America’s first mental health activist. The founder of the American Red Cross. A Nobel Prize-winning author. A four-time Olympian. New Jersey is home to many awe-inspiring women, and to cap off Women’s History Month, we’ve compiled a list of 10 trailblazers—past and present—whose monumental achievements have earned them a slot in our state’s hall of fame.
10. Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill
A former United States Navy helicopter pilot and federal prosecutor, Rebecca Michelle “Mikie” Sherrill now serves as the U.S. Representative for New Jersey’s 11th District. Sherrill was elected on November 6, 2018, defeating Republican nominee Jay Webber.
9. Wynona Lipman
Lipman represented the 29th Legislative District in the New Jersey Senate. When she won her seat in 1971, she became the first African-American woman to be elected to the Senate, and her 27 years of service made her the Senate’s longest-serving member at the time of her death.
8. Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman
Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman was the first African American woman to be elected to Congress from New Jersey, and she is now on her third term in the House of Representatives. Adding to her success, Congressman Watson Coleman was recently appointed to serve on the House Appropriations Committee, one of the most powerful committees in the House. She is the first and only woman from our state to serve on this Committee, which is responsible for writing the laws that fund the federal government’s most vital responsibilities.
7. Judy Blume
In the early 1970s, author Judy Blume revolutionized children’s and young adult fiction by challenging genre conventions and exploring sensitive topics that many had considered taboo. Some of her best-known works include Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Deenie, and Blubber.
Though she faced harsh criticism early in her career, Blume went on to become a repeated best-selling novelist. To date, her books have sold over 82 million copies and have been translated into 32 languages. She has won a number of awards for her writing, including the ALA’s Margaret A. Edwards Award and the National Book Foundation medal for distinguished contribution to American letters. In 2000, she was recognized as a Library of Congress Living Legend.
6. Joetta Clark Diggs
An East Orange native, Joetta Clark Diggs is a four-time Olympian (’88, ’92, ’96, ’00) and has one of the longest track and field careers of any athlete in modern history. She is also an author, a motivational speaker, and an advocate for children’s health and fitness.
Clark Diggs was inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame in 2013, and she continues to mentor young athletes and give back to the community through her foundation, Joetta Sports & Beyond, which awards scholarships to underprivileged high school seniors.
5. Meryl Streep
Perhaps the best actress of her generation, Meryl Streep—a Summit Native—has more Oscar nominations than any actor or actress in history. In total, she has won three Academy Awards and eight Golden Globes. She has also won three Primetime Emmy Awards, two British Academy Film Awards, and two Screen Actors Guild Awards.
Off the screen, Meryl Streep is an advocate for Women’s rights. She continues to use her fame and powerful voice to call attention to our nation’s most important issues.
4. Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison is a novelist, essayist, editor, and professor. She etched her name into American history, alongside female literary giants like Emily Dickinson and Flannery O’Connor, with her novels Beloved and The Bluest Eye. Her awards include the Pulitzer Prize, the American Book Award, the Nobel Prize and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States.
As a professor and lecturer in the creative writing programs at Princeton University and Rutgers University from 1989 to 2006, Morrison also helped inspire and shape some of New Jersey’s most talented writers.
3. Clara Barton
Widely regarded as one of the most honored women in American history, Barton risked her life to bring supplies and support to soldiers in the field during the Civil War. In 1881, at age 59, she founded the American Red Cross and led it for the next 23 years.
2. Dorothea Dix
Known as America’s first mental health activist, Dorothea Dix fought for those who couldn’t fight for themselves. In 1848, she founded the Trenton Psychiatric Hospital, the first public mental health hospital in the state. She also helped convince the New Jersey legislature to build Greystone Psychiatric Hospital (a $2.5 million project) to alleviate overcrowding at the Trenton hospital.
1. Alice Paul
Born in Moorestown in 1885, Alice Paul was a prominent women’s rights activist. She was arrested several times during suffragist protests and spent many nights in jail campaigning for the right to vote. She founded the National Women’s Party with Lucy Burns in 1916, and was part of the first group to picket outside the White House.
After women were granted the right to vote in 1920, Paul introduced the first Equal Rights Amendment to Congress in 1923—though it wasn’t taken seriously until the Civil Rights Movement forty years later.
While March is National Women’s History Month, the New Jersey State AFL-CIO will continue to celebrate the many achievements and contributions of women in our state and nation throughout the year.