MONTVILLE, NJ - In recognition of Women's History Month, a lecture on historic women from the Morris County region was held at the Montville Township Public Library on March 7. The guest speaker on the subject was Morristown resident Jim DelGiudice.

DelGiudice is a retired professor from County College of Morris, where he taught photography. He was also a photographer himself. And for the past six years, he has conducted lectures at community places on various subjects, including photography, state history and even on types of kitchens around the world. But for Montville library patrons, DelGiudice focused on historic women originating from the local county.

"I think Morris County has a very long and interesting history, but the women's story doesn't always get told," said DelGiudice. "There are lots of ways that people get famous. Sometimes, they've done something infamous. They get involved in a scandal, have been victimized or other unfortunate things happen to them. Like Anna Symmes, the wife of President William Harrison. She was the first First Lady with the first bad luck when her husband died 31 days into taking office. But I'll focus on people who did good things."

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Some of these historic female characters who did "good things" included Tempe Wick (American Revolution heroine) and Millicent Fenwick (politician and diplomat).

"During the winter of 1781, Pennsylvania soldiers mutinied and they tried to steal Wick's horse," said DelGiudice. "But she tricked them and rode away, and hid the animal within her own house. Fenwick was a great American and great liberal Republican who first got into politics at the age of 64. She was a supporter of the Equal Rights Act and she loved to smoke her pipe in court. She further became the inspiration of Lacey Davenport of 'Doonesbury.'"

DelGiudice spoke of some famous women from the Morristown area, such as Elizabeth Seton.

"There was also Elizabeth Seton who founded Sisters of Charity and had this dream of the first women's college," said DelGiudice.

"She was also the first native-born American to be canonized as a saint. The Catholic Church has over 10,000 saints and two are from my hometown. How's that possible?!"

As part of his lecture, DelGiudice discussed one particular historic woman; his maternal grandmother Louise D. Rocco. Rocco was a witness to the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City, which killed 146 garment workers. These victims were trapped inside their workplace due to a then-common practice of locking the stairwells and exits (to prevent workers from taking unauthorized breaks and reduce theft), and they died from smoke inhalation or jumping out of the windows to their deaths.

"Historically, she is not important, but she is important to me," said DelGiudice. “Louise was agoraphobic. She didn’t learn English or go out, so her family brought work to her. She worked in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York. This fire killed many women, but it brought about change in the work field. After the fire, Louise begged her father to leave New York City and eventually they moved to Morristown. So I have to thank her for where I live now.”

The factory fire inspired a movement, which led to legislation requiring improved factory safety standards and helped spur the growth of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union (ILGWU), which fought for better working conditions for sweatshop workers.

 

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