Archives Documents, Manuscripts, Maps, & Photographs
Manuscript Group 572, Mary Philbrook (1872-1958), Women's rights leader
Papers, 1843-1954, 2.5 linear feet
Call Number: MG 572 + Box and folder number
Manuscript autobiography; correspondence; scrapbooks; legal, historical, and genealogical materials pertaining to the career of a prominent New Jersey lawyer and women's rights leader. In 1895, Philbrook became the first woman lawyer admitted to the bar in New Jersey. Soon thereafter she became active in the state women's suffrage movement. As the focus of the suffrage campaign shifted to the national level, she joined such causes as penal reform, equal wages for women, and the eradiction of "white slavery." In the state level she drafted and helped pass family and juvenile court legislation, a woman's factory bill, and an act legitimizing children born out of wedlock. After the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, Philbrook became involved in the crusade to gain passage of a state and national equal rights amendment. She was also active in the New Jersey Center for Women's Archives and was chairman of the Archives Committee of the National Woman's Party. These papers include information on all of these facets of her career. Included are letters of:
The papers of Mary Philbrook span the years 1843 to 1954 and total 2.5 linear feet. The collection was processed as part of a National Historical Publications and Records Commission grant project (1997-1998) to arrange, describe and catalogue the New Jersey Historical Societys health care and social welfare-related collections.
Born in Washington D.C. on August 6, 1872, Mary Philbrook moved to Jersey City, New Jersey with her family, in 1878. While working as a legal secretary to Henry Gaede, Philbrook was encouraged to become a lawyer by his partner, James Minturn, who would later become a justice of the New Jersey State Supreme Court. Philbrooks first request for permission to take the bar examination was denied by the New Jersey Supreme Court in June of 1894. With the support of suffragists, a bill permitting women to take the bar examination was signed into law on March 25, 1895. On June 6th of the same year, Mary Philbrook passed the bar examination with honors, becoming the first woman lawyer in New Jersey.
Philbrook began her practice with the law firm of Bacot and Read in Jersey City. In 1899, she moved her practice to Newark. She became the first woman appointed master of chancery court in New Jersey and the second woman in New Jersey to become a notary public. In 1906, she became the first woman from New Jersey admitted to practice before the United States Supreme Court.
Her early activism extended beyond increasing opportunities for women lawyers. She acted as counsel for suffragists and lectured on the rights of women throughout New Jersey. She helped found the Women Lawyers Club, was one of the first members of the Jersey City Womens Club, and was an active member of the College Club of Jersey City, which sought to establish a public womens college in New Jersey.
Philbrook became a resident at the Whittier House Social Settlement in Jersey City, where she acted as counsel for its legal aid society, the first of its kind in the state, and the second in the nation. With the assistance of an Essex County womens group involved in charitable work, Philbrook organized the New Jersey Legal Aid Association.
Mary Philbrooks work in the area of penal reform led to changes at both the county and state levels in New Jersey. She successfully lobbied for the passage of legislation that protected those in debt to loan sharks from imprisonment. As assistant to the Essex County probation officer, Philbrook dealt primarily with juvenile cases and was instrumental in the establishment of a separate juvenile court system in 1904. Philbrook was also involved in the movement to establish a separate state reformatory for women, which later opened in Clinton in 1910.
In 1906, Philbrook worked with the Essex County sheriff on a campaign to eliminate prostitution in Newark. The next year, she investigated the enforced prostitution of immigrant women for the United States Immigration Commission.
In 1911, Philbrook brought a test case for womens suffrage before the New Jersey courts, arguing that womens right to vote was implicit in the New Jersey Constitution. The case was that of Harriet Carpenter, a Newark teacher, who had been denied the right to register to vote. The case was ruled against in 1912.
Mary Philbrook joined the American Red Cross during the last months of World War I, serving in its Paris legal department. She continued her work with the Red Cross in Washington D.C. after the war.
In 1920, Philbrook returned to Newark, where she spent the last forty years of her life as an active member of the National Womans Party, lobbying for the passage of a state and national equal rights amendment. Philbrook also organized the New Jersey Committee to Eliminate Discrimination Against Women, sought to gain passage of a law prohibiting discrimination against married women, and lobbied against protective legislation for women in the workforce, which restricted their number of working hours and night work.
Philbrooks interests also included history and genealogy. In 1936, she was placed in charge of the National Womans Party archives and also served as chair of the New Jersey branch of the World Center for Womens Archives.
In the late 1930s, Mary Philbrook attended the Geneva conferences on the League of Nations, in an attempt to pass an international resolution on equal rights.
Philbrook focused on the revision of the New Jersey State Constitution during the 1940s. The Constitutional Convention, held in 1948, did not include an equal rights amendment in its revision, but did change the wording from all men to all persons, which was cited by the State Supreme Court in 1978 as justification that sex discrimination was constitutionally prohibited.
Mary Philbrook died on September 2, 1958.
Petrick, Barbara. Mary Philbrook: The Radical Feminist in New Jersey. New Jersey Historical Commission, Trenton, N.J., 1981.
The source of this collections is unknown.
The papers, 1843-1954, of Mary Philbrook document her activities as an attorney, womens rights leader, social reformer, and historian. The bulk of the papers, 1930s-1940s, document her attempts to gain passage of a state and national equal rights amendment. Other subject areas include the womens suffrage movement, labor legislation, womens associations, social reform, womens history and genealogy.
Papers are organized in seven series: Correspondence, Equal Rights Files, Scrapbook Materials, Personal Papers, Printed Materials, Historical and Genealogical Files, and Red Cross Overseas Personnel. Documents types include letters, photographs, scrapbooks, organizational pamphlets, meeting programs, legislative bills and resolutions, and newspapers clippings.
Philbrooks work for an equal rights amendment is documented in the Correspondence and Scrapbook Materials series, both of which contain numerous letters from Alice Paul, president of the National Womans Party. Supporting background information, such as pamphlets, meeting programs and by-laws of organizations involved in the movement, as well as legislative documents, are contained in the Printed Materials series. Documents from the 1947 New Jersey State Constitutional Convention are in both the Equal Rights Files and Printed Materials.
Information on Philbrooks legal career and early life can be found primarily in Scrapbook Materials and Personal Papers, which contain autobiographical essays, newspapers clippings, photographs and ephemera. Subjects covered include her involvement with the suffrage movement, Whittier House Social Settlement, the League of Nations, and the American Red Cross, as well as numerous womens associations.
Her work in the field of history is documented in the genealogical notes and correspondence she compiled as director of the American Registry, and in the files on womens history located in the Historical and Genealogical Files series.
Her Personal Papers also contain numerous photographs of womens rights leaders.
Series I: Correspondence, 1899, 1918-1920, 1936-1953 and n.d. Arranged chronologically.
Bulk of correspondence, 1936-1953, concerns Mary Philbrooks lobbying efforts to gain passage of a state and national equal rights amendment. Includes correspondence with New Jersey state and national legislators, governors, local officials, and representatives from womens associations. Letters document responses to Philbrooks requests for support of an equal rights amendment, as well as discussions concerning the National Womans Party strategy and internal politics. Frequent correspondents include Alice Paul, Albert W. Hawkes, Robert C. Hendrickson, Evelyn M. Seufert and H. Alexander Smith. Also, letters from W. Warren Barbour, Edna B. Conklin, Emma E. Dillon, Walter E. Edge, Edna M. Hornberger, John Milton, Mary T. Norton, William H. Smathers, Beatrice Winser and Clara Snell Wolfe. Organizations represented in the correspondence include the National Womans Party, the New Jersey Women Lawyers Club, the Consumers League of New Jersey, the New Jersey Center for Womens Archives, the New Jersey State Federation of Womens Clubs and the New Jersey Republican State Committee. Other topics include labor legislation restricting women in the workplace, equal pay for equal work, and the minimum wage.
Letters from 1899 were written by Philbrook during a trip to Scotland and England. Letters dated 1918 through 1920 are primarily from her mother, written to Philbrook while she was stationed in France with the American Red Cross.
See also Series III Scrapbook Materials for additional correspondence.
Series II: Equal Rights Files, 1935-1948 and n.d. Arranged alphabetically.
Primarily printed materials of organizations involved in the equal rights movement. Includes pamphlets, position papers, resolutions, informational bulletins and speech reprints. Of note are National Womans Party materials, including its constitution and by-laws, pamphlets, celebrity endorsement fliers and a pamphlet concerning the 25th anniversary of the suffrage amendment.
Also, materials from the New Jersey State Constitutional Convention (1947), including a program, lists of delegates and pamphlets. Other organizations represented in the series include the League of Women Voters, the New Jersey Women Lawyers Club, the Womens Consultative Committee on Nationality of the League of Nations, and federations of womens clubs.
Series III: Scrapbook Materials, 1800s-1949. Organized in three groups.
Loose pages of three scrapbooks contain correspondence, family records, photographs, pamphlets, newspapers clippings, genealogical notes and ephemera.
Scrapbook 1 primarily concerns the equal rights amendment during the 1930s, and includes correspondence with members of the National Womans Party and pamphlets. Scrapbooks 2 and 3 document Mary Philbrooks family and professional life and family history. Includes genealogical notes and charts, birth and military records, family photos, family seals, and letters. Of note are newspaper clippings tracing Philbrooks legal career. Includes some letters and postcards from Alice Paul.
Series IV: Personal Papers, 1900s-1953.
Includes autobiographical essays concerning Philbrooks involvement in the suffrage movement, her childhood, early career, Whittier House, World War I service in the American Red Cross, and investigations of prostitution. Also, passports, financial and legal papers, and postcards. Includes photographs of womens rights leaders. Also of note: College Club of Jersey City constitution and by-laws, membership roster, history and calendar.
Series V: Printed Materials, 1911-1953.
Magazine and newspaper articles, organizational pamphlets, state and national legislative reports and resolutions. Of note is the court brief of Mary Philbrooks 1911 test case regarding the right of women to vote. Organizations represented in the series include the National Womans Party, League of Women Voters, and the New Jersey Federation of Business and Professional Womens Clubs. Of note is A History of the New Jersey State Federation of Womens Clubs, 1894-1927.
Series VI: Historical and Genealogical Files.
Primarily family genealogies and genealogical correspondence. Also, an indexed records survey of women in the history of New Jersey, which lists their names and situations, such as deserting wives, social reformers and tavern keepers. Of note in the series are numerous letters from Alice Paul regarding her family genealogy, which also include some references to her personal and professional activities.
Series VII: Red Cross Overseas Personnel, 1917-1919.
A register of approximately 10,000 Red Cross overseas workers during World War I includes names, assignments, country stationed, dates of service and home address.
Processed by Susan Chore, April 1998
The New Jersey Historical Society