Women’s History Month Spotlight: Celebrating Cranfordian Women


Abby Nam and Sophia Edwards

March is Women’s History Month, honoring women’s contributions in American society from their struggle for suffrage to their fight for feminism. To commemorate this month, we decided to highlight a few, perhaps lesser-known, Cranfordian women of the past who have profoundly impacted our community and nation at large. 


Alice Lakey (1857-1935)

While not a native Cranfordian, Alice Lakey nonetheless was instrumental in the push for landmark Progressive legislation at the local, state and federal levels. She moved to Cranford in 1896, having become too ill to pursue a career in opera abroad. When her health had improved, she became a singing teacher. However, her stepmother’s death later that year pushed her to assume responsibility as the head of the household, and she shifted her focus to food science and public health, largely due to her father being a notoriously picky eater. 

Not too long later, Lakey became the president of the Cranford Village Improvement Association (VIA), supporting local initiatives like the town’s first fire department and grade school. 

But Lakey didn’t stop there she enthusiastically supported calls for what would become the Pure Food and Drug Act, convincing both her own association and the New Jersey State Federation of Women’s Clubs to lobby Congress for federal legislation. She became the head of the National Consumers League’s Pure Food Committee, investigating the conditions of workers in notoriously unsanitary industrial meatpacking plants. 

In 1905, Lakey and five other food safety advocates met with President Theodore Roosevelt, who requested they present signed letters in support of the act to Congress. With her help, over one million women wrote letters to Congress, and Roosevelt signed the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, creating the FDA to regulate food safety and sanitation standards to this day.


Elizabeth Bates (1879-1980)

Even as a little girl, Elizabeth Bates was passionate about community service, often walking to her local cemetery to trim the weeds around Revolutionary War soldiers’ graves. In 1890, she moved to Cranford, where she was further pushed into the suffrage movement by her Progressive husband and mother-in-law, Fannie Bates. 

While she was working the polls on Election Day, Bates saw a drunken man attempting to vote and immediately felt that she, a sober woman, could do better than him. This moment, coupled with her visit to her sister in Illinois, where women could vote, catalyzed her commitment to suffrage, and she soon became the representative of the Equal Franchise League in Cranford. 

Due to her and the efforts of other suffragettes nationwide, the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920. Two years later, she became one of the first women to be summoned to serve on the Union County Grand Jury. 

While most notable for her evangelical support of the suffrage movement, Bates also broke the gender barrier by being elected to the Cranford Board of Education. Like Alice Lakey, she was a president of the local VIA. Not only that, but during both World Wars, Bates volunteered with the Red Cross, serving a total of fifty years. 

Her civic dedication was not hampered by her age — she was an avid bird watcher, Dramatic Club Member, and devout church elder up until her death at the age of 101. Bates’ advocacy and exhaustive career still stands as a testament to the impressive contributions of women throughout American history. 


Honore Willsie-Morrow (1880-1940) 

Despite her short time as a Cranfordian, Honore Willsie-Morrow deserves recognition for defying gender norms in the 1800 and 1900s. Born February 19, 1880, in Ottumwa, Iowa as Honore McCue, she grew up as a woman unlike most in the 19th century. Willsie-Morrow sought out higher education after high school at the University of Wisconsin where she received a bachelor’s degree in history. As an aspiring writer, she moved east to focus on her career as a historical fiction author regardless of the challenges that came with this ambition. During her time in Cranford, Willsie-Morrow continued her career as an author while serving as magazine editor for The Delineator. Although she eventually moved out of Cranford, she returned in 1914 and 1917 to speak at local organizations such as the Women’s Progress Club. The life of Willsie-Morrow exemplifies that women could have successful careers and social power even during a time that was trying to force them into the roles of wife and mother. 


Dr. Deborah Cannon Wolfe (1916-2004) 

Born on December 22, 1916 as Olive Deborah Juanita Cannon, Deborah Cannon Partridge Wolfe grew up in Cranford and graduated from Cranford High School. During her time as a student at Jersey State college, Partridge taught a night school for adults at Cranford’s Lincoln School. Throughout her life, Partridge worked to reform education which stemmed from her experience teaching the children of migrant workers in Maryland for two summers. Later on in her life, she became the Chief of Education for Congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr.’s Education and Labor Committee before becoming the first African-American woman to be ordained as a Baptist minister. Additionally, Partridge served as chair on the New Jersey Board of Higher Education and was part of the Executive Committee of the United Nations Committee of Non-Governmental Representatives. Partridge’s accomplishments are apparent in the twenty-six honorary doctorates she received by the time of her death on September 3, 2004. 

Speaking of local organizations and activists, if you are interested in gender equity and current issues regarding women’s rights and feminism, come join CHS’ Gender Equity Advocates!