographs and negatives were placed in inert plastic sleeves.

Inventory to the Records of the Women's Project of New Jersey, 1984-2004 MC 833
Edited Full Draft
Carla B. Zimmerman
April 2008
Language of description note
Finding aid is written in English.
This finding aid has been underwritten with affection by the Women's Project of New Jersey, Inc. to honor and celebrate the life of Dr. Caroline Coughlin, a founding member of the Board of Trustees.