A Dialogue About History: Feminism

Student Question

Can you recall if and how any Lambertville artists reacted or responded to the second-wave feminist movement that started in the 1960’s and dealt with cultural equality issues? If not, how did Lambertville residents, in general, respond to that period of feminist activity?

Residents’ Answers

  • I was in the military in that period. There wasn’t a whole lot of equality issues.
  • I am responding to this question as a woman who has been a member of many service, civic, patriotic and lineage societies created by and maintained by women. Based upon my years of observation, I have drawn the conclusion that oft times those who are in the throes of great enthusiasm for their cause do tend to spend a bit of time choosing not to see the forest for the trees. I was married, living and pursuing my career in and from Lambertville by 1971. I started teaching in 1972 in a kindergarten to 8th grade rural school district where I had grown up. The faculty had a male superintendent and a male principal; after that women literally and figuratively dominated that educational institution including regular, numbered service on the Board of Education. I learned “boots on the ground” how women wielded power through action, statecraft and the elegance of manners. I have been retired since 2005 and can still recall the lessons I learned from those women who served in the NJEA at the local, state and national. I learned how to read people and power and how to negotiate for myself and others. The parallel I draw is that when my husband and I moved to Lambertville it was truly a significant blue collar community that had been devastated by the closings of the mills and their migration south and later the draw of the mega malls. You could see how the stores in the town where struggling and how families that were once proud to be part of the business community felt abandoned. Women owned stores at that time as Hoffman Millinery and Yeske’s a children’s store and were partners in other stores with their spouses as the People’s Store. People had to leave Lambertville to find work. The block where we first moved was a study in the economics of an earlier age. The moms stayed at home, but, were they ever engaged in businesses. Childcare, take in laundry and expert pressing. Women who traveled and worked for the state would have their clothes tailored, hand laundered and pressed and on hangers at these home industries. The new fancy name for this phenomenon is “bounce around dollars” and much studied when trying to develop industries in Third World countries. The point is feminist activity was not new; it was what was. Women wanted and insured that they have their own money and created their own mechanisms to reach that end. The reality of many of the men being part of the trade union meant seasonal or work based on a project that was of not long term duration. These home industries were critical to survival. Feminism still strikes me as “Ivory Tower” whereas a real woman walks where she may as she has earned that right through thought, word, deed and action. I lovingly refer to these women who taught me how to be who I am, collectively as my “mothers”. I aspire to become like them as I have watched them age gracefully all the while being their own personal “forces of nature”. Feminism for me shall always be first, foremost and forever the glory of being a daughter, a maiden, a lady, a woman, a mother, and in the end a Grand Dame. Keep earning your place in the world as you have a right to it.
  • I got married in Lambertville in 1971 at the end of my junior year in college. I had spent the late 60’s through the 70’s being immersed in a culture that was exposed to the media and how it covered the Feminist Movement and its colorful and vocal leading women. When I moved to Lambertville it seemed to have such a natural flow of life that included strong women. Alice Narducci was the founder and president of the Lambertville Historical Society. She had been a strong leader in all things civic and service in the community for many years and was an equal to the men. Alice was a household word. Also, in this early period, my husband and I joined the historical society in 1971 as a first act as a couple who understand that part of their marriage would include volunteer and service. Among the women in the historical society were two women of renown: Emily Abbott Nordfeldt and Henrietta Van Syckle. They had already published the history of West Amwell and were working on a book on the Lambert family of the Amwells for the upcoming Bicentennial in 1976 for the benefit of the historical society. The society’s president was a woman, the recording secretary was a woman and the members were women or couples in the main. The Kalmia Club’s history since 1897 is well established in the twin river communities as a women’s club and part of the New Jersey State Federation. Another club that was established in Lambertville and is alive and well today is the Delaware Valley Music Club founded in 1920 and has an unbroken chain of women presidents until today. Many of the early officers, seven in total, were also Kalmia Club presidents with the clubhouse on York Street hosting many music club musicales and recitals. A leading gallery, The Coryell Gallery, was owned by Janet Hunt and a leading framer and gallery owner was owned by Hrefna Jonsdottir and the second framer was a couple. The landscape was quite peopled by women who did, had done and were going to continue to do. What I do vividly recall is that single women, divorced women and widows could live in Lambertville and pursue their careers and be independent and productive. Women were among the artists who exhibited their works. My favorite memory is when Emily Abbott Nordfeldt who had a long and distinguished career as an artist was concerned people had forgotten her and her work so she mounted a one woman show at the Coryell Gallery when she was 84 years old, confined to a wheelchair yet could still manage to drive. The show was a major event with a “sellout” crowd! The topic of feminism was not really discussed either as an abstraction or a call to arms. Stepford Wives and all the other catchy topics, I have not a clue. What was a concern and was openly discussed was spousal abuse. Another area was the chronic problem of women who finished their childbearing responsibilities and were unprepared to enter the labor force. That lacking of sufficient and appropriate job skills is still being addressed even today.
  • You and I are seeing the results of those issues and each of us must judge how and what effects they play out in our generation.
  • Whether or not it has been a result of feminist activity, the ordinary people of Lambertville have more respect now than they did thirty or forty years ago for the idea of educating girls.
  • They went over to New Hope and observed it firsthand.

Student Response

After reading through local Lambertvillians’ tellings of our feminist history, I realized how proud I am to have grown up in and currently live in Lambertville. What I learned about Lambertville did not surprise me, but rather created that warm fuzzy feeling inside of me. Lambertville has always been a hipster, artsy, forward-thinking river town, where everyone supports one another and their creativity and passions. One Lambertvillian said, “Lambertville…seemed to have such a natural flow of life that included strong women”. Although I am only eighteen years old, I feel as though I know the old Lambertville because its history is kept alive and continues to be written.

“Women were among the artists who exhibited their works…Emily Abbot Nordfeldt who had a long and distinguished career as an artist was concerned people had forgotten her and her work so she mounted a one woman show…confined to a wheel chair…The show was a major event with a “sellout” crowd”. This story in itself is motivation to any young female artist. A woman from 40 plus years ago, a time where women’s rights were shaky, had a successful, fulfilling, and supportive career, doing what she loved the most. That just goes to show how open-minded Lambertville was (and still is).

Another quote that stood out to me was, “Keep earning your place in the world as you have a right to it”. This has great significance to me because it is something I am going to take with me through my future endeavors. As an aspiring female filmmaker, I know I am walking down a difficult path, but it is words like these that make me look at the positive side and remember that I can do this.

If one thing has not changed about Lambertville, it is that female role models still exist. I hope to become one of them and continue to help put Lambertville on the map in a global context.