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13 Badass Women from New Jersey

by Lauren Alberti
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Jersey girls have a reputation for having a certain attitude and energy that tells the world “don’t mess with us”. It might come from learning to drive by merging onto the New Jersey Turnpike during rush hour or it might just be innately in us from the start. We’re thinking it’s the latter, because history tells us that Jersey girls have always been a force to be reckoned with. Since, its inception, ladies hailing from the Garden State have made real changes in their communities and even the world. In honor of Women’s History Month, we’ve rounded up some of the most badass women that worked to make NJ — and the world — a better place.

Alice Paul | Mount Laurel Township

alice paul

(Photo credit: Library of Congress)

The Ivy at Chatham

Next time you’re in the voting booth, think of Alice Paul. She was a vocal leader of the Women’s Suffrage movement and advocated for and helped pass the 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote. She authored the Equal Rights Amendment of 1923 — which, by the way, has yet to be adopted. After earning her degree in social work, she decided to fight the good fight and demand equality for women in the U.S. She joined the National American Woman Suffrage Association and later joined the National Woman’s Party. She organized a protest in 1913 that attracted over 8 thousand women, marching with banners down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C.

Clara Barton | Bordentown

clara barton

(Photo credit: Library of Congress)

Clara Barton is the definition of not taking nonsense from anyone. She started her teaching career at 18. By age 24, she founded a school for workers’ children at her brother’s mill. She opened up the first free school in New Jersey in 1852 — only to resign when she learned that the school hired a male teacher and was paying him twice her salary. She was quoted saying she would never work for less than a man. She went on to help the Union Army during the Civil War, earning the nickname the “angel of the battlefield,” and helped prepare enslaved people for freedom. If all of that wasn’t enough, she also founded the American Association of the Red Cross in 1881 and remained with the organization until 1904.

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Vivian Stringer | New Brunswick

Thriving in a male-dominated field as a woman is difficult, but C. Vivian Stringer makes it look easy. She is the only collegiate coach — men’s or women’s — to have brought three different schools to the NCAA Final Four. She has won the most games in collegiate women’s basketball history over her 29 seasons at Cheyney, Iowa, and at our very own Rutgers University. In 1991, she brought the U.S. to the Pan American Games, earning a bronze medal.

Dorothea Dix | Trenton

dorothea dix

(Photo credit: Creative Commons)

While technically born in Maine, Dorothea Dix made some major changes in the NJ medical field. She is thought of as the nation’s first mental health activist, invested in improving how the mentally ill were treated and cared for. She founded NJ’s first public mental health hospital, Trenton Psychiatric Hospital, in 1848. When that facility became overcrowded, she convinced the NJ legislature to open Greystone Psychiatric Hospital. During the Civil War, she acted as Superintendent of Army Nurses for the Union Army.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton | Tenafly

elizabeth cady stanton

After marrying an abolitionist lecturer, Henry Stanton, Elizabeth Cady Stanton got involved in the anti-slavery movement and worked with other notable abolitionists to finally end the institution of slavery in the U.S. ECS was also angry that women were not granted a fair seat at the table and became a leading voice in the Women’s Suffrage movement as well. She helped hold the Seneca Falls Woman’s Rights Convention, where she re-authored the Declaration of Independence to include “woman or women” throughout. She tackled topics that were seen as taboo during her lifetime, including maternity, childbirth, divorce law, women’s property rights, abolition, and more. She built her Tenafly home in 1868 and paid for the taxes and upkeep with her own income made from lectures and writing, while raising seven children. In 1880, she attempted to vote in New Jersey where a judge blocked the ballot box and insisted “only men are allowed to vote.” She never let this deter her, and fought for the rights of women until her death in 1902.

Erna Hoover | Irvington

Erna Hoover was born in Irvington and made history in New Jersey. A trailblazer from a young age, she earned her Ph.D. from Yale University in foundations of mathematics and philosophy. While working at Bell Laboratories in northern Jersey in 1954, she created the first computerized switching system for telephone call traffic, which had been previously handled manually. While doing this, she also earned one of the first software patents ever issued. To top it off, she finished her blueprints of the system in the hospital while giving birth to one of her three daughters.

Ibtihaj Muhammad | Maplewood


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Ibtihaj Muhammad made history as the first American to wear a hijab while competing in the Olympics in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro. Not only has she become an advocate for Muslim and African American women in sports, she encourages others to continue to defy the limits put on them by society. She was interested in sports as a child, but once she tried out fencing at 13 years old, she became a champion. Throughout her journey, she received backlash for her religion and for choosing to wear the hijab. Once she became a professional athlete, the backlash only got worse. Ibtihaj vowed to persevere and make sure that women like her will have an easier time in the future. She continues to speak about her experience and bring awareness to racism and prejudice in sports and American culture.

Joetta Clark Diggs | East Orange


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This Jersey girl is considered one of the best and most consistent women’s 800m runners in U.S. history. She’s a four-time Olympian (‘88, ‘92, ‘96, ‘00), and has won several national championships. She, her sister, brother, and sister-in-law made Olympic history as the only family to comprise all three sports on the Olympic team in the same event. She is also an author and motivational speaker.

Judy Blume | Elizabeth


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Judy Blume spent her childhood in Jersey coming up with stories to tell her family and friends. Now, the bestselling author is known for her coming-of-age stories including Are you There God? It’s Me Margaret, Blubber, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Superfudge, and many more. She has sold over 90 million copies of her books in 39 different languages. Her books are honest and tackle sensitive subjects, consequently putting her work at the top of the list of authors most frequently banned.

Meryl Streep | Summit

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The woman that needs no introduction. Probably one of the best film actresses of our time — or possibly ever — Meryl Streep was born in Summit and raised in Bernardsville. She has more Academy Award nominations than any other actor, has three Oscars, nine Golden Globes, two BAFTA Awards, three Emmys, two SAG Awards, and more. Before all of this success, Streep waitressed at Hotel Somerset in Somerville. Now, she is known for her philanthropy work in addition to her acting. In 2011, she donated her entire salary from the film The Iron Lady to the Women’s History Museum. She is also a main funder of the non-profit organization New York Women in Film + Television.

Queen Latifah | Newark


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This Hudson County royalty got her start singing in the choir of Shiloh Baptist Church in Bloomfield and made her stage debut as Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz at St. Anne’s parochial school. Queen Latifah first formed her first rap group in high school, called Ladies Fresh. In 1988, she came out with her first rap single. She spent a large part of her early career defending her right to being a female rapper and would later clap back to misogynist comments from male counterparts and did it all with style, flare, and class. Today, she is considered the First Lady of Hip Hop, and has received countless accolades, including a Grammy, an Emmy, a Golden Globe, three SAG awards, two NAACP Awards, and has been nominated for an Academy Award. She was the first hip-hop artist to get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

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Martha Stewart | Jersey City + Nutley


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How does one go from being synonymous with popped collars and casseroles to having a TV show with Snoop Dogg and not be considered a badass? Martha Stewart, who is known for embodying a picturesque New England suburban lifestyle, was actually born in Jersey City and moved to Nutley at the age of three. She learned gardening from her father, sewing and cooking from her mother, and baking from the couple next door – who happened to be retired bakers. After working as a model to pay her way through college, she became a stockbroker in 1967, until a recession hit Wall Street. Martha and her husband, Andrew Stewart, then moved to Westport, Connecticut, renovated a farmhouse from the 1800s, and started a catering business – which she ran from the basement. Within a few short years, it was a $1 million enterprise. She published her first of many books in 1982 and released her own magazine (also of many), Martha Stewart Living, in 1990. She also launched Martha Stewart Living TV, a Sirius Radio show, The Martha Stewart Show on NBC, and her own lines of textiles, linens, home goods, cookware, furniture, pet products, lighting, and even rugs. She even has her own line of food with Kirkland Signature. In 2011 she was inducted into the NJ Hall of Fame, in 2015 she participated in Comedy Central’s Roast of Justin Bieber, and in 2016, she and Snoop co-hosted their own TV show, Martha + Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party.

Whitney Houston | Newark

whitney houston

(Photo credit: Creative Commons)

Often referred to as “The Voice” Whitney Houston remains the powerhouse behind some of our favorite songs to sing in the shower, but is also known for her lasting impact on the entertainment world. Her accolades include two Emmy Awards, six Grammy Awards, 16 Billboard Music Awards, and 28 Guinness World Records. She has also been inducted into the Grammy, Rock and Roll, and Rhythm and Blues halls of fame. Houston became the first woman in music history to debut at number one on the Billboard 200 albums chart and the first artist to enter the albums chart at number one in both the US and UK, while also hitting number one or top ten in dozens of other countries around the world. She was also the first woman to generate four number-one singles from one album. Whitney Houston began singing at the age of five in the church choir at the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark. She attended Franklin Elementary School — which is now the Whitney E. Houston Academy of Creative and Performing Arts.

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