Posts Tagged ‘Millicent Fenwick’

Happy Birthday, Millicent

56cf67328a0fe.imageA few hours ago, Millicent Fenwick’s hometown newspaper, The Bernardsville News, posted a photo of the Millicent Fenwick statue at the train startion in the heart of town entitled “Millicent Dressed for the Weather.” It was accompanied by this caption:

“We are glad to see someone is watching over our beloved former Congresswoman Millicent Fenwick whose statue graces the sidewalk near the Bernardsville Train Station. The scarf no doubt is just the ticket in this blustery, late winter weather. But the shoe? Beats us.”

IMG_8952What the newspaper probably didn’t realize is that today would have been Millicent Fenwick’s 106th birthday. Clearly someone with a sense of humor remembered the significance of February 25th. Why the shoes? Because Garry Trudeau famously depicted Lacey Davenport in a Doonsebury election year cartoon that read “Davenport: As indispensable as sensible shoes.” On the bottom it said “Paid for by her chums.” This Trudeau original hung proudly in Millicent Fenwick’s bathroom.

Although she passed away in 1992, she is not forgotten. Happy Birthday, Millicent!

 

 

 

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The Lusitania – Fenwick Connection

Millicent and her mother

Millicent and her mother

To historians and trivia lovers May 7, 1915 is the day a German U-Boat torpedoed the Lusitania, a British luxury liner. To Millicent Fenwick it was the day she lost her mother. Mary Hammond was among the nearly 1,200 passengers and crew killed, including 128 Americans. While the sinking of the Lusitania had worldwide reverberations it altered the life of 5-year-old Millicent. To learn more, come join me this Saturday, June 20, 2015 at the Parsippany Library at 10 a.m. or the Warren Library at 2 p.m. to hear me speak about the “Lusitania: 100th Anniversary & its ties to a famous New Jersey Congresswoman”

If you plan to attend, please register as space is limited.
 
 
 
Saturday, June 20, 2015 – 10 AM
Parsippany Library
449 Halsey Rd,
Parsippany, NJ 07054
(973) 887-5150
Registration Recommended
http://www.libraryinsight.net/eventdetails.asp?jx=j3p&lmx=459811&v=3

 
 

Saturday, June 20, 2015 – 2 PM

Warren Township Library
42 Mountain Blvd.
Warren, NJ 07059
Phone: (908) 754-5554.
Registration Required (call or cut and paste this link to register)
http://somerset.evanced.info/signup/EventDetails.aspx?EventId=22301&libhttp://somerset.evanced.info/signup/EventDetails.aspx?EventId=22301&lib=1007=1007

Remembering the Lusitania: A Century Later

Remembering the Lusitania

Remembering the Lusitania

May 7, 2015: A good story never gets old, even a century later. It was 100 years ago today that the RMS Lusitania sailed on its final voyage with more than 1,900 passengers on board. The British luxury liner departed New York City’s Pier 54 on Saturday, May 1, 1915. Throngs of well-wishers lined the pier to watch this floating palace embark on its 101st round-trip Trans-Atlantic passage. Passengers were on edge as the crossing was being made during wartime. World War I was well underway and Germany’s submarine fleet was becoming more brazen where its targets were concerned.

The first six days of the Lusitania’s journey were pleasant and uneventful. But all that changed on the seventh day. The passengers on board included Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, the heir to the Vanderbilt fortune; Charles Frohman, acclaimed Broadway Manager and Producer; and Mary Picton Stevens and her husband, Ogden Haggerty Hammond, a state legislator and businessman.

On Friday, May 7, the Hammond’s were enjoying afternoon tea in the first class lounge. The morning fog had lifted and the sun was shining as the ship approached the Irish coast eleven miles away. All seemed mundane until they felt a strong vibration. Ogden went on deck, inquired about what happened, and was told everything was fine. However, the passengers on the other side knew better. For they saw a white streak barreling through the water. Everyone’s greatest fear was now realized in an instant.

The Lusitania had been targeted, and torpedoed, by the Germans. At first all was calm before folks realized what had happened and clamored for lifeboats and life vests. Ogden wanted to return to his cabin and get life vests, but Mary was adamantly opposed to the idea. Instead they went to the stern side of the ship and climbed into a lifeboat. They thought they had been spared, but they were not. As the boat was lowered, one of the crewmen lost his grip. Ogden grabbed for the rope to help ease the plunge, but to no avail. His hands were torn in shreds and the boat, and passengers, were tumbled into the frigid waters.

“I went down and down, with thirty people on top of me,” recalled Ogden. “I thought I never could come back and must have been partly unconscious, for I can only remember getting almost to the surface, sinking back again, and doing this three or four times. Then I was hauled in some boat, but no one else from the boat that fell was ever seen again.”

His beloved Mary was among the nearly 1,200 passengers to perish including 128 Americans. The irony is that it was Mary who was insistent on making the voyage on the Lusitania despite warnings from the German Ambassador and pleas from her husband not to leave. But Mary was determined to cross the ocean to help victims of WWI. Her devoted husband would not let her make the journey alone so he joined her leaving their three young children home – Mary, 7-years-old, Millicent, 5-years-old, and Ogden, Jr., 3-years-old.

The Stevens, like the Vanderbilts, were another wealthy family. On the day the Lusitania set sail, Mary Picton Stevens signed a will worth more than a million dollars. In the will she created trusts for her three young children. Little did she know she would never see her husband or her children again. Nor would she see her middle child, Millicent, be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.

With many great tragedies, there are many good reads. One of the earlier books was published was in 1956 by Adolph and Mary Hoehling entitled, The Last Voyage of the Lusitania. Next on my reading list was The Lusitania written by Colin Simpson in 1972. And three decades later was Lusitania: Epic Tragedy by Diana Preston. The latter was so well done and well-researched that I thought it would be the last of the Lusitania books. But earlier this year, best-selling author Erik Larson came out with Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania. Like his predecessors, he has written another captivating account of the tragedy. However, if you are interested in learning more about Ogden Hammond’s experience and survival Millicent Fenwick: Her Way is still the only book that provides his gripping account leading up to the voyage, the trip itself, and the aftermath.

For those of you who would like to hear more about Ogden’s heart-wrenching story, I will be speaking in New Jersey on Saturday, June 20, 2015. Hope to see you there!

Lusitania: 100th Anniversary & its ties to a famous NJ Congresswoman

Saturday, June 20 – 10 a.m.

Parsippany Library

449 Halsey Road

Parsippany, NJ

Saturday, June 20 – 2 p.m.

Warren Library

42 Mountain Blvd.

Warren, NJ

The Honorable Marge Roukema

imagesAnother day, another passing. Today New Jersey lost former Congresswoman Marge Roukema who was 85 years-old. She was a Republican elected in 1980; the same year Ronald Reagan won the presidency. Her first term in office would be Millicent Fenwick’s last term in Congress, but neither women knew that at the time.

As a freshman, Roukema sought Fenwick’s sage advice. Back then Fenwick was known for the uncanny amount of time she spent on the House floor. What most didn’t realize was that her time was more calculated than her peers gave her credit for. That became clear to me when I interviewed Roukema. She relayed how Fenwick told her “You need to sit on the floor to get to know your colleagues. Get to know them, not only in committee, but on the floor when debates are going on. It is then you can learn to judge whose opinions you can trust, and whose opinions you must be skeptical of. Be able to evaluate them.”

“That was wonderful advice,” said Roukema. “The first year or so I spent a lot of time on the floor listening to debates . . . and got a sense of things. Not only the issues but a sense of the evaluation of the people that were presenting things and who was being superficial and political and who was being substantive and incisive. It was excellent advice. Of course, she [Fenwick] was always there. Third row on the aisle.”[i]

What I did not know until today was that Roukema was the longest serving woman in the House of Representatives, serving eleven terms from 1981 – 2003. Since 2003 New Jersey has not sent a woman to Congress, but all that has just changed. Last week, Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman, a Democrat, was elected to the House. When she takes office in January she will be the first woman elected to Congress from New Jersey since Roukema retired more than a decade ago. It’s about time.

[i] Amy Schapiro, Millicent Fenwick: Her Way (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2003), 153.

This Day in History

Millicent Fenwick CoverSeptember 16, 2014: It is hard to believe, but 22 years ago today Millicent Fenwick quietly passed away in her sleep at her Bernardsville home. I guess the old adage that time flies is true as it doesn’t seem like it’s been more than two decades since she left us.

Sept. 16

Millicent Fenwick CoverIt is 21 years ago today that Millicent Fenwick passed away and 10 years since Millicent Fenwick: Her Way was first published. I cannot believe either milestone. The other thing that always surprises me is that despite the passing of time, Fenwick still makes headlines every election season, at least in New Jersey. We’ll see if the same holds true this year with the gubernatorial race and Frank Lautenberg’s open Senate seat. Ironically, it was Lautenberg’s death this past June that once again revived Millicent Fenwick in print as it was Fenwick that Lautenberg defeated to win his first Senate campaign 31 years ago.  Today we remember the feisty pipe-smoking grandmother and can only imagine what she would do if she was in Congress today.

Remembering Frank Launtenberg

473px-Frank_Lautenberg,_official_portrait,_112th_portrait

Sen. Frank Lautenberg
1924 – 2013

My first memory of Frank Lautenberg dates back to high school. Mrs. Forsman’s senior honors history class went to Washington and we were going to meet with Senator Frank Lautenberg, our state senator. Around the same time, legislation passed in the wee hours of the night. An amendment tacked on to a bill sold Linden Airport for $1. My father, Jack Elliott, an aviation columnist was livid about the deal. Ironically, my father and Frank Lautenberg were born on the same day, same year – January 23, 1924 – in New Jersey. Despite this irony, my father was not a fan and he challenged me to ask Senator Lautenberg about the Linden Airport deal when I went to Washington. The exact details have faded from my memory, but at the time they were as clear as day. The bigger challenge was not remembering the facts, but gaining enough courage to ask a question. I was extremely shy.

My high school class arrived at Senator Lautenberg’s office and I got my first lesson on how Washington works. We didn’t meet with Senator Lautenberg; we met with a very young staffer. I was disappointed about not meeting the Senator, but it was much easier to ask the big question to someone not much older than me. And so I did what I didn’t even do in class, I raised my hand. I was called upon and asked the question. The staffer had not a clue about what I was talking about and  bumbled his way through an answer.

Fast forward, years later when I was writing my biography of Millicent Fenwick and Frank Lautenberg was still a senator.  He was first elected in 1982. It was his first campaign and his challenger was the popular grandmother in congress, Millicent Fenwick. The pair couldn’t have been more different. Both were wealthy, but Fenwick was frugal and Lautenberg wasn’t. He was willing to spend his personal war chest to defeat her and he did.

One of his arguments against Fenwick was her age. She was 72 and he was 58. Lautenberg said she would be too old to have staying power in the Senate, yet he proved his own theory wrong. Lautenberg served in the Senate for nearly thirty years, but not consecutively. In 2001, he retired, but it didn’t last long. In New Jersey scandal always rears it’s ugly head. It did so in 1982, creating a vacancy when Senator Harrison Williams resigned due to the Abscam scandal. He was convicted of bribery and conspiracy paving the way for Lautenberg’s first victory. In 2003, it was Senator Torricelli who got caught up in scandal, this time it related to illegal campaign contributions. Last minute, Torricelli pulled out of the Senate race and Lautenberg was recruited by the Democratic Party to run in Torricelli’s place. Lautenberg did and he won.

During his long career as a public servant, Lautenberg was an advocate for gun safety, transportation, public health and environmental issues. Despite his health, Lautenberg made it to the Senate floor in April to vote in favor of tougher gun control laws, and, specifically stricter background checks. The measure failed, but his vote was counted.

Although Lautenberg died today, June 3, attention isn’t being focused on his long career and many accomplishments, but rather the politics of his vacant seat and the balance of power in the Senate. Lautenberg was a Democrat, and Republican NJ Governor Chris Christie gets to appoint an interim successor. Speculation is already going viral on what Christie should do.

Regardless of who replaces Lautenberg, chances are they will not be a World War II vet. Lautenberg was the last remaining WWII veteran serving in the Senate. Like Lautenberg, my father is also a WWII veteran. Unlike, Lautenberg, my father is still with us.