Wistar, Caspar To Women’s Political Caucus of New Jersey

Wistar, Caspar (b. Feb. 3,1696; d. Mar. 21, 1752). Glassmaker. Caspar Wistar immigrated to Philadelphia from Germany in 1717. He learned the trade of brass button making and started his own business. Wistar married Catharine Jansen, a Quaker, in 1725 and went on to become an important merchant, amassing a sizable fortune from land speculation and several businesses. In 1739 he started the Wistarburgh Glassworks in Salem County, New Jersey, the first successful glasshouse in the colonies. The location was probably chosen to take advantage of raw materials in the form of New Jersey sand and wood for the furnace.

Wistarburgh Glassworks. This business, the first successful glasshouse in the American colonies, operated from 1739 until about 1776 on Alloways Creek, about eight miles from Salem. It was established by Caspar Wistar, a German emigrant who had no prior glassmaking experience but was a successful merchant. Wistar bought over two thousand acres of wooded land in 1738 and hired four German glassblowers to come to America to run the business. These men—William Wentzel, Simeon Griesmayer, Caspar Halter, and Hans Martin Halter—signed a contract with Wistar promising to teach him and his son the art of glassmaking. The wood on the property provided fuel for the furnace and the location on a navigable creek enabled the transport of raw materials in and finished products out. The most important raw material was probably South Jersey sand.


The factory operated successfully for almost forty years, producing bottles and window glass for most of that time. Unfortunately, there are only a few surviving pieces that can be reliably attributed to the glasshouse, although thousands of bottles were made while the factory was in operation. Window glass was also made in quantity and sold at the factory and in Wistar’s Philadelphia and New York stores. Windowpanes and bottles were among the commodities most needed by the colonists and the glasshouse could manufacture them and sell them more cheaply than the imported wares. An advertisement from 1769 mentions window glass, lamp glasses, "most sorts of bottles,” scientific glassware, and "electeriz-ing globes and tubes.” The latter were used by Benjamin Franklin in his experiments with electricity. Some tableware was probably also made, especially after the Townsend Acts limited the importation of English glass in the late 1760s. Sugar bowls, tankards, and cream pitchers in greenish bottle glass were probably made at the glasshouse and a few pieces of refined colorless glass and pale blue glass were made there as well.

Richard Wistar, Caspar’s son, inherited the business in 1752 when his father died, and he ran it successfully until about 1776, when the economic problems prompted by the American Revolution caused it to close. Wistar advertised it for sale in 1780, describing the property as containing fifteen hundred acres with two furnaces, and buildings for making melting pots, cutting glass into windowpanes and other tasks associated with glass manufacture. There were also ten houses for workers, a store, and a "large Mansion-house.” In the 1750s, at least twenty-eight workers were employed in the glasshouse and as woodcutters on the property. Probably only about a dozen of them were glassblowers and their assistants. The others would have been stonemasons to keep the furnaces in good repair, stokers for the fires, pot makers, and men or women to examine and pack the finished glass as well as at least one clerk to keep the records. It is probable that one of the German master blowers was the all-important craftsman who knew the glass recipes. There is no evidence that the Wistars ever learned either glassblowing or other trade secrets, but they did successfully manage the glasshouse for nearly forty years.

Witchcraft. The belief in witchcraft was not an isolated occurrence in Salem, Massachusetts, in the 1690s. There has been a continuous tradition of folk belief in witchcraft in both Europe and America from the Middle Ages to the present. New Jersey has its own examples.

As early as 1668, the General Assembly of East Jersey passed a law that established the death penalty for any person, male or female, found to be a witch. In a lawsuit before the New Jersey Supreme Court in 1727, Abigail Sharp charged Abraham Shotwell of falsely accusing her of being "an old witch,” whom he saw "flying all night.” Furthermore, she stated that he falsely accused her of being on the top of his house in the shape of a cat and bewitching his horse, which eventually died. These kinds of accusations follow motifs common to the behavior of witches.

The most famous example of witchcraft in New Jersey appeared in an article in the Pennsylvania Gazette of 1730, describing an alleged trial by ordeal that took place in Mount Holly, Burlington County. The defendants were a man and a woman accused of making their neighbors’ sheep dance and causing hogs to speak and sing psalms. To determine the truth, two tests were devised: both the accused and their accusers were to be weighed against the Bible, and then all were to be bound and thrown into the river to see if they would sink. The tests proved inconclusive. Some scholars think that this article may have been a hoax fostered by Benjamin Franklin, who was the publisher of the newspaper at the time.

Documented cases of New Jerseyans’ belief in witchcraft continue into the nineteenth century. In a lecture delivered in the Camden Lyceum in the winter of 1841-1842, a speaker described some of the charms used in Cumberland County to counteract witchcraft. Among them was a heart-shaped piece of dried beef with two needles stuck in it in the form of a cross, to be worn around the neck. In 1889 John Bell, a blacksmith from Park Ridge in Bergen County, reported that, "owing to the diabolic influence of witches” in his home, knives and forks jumped up and danced on the table; hairpins, an almanac, and an iron flew about the room; and an empty pair of trousers was seen "walking down the stairway behind its owner.” Similar testimony was given two centuries earlier at the Salem witchcraft trials.

The belief in witchcraft continued into the twentieth century. In the early 1940s folklorist Herbert Halpert collected a cycle of stories in the New Jersey Pine Barrens about a witch named Peggy Clevenger, who owned a hotel named the Half-Way Place near Red Oak Grove. According to the stories, Clevengerwas able to transform herself into an animal and to cause and cure illnesses. Halpert also collected stories about Jerry Munyhun, the so-called Wizard of Hanover Furnace, who was believed to have sold his soul to the Devil. In the late 1960s folklorist David Cohen collected similar stories in the Ramapo Mountains about alleged witches named Black Mag and Handsome Abbey. One informant told Cohen that one night his cousin injured a white cat that crossed his path, and the next morning a suspected male witch named Jake De Groat could not get out of bed because of an injury.

Belief in witchcraft is also common among certain ethnic groups in New Jersey. Among Hispanics, for example, witchcraft takes the form of santeria. In this folk religion, Catholic saints are associated with African deities; for example, the Yoruban god of fire and war, Chango, is associated with Saint John the Baptist. There is also belief in possession by evil spirits and illnesses caused by witchcraft. Traditional healers known as santeros have the power to cure these illnesses, usually by prescribing charms, amulets, and herbs available at stores known as botanicas.

Witherspoon, John (b. Feb. 15, 1723; d. Nov. 15, 1794). Clergyman, educator, and politician. John Witherspoon was the son of the Rev. James Witherspoon, minister of Yester Parish, East Lothian, east of Edinburgh, Scotland, and Anne (Walker) Witherspoon. He was educated at home and at Haddington Grammar School, after which he earned his masters of arts (1739) and divinity (1743) from the University of Edinburgh. The Haddington Presbytery licensed him to preach on September 6, 1743, and in January of 1745 Beith Parish in Ayrshire elected him minister. He married Elizabeth Montgomery on September 2, 1748; their union produced ten children. On June 16, 1757, he became pastor of the Laigh Kirk in Paisley, west of Glasgow.

The Rev. John Witherspoon.

The Rev. John Witherspoon.

In addition to his effective parish ministry, Witherspoon’s notable career in the Scottish Kirk was marked by his theological writings and his leadership of the strictly orthodox Calvinist Evangelical, or Popular, party in church politics. He published numerous sermons and doctrinal works. He became a leading spokesman for his party in the Church of Scotland, especially after his Ecclesiastical Characteristics, a powerful satire on his enlightened, liberal clerical opponents in the Moderate party, appeared in 1753. He was a fierce debater at all levels of Kirk government and held many leadership positions. The University of Saint Andrews awarded him the honorary degree of doctor of divinity on June 26, 1764. His growing reputation led to ministerial calls at home and abroad, all of which he declined. He also declined the presidency of the College of New Jersey in 1766, but he accepted its second offer and was inaugurated on August 17,1768.

Witherspoon’s strong leadership quickly pushed the college to the forefront of higher education in Revolutionary America. He recruited students throughout the colonies, raised money, and publicized its reputation for learning. But, most importantly, he reformed its curriculum along the lines of his Edinburgh education. He lectured on divinity, eloquence, history, and, most significantly, on moral philosophy, in which he synthesized his traditional Calvinism with the new, eighteenth-century currents of Scottish morality and commonsense philosophy.

The moral and political ideas of Wither-spoon’s moral philosophy lectures, especially his strong advocacy of civil and religious liberty, provided the intellectual foundation for his support of American independence. He delivered several sermons and wrote a number of political pamphlets justifying the Patriot cause. He served as a member of the Somerset County Committee of Correspondence in 1775, the provincial congress of New Jersey in 1776, and, most significantly, as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress from 1776 to 1782, where he signed the Declaration of Independence and served on over a hundred committees. After the War of Independence, he was a member of the New Jersey State Assembly in 1783 and 1789 and a delegate to the state convention that ratified the Constitution of 1787. Lastly, he was instrumental in organizing the Presbyterian Church of America and presiding at its first General Assembly in 1789. John Witherspoon’s contributions to education as well as to church and state in his adopted country made him one of New Jersey’s and the nation’s greatest men in the second half of the eighteenth century.

Witkowski, Karl (b. Aug. 16, 1860; d. May 17, 1910). Painter. Born in Jasiowiec in the province of Galacia, Austria (later Poland), Karl Witkowski showed significant artistic talent at an early age. His parents, however, did little to encourage him. He persevered, nevertheless, and managed to put himself through the art academy of Czortkow. Thereafter he was drafted into the Austrian army and made a name for himself sketching his commanding officers. One portrait led to another until he finally painted Prince Wittemberg of Austria and General Salomon von Friedberg, lieutenant field marshal of the Austrian army. Encouraged by the success of his military portraits, he later attended the school of art in Munich, Germany, where he studied under Karl von Piloty. He found his way to New York in 1883, and in 1891 he moved to Newark, then Irvington, and spent the remainder of his life there.

Witkowski continually added to his reputation as a fine portraitist. He painted the elite in Newark, and his skills as a portraitist to the wealthy were always in demand. But ironically it was his paintings of newsboys and street urchins in the same city that brought him lasting recognition. His paintings of children are remarkable for their odd combination of sentimentalism and realism. Witkowski died a victim of blood poisoning and was survived only by his wife. Many of his paintings are currently owned by the Newark Museum.

Wittpenn, Caroline Stevens Alexander (b. Nov. 21, 1859; d. Dec. 4, 1932). Penal reformer, social worker, philanthropist, and public administrator. While still a young woman, Caroline Wittpenn was involved with her mother in social service for women in Hoboken and New York. As a result, the Industrial School for Manual Training and the Memorial Day Nursery in Hoboken were lifelong interests. Wittpenn became active in public life in 1895, and by contributing financially and administratively to nearly a hundred social service organizations and many state institutions, she helped better the lives of New Jersey orphans, poor people, the disabled, and prisoners. She served as manager of the New Jersey State Institution for Feeble-Minded Girls and Women in Vineland in 1897; manager of the New Jersey State Village for Epileptics in 1902; and president of the New Jersey State Board of Children’s Guardians in 1913.

Wittpenn is best known for her work in penal reform. She was appointed by Gov. Franklin Murphy in 1902 to a commission to study the creation of a separate prison for women. When the Clinton Farms Reformatory for Women opened in 1913, she became the first president of its board of managers.

Wittpenn was an accomplished public servant at both the state and national levels. In 1910 she was appointed the U.S. representative to the International Congress of Family Education in Brussels, Belgium. She was consulted by Woodrow Wilson, the state’s governor, on welfare problems and, when Wilson became president of the United States, served as New Jersey’s first national Democratic com-mitteewoman. In 1931 she was appointed by President Herbert Hoover as U.S. representative to the International Prison Commission in Switzerland.

Wittpenn received an honorary doctor of laws degree at the first commencement of the New Jersey College for Women (now Douglass College) and served as a trustee of Stevens Institute of Technology for several years. In her lateryears she lived in Bernardsville; Congress-woman Millicent Fenwick was her great-niece.

Wittpenn, Henry Otto (b. Oct. 21,1872; d. July 25, 1931). Politician. The son of John J. and Rebecca C. (Wede) Wittpenn, H. Otto Wittpenn married Caroline Stevens Alexander. Elected mayor of Jersey City in 1907 and in 1909, Wittpenn developed a progressive image that cost him the 1910 gubernatorial nomination, which went to seemingly conservative Woodrow Wilson. After Wilson moved on to the U.S. presidency in 1916, Wittpenn received the gubernatorial nomination but lost heavily to Republican Walter Edge, partly because of opposition from organization Democrats. His supporters lost in the 1917 Jersey City municipal elections as well, effectively ending Wittpenn’s political career.

Woman suffrage. New Jersey has the distinction of being the only one of the thirteen original states whose constitution permitted women to vote. Ironically, it was one of the last to guarantee women full suffrage, and then only through ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment. According to the New Jersey constitution of 1776, adult residents worth fifty pounds were entitled to vote. Women of property are known to have voted in several elections in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. In 1807, however, the state legislature passed a law requiring that voters be "free, white, male” citizens of the state, thus explicitly disfranchising slaves, free blacks, and women. This wording was written into the new state constitution of 1844.

Beginning in the late 1840s, New Jerseyans petitioned the legislature to reform laws that limited women’s rights. In 1857 Monmouth County residents, led by Harriet Price LaFetra, a Quaker from Shrewsbury, submitted a petition with the radical demand for woman suffrage. Later that year, Lucy Stone, the nationally known women’s rights advocate and a resident of Orange, protested paying taxes on her home because she was unrepresented.

After the Civil War, New Jersey suffragists, led by Lucy Stone, argued for universal suffrage as a matter of justice. In 1867 Stone spoke before the legislature, calling for a constitutional amendment enfranchising African American men and all women. When it became apparent that the New Jersey legislature was not receptive and that the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution would enfranchise only black men, social radicals from around the state met in Vineland to found the New Jersey Woman Suffrage Association (NJWSA). The NJWSA kept the issue before the legislature for the next several years. In 1868 Vineland women, protesting their disfranchisement, attempted to vote at local elections. It was futile. The legislature and the general public ridiculed the suffragists and their cause.

Unsuccessful in arguing for the vote as a matter of justice, suffragists pursued other tactics. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, they argued that women’s special interests in family welfare and the education of children entitled them to vote on local government and school matters. Many native-born, middle-class women resented the fact that immigrant men could vote when they could not. They wanted local suffrage to preserve traditional Protestant values in school and municipal matters, and to control the sale of alcohol. For these same reasons, immigrant groups, urban politicians, and the alcohol interests opposed the enfranchisement of women. When the New Jersey legislature finally bowed to pressure in 1887, it passed an extremely limited act allowing women—from rural areas and small towns—to vote at school meetings. Even such fragmentary suffrage was declared unconstitutional in 1894.

This setback prompted the NJWSA to renew its demands for full woman suffrage, but the legislature was unresponsive. A modest amendment to reinstate rural and small-town school suffrage passed two successive legislatures only to be roundly defeated in an 1897 referendum by urban male voters who saw any form of women suffrage as a threat.

For the next ten years, the NJWSA was led by women aligned with the growing women’s club movement, such as Mary Dudley Hussey and Emma Lawrence Blackwell of East Orange, Minola Graham Sexton of Orange, and Florence Howe Hall of Plainfield. Local suffrage groups worked to change public opinion on suffrage, and to achieve such progressive reforms as the appointment of women to municipal boards, the appointment of women physicians in state hospitals, the building of a state reformatory for women, and improving women’s and children’s working conditions.

Though New Jersey seemed immovable on the suffrage issue, successful suffrage referenda in several western states, as well as the militancy of the British suffrage movement, encouraged New Jersey suffragists. In 1908 Mina G. Van Winkle of Newark organized the Equality League of Self-Supporting Women of New Jersey (renamed the Women’s Political Union in 1912) to draw working women into the cause. Early in 1910, members of the prominent Stevens family of Hoboken organized the Equal Franchise Society of New Jersey, attracting wealthy, reform-minded women to its ranks. At the same time, the Men’s League for Woman Suffrage, led by William Lawrence Saunders, a mayor of Plain-field, pulled Progressive Party and progressive Democratic politicians into the movement. The NJWSA, under the leadership of German-born president, Clara Schlee Laddey of Arlington, reached out to trade unionists, socialists, the Grange, and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union in its petition drives. In an uncharacteristically flamboyant gesture, the NJWSA sponsored New Jersey’s first suffrage parade in Newark in October 1912.

These collaborating suffrage organizations, led by Lillian Feickert of Plainfield, another president of the NJWSA, won approval of a full suffrage amendment by two successive legislatures. The special public referendum, held on October 19, 1915, was bitterly contested. Opponents of the referendum— including such inner-city political bosses as James R. Nugent, Democratic boss of Newark, the brewing industry, and women opposed to women’s direct involvement in politics— triumphed. The measure was defeated in every county except Ocean. Later that fall, state referenda were also defeated in New York, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania.

After the 1915 defeats, many New Jersey suffragists focused their energies on the federal amendment, working with the National American Woman Suffrage Association and the more radical National Woman’s Party, led by a New Jerseyan, Alice Paul. In 1917 New Jersey women were among those who picketed the White House to pressure President Woodrow Wilson to support the federal amendment. Among the picketers arrested and jailed was socially prominent Alison Turnbull Hopkins of Morristown, president of the New Jersey Woman’s Party. Other suffragists worked to get pro-suffrage men elected to Congress and to the New Jersey legislature.


The New Jersey woman suffrage movement mounted its final push after the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution passed the Senate in June 1919. After intensive lobbying in Trenton by suffragists, the New Jersey State Senate ratified the Nineteenth Amendment on February 10,1920, making New Jersey the twenty-ninth of the required thirty-sixth ratifying states. New Jersey women gained full suffrage rights on August 26, 1920, along with previously disfranchised women throughout the United States.

Women’s Fund of New Jersey. The Women’s Fund of New Jersey is an organization headquartered in Union. In 1994, Myra Terry, then president of the National Organization for Women (NOW) and Melanie Griffin, former executive director of the Commission on Sex Discrimination in the Statutes, visited Women’s Way in Philadelphia to discuss the possibility of starting a similar women’s federation in New Jersey. In 1995, in response to cutbacks in funding for issues affecting women, the fifteen founding member organizations came together to distribute money raised through workplace payroll deduction. The fund has since grown to eighteen member organizations dedicated to issues such as breast cancer, violence against women, reproductive rights, and sexual assault.

Women’s Political Caucus of New Jersey. The Women’s Political Caucus of New Jersey was founded in 1971 as an affiliate of the National Women’s Political Caucus. This multipartisan organization is dedicated to the election and appointment of women to every level of government. It recruits and trains women candidates and their campaign organizations, and it provides training on the process of being appointed to governmental boards and commissions. The caucus advocates on issues that support women and families. It endorses women candidates who support reproductive freedom, the Equal Rights Amendment, and other issues that affect the lives of women and families, and it gives financial support to women candidates through its political action committee. Some of the women it has backed are former governor Christine Todd Whitman and State Senator Diane B. Allen. The caucus also endorses men running for election who support its goals.

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