Manuscript Group 572, Mary Philbrook (1872-1958), Women’s rights leader Papers, 1843-1954

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:

Elizabeth V. Anderson Lucy Gregor John F. Schenck
Margaret Maginnis Angelo Frank Hague Kate Prentice Schley
Peter P. Artaserse Constance W. Hand F. Idah Frank Schnitzer
Caroline L. Babcock W. J. Hart Edward F. Scudder
Florence Baker Albert W. Hawkes Evelyn Seufert
Mary Barbehenn Elizabeth Height W. Howard Sharp
W. Warren Barbour Mrs. M. Casewell Heine Martha Shouse
Charles A. Beard Robert C. Hendrickson Helena W. Simmons
Mary R. Beard Florence Bayard Hilles John F. Sly
Katherine E. Boyle John B. Keenan William H. Smathers
Lelia O. Brown Hortense F. Kessler H. Alexander Smith
Cornelia Browne Alma Lutz Hannah F. Sokobin
Erica Butler-Bowdon Mary M. Lyons Doris Stevens
Robert Carey Elizabeth Maddock Marta B. Taylor
Marguerite MacDonald Carpenter Emma Guffey Miller Charles J. Tobin
Robert C. Clothier Spencer Miller, Jr. John J. Toohey, Jr.
Marrion E. Cox Marie M. Mooney Marjorie Varner
Emma E. Dillon A. Harry Moore Elmer H. Wene
Alfred E. Driscoll W. J. Morrison, Jr. Mrs. Harvey W. Wiley
Howard Eastwood Mary T. Norton Leonora B. Willette
Walter E. Edge Charles W. Parker Margaret C. Williams
Walter J. Freund Alice Paul Beatrice Winser
Libby Garrabrant Frances Perkins Clara Snell Wolfe
Anita Pollitzer


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 Society’s health care and social welfare-related collections.

Biographical Note:

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.  Philbrook’s 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 Women’s Club, and was an active member of the College Club of Jersey City, which sought to establish a public women’s 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 women’s group involved in charitable work, Philbrook organized the New Jersey Legal Aid Association.

Mary Philbrook’s 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 women’s suffrage before the New Jersey courts, arguing that women’s 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 Woman’s 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.

Philbrook’s interests also included history and genealogy.  In 1936, she was placed in charge of the National Woman’s Party archives and also served as chair of the New Jersey branch of the World Center for Women’s 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.

Provenance Note:

The source of this collections is unknown.

Scope and Content Note:

The papers, 1843-1954, of Mary Philbrook document her activities as an attorney, women’s 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 women’s suffrage movement, labor legislation, women’s associations, social reform, women’s 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.

Philbrook’s 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 Woman’s 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 Philbrook’s 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 women’s 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 women’s history located in the Historical and Genealogical Files series.

Her Personal Papers also contain numerous photographs of women’s rights leaders.

Series Descriptions:

Series I:  Correspondence, 1899, 1918-1920, 1936-1953 and n.d.  Arranged chronologically.

Bulk of correspondence, 1936-1953, concerns Mary Philbrook’s 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 women’s associations.  Letters document responses to Philbrook’s requests for support of an equal rights amendment, as well as discussions concerning the National Woman’s 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 Woman’s Party, the New Jersey Women Lawyers’ Club, the Consumers’ League of New Jersey, the New Jersey Center for Women’s Archives, the New Jersey State Federation of Women’s 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 Woman’s 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 Women’s Consultative Committee on Nationality of the League of Nations, and federations of women’s 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 Woman’s Party and pamphlets. Scrapbooks 2 and 3 document Mary Philbrook’s 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 Philbrook’s legal career.  Includes some letters and postcards from Alice Paul.

Series IV:  Personal Papers, 1900s-1953.

Includes autobiographical essays concerning Philbrook’s 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 women’s 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 Philbrook’s 1911 test case regarding the right of women to vote.  Organizations represented in the series include the National Woman’s Party, League of Women Voters, and the New Jersey Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs.  Of note is “A History of the New Jersey State Federation of Women’s 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.

Related Collections:

Manuscript Group 1163, Whittier House Social Settlement Records

Box/Folder List:

Box Folder Title Dates
Series I: Correspondence
1 1 Correspondence 1899
1 2 Correspondence 1918-1920
1 3 Correspondence 1936-1941
1 4 Correspondence Jan.-June, 1942
1 5 Correspondence July-Dec., 1942
1 6 Correspondence Jan.-June, 1943
1 7 Correspondence July-Dec., 1943
1 8 Correspondence 1944
1 9 Correspondence 1946-47, 1952-1953
1 10 Correspondence n. d.
Series II:  Equal Rights Files
1 11 Federations of Women’s Clubs 1940-41 & n.d.
1 12 League of Women Voters 1947
1 13 National Woman’s Party 1934-53
1 14 N.J. Education Association 1939
1 15 N.J. State Bar Association: Committee on the Status of Women 1938
1 16 N.J. State Revised Constitution Materials/Political Platforms 1940-1948
2 1 N.J. Women Lawyer’s Club 1938
2 2 Women’s Alliance for Equal Status 1947
2 3 Women’s Consultative Committee on Nationality (League of Nations) 1935, 1940-42 & n. d.
2 4 Women’s Organizations Endorsing Equal Rights n. d.
2 5 Beatrice Winser Files 1936, 1942-44 & n. d.
2 6 Miscellaneous
Series III: Scrapbook Materials
2 7 Scrapbook #1: Equal Rights Amendment Campaign 1930s
2 8 Scrapbook #2A: Family/Women’s Rights 1843-1936
2 9 Scrapbook #2B: Family/Women’s Rights 1800s-1930s
2 10 Scrapbook #2C: Family/Women’s Rights 1800s-1949
2 11 Scrapbook #3A: Genealogical Materials/Letters 1935-36 & n. d.
2 12 Scrapbook #3B: Genealogical Materials/Letters 1934-37 & n. d.
Series IV: Personal Papers
2 13 Autobiographical Notes ca. 1930s
2 14 Autobiographical Notes ca. 1930s
2 15 Photographs ca. 1900s-1940s
3 1 Photographs ca. 1900s-1940s
3 2 Passport 1918, 1937
3 3 Betsy Ross Building and Loan Association: Annual Reports 1922-1929
3 4 College Club of Jersey City 1938-1941
3 5 Income Tax Files 1925, 1929, 1943, 1951
3 6 Legal Papers 1918-19, 1928, 1953
3 7 Postcards, Photo Reprints 1913, 1936 & n. d.
3 8 Business cards, Invitations, Ticket Stubs, Cards 1936-37,1940 & n. d.
Series V: Printed Materials (Women’s Rights)
3 9 Equal Rights 1934-1953
3 10 National Woman’s Party 1926, 1943-45 & n. d.
3 11 Revised N.J. Constitution 1944, 1947
3 12 New Jersey Law Journal 1943-50 w/gaps
3 13 N.J. Senate & Assembly Resolutions re: equal rights amendment & labor laws 1939-42
3 14 N.J. Women’s Clubs 1927, 1938, 1942 & 1944
3 15 U.S. Congressional Resolutions, Reports & Proceedings 1941-53 w/gaps
3 16 Plaintiff’s Brief, Mary Philbrook, attorney, N.J. Court of Appeals & Errors re: women’s suffrage/Harriet Carpenter 1911
3 17 Newspaper Articles and Press Releases 1936-40 & n. d.
3 18 General: Women’s rights 1922, 1938-47 & n. d.
Series VI: Historical and Genealogical Files
4 1 Women in the History of N.J. – Historical Records Survey n. d.
4 2 Women in the History of N.J. – Historical Records Survey n. d.
4 3 Historical Notes on Josiah Bartlett n. d.
4 4 Lectures on Josephine Bonaparte (Folder 1 of 3) 1890
4 5 Lectures on Josephine Bonaparte (Folder 2 of 3) 1890
4 6 Lectures on Josephine Bonaparte (Folder 3 of 3) 1890
4 7 Amack Family Genealogy n. d.
4 8 Ball Family Genealogy 1945-1948
4 9 Brower Family Genealogy 1933
4 10 Coffin Family Genealogy 1933
4 11 De Bow Family Genealogy 1946-1947
4 12 Duncan Family Genealogy n. d.
4 13 Harvey Family Genealogy n. d.
4 14 Hopper (Meeker) Family Genealogy 1946-1947
4 15 Lake Family Genealogy n. d.
4 16 Paul (Alice) Family Genealogy 1934-1937
5 1 Pearsall Family Genealogy 1953
5 2 Philbrook Family Genealogy 1940, 1952-1954
5 3 Pledger Family Genealogy 1947
5 4 Rose Family Genealogy 1953
5 5 Stults Family Genealogy 1950-1951
5 6 Miscellaneous Genealogies 1946, 1953-54 & n. d.
5 7 Miscellaneous Genealogies 1937, 1939, 1946-47 & n.d.
Series VII: Red Cross Overseas Personnel
5 8 Red Cross Overseas Personnel (Folder 1 of 3) Apr. 1917-Nov. 1919
5 9 Red Cross Overseas Personnel (Folder 2 of 3) Apr. 1917-Nov. 1919
5 10 Red Cross Overseas Personnel (Folder 3 of 3) Apr. 1917-Nov. 1919

Processed by Susan Chore, April 1998


Print Friendly, PDF & Email