Fenwick Sponsored State Law Prohibiting Sex-Based Discrimination, Was Called “Conscience of Congress” by Walter Cronkite
In celebration of Women’s History Month, Senator Jennifer Beck (R-Monmouth) introduced and the Senate approved a resolution (SR-112) honoring the life and work of the late Millicent Fenwick, a Republican woman who fought for women’s pay equity and civil rights in both the New Jersey Legislature and the United States Congress.
Sen. Jennifer Beck honored the late Millicent Fenwick for her work advancing women’s equality during the Senate session on March 13. The board behind Beck contains news articles from 1970 on the law sponsored by Fenwick prohibiting gender-based wage discrimination in New Jersey. (SenateNJ.com)
“Millicent Fenwick was a life-long fighter for civil rights, not just for women, but for anyone who was not being treated equally under the law,” said Beck. “As a freshman Assemblywoman, Millicent Fenwick’s first piece of legislation outlawed wage discrimination. Today, women across the nation owe her a debt of gratitude for leading this civil rights fight. As a result of her efforts, New Jersey now has one of the most rigorous, progressive and aggressive wage discrimination statutes in the nation.”
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Fenwick was one of just two women serving in the New Jersey Legislature, both Republicans, when she entered the General Assembly in 1970. The first bill she sponsored, A-403 of the 1970-71 legislative session, outlawed gender-based wage discrimination by adding “sex” as a protected status to New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD). That bill quickly passed the Legislature and was signed into law by Governor William T. Cahill (R) on June 2, 1970 (P.L. 1970, c. 80).
Following that enactment of that legislation, an article published by The Record on June 3, 1970 noted that “women would have to be paid on jobs at same rate as men for comparable duties and experience.”
Click here to view news clippings about A-403 from 1970.
“The work of Millicent Fenwick nearly 50 years ago ensured that women in New Jersey have the right to equal pay under state law,” said Beck.
Fenwick, a longtime resident of Bernardsville in Somerset County, began her career in politics in the 1930’s to help counter the rise and ideology of Adolf Hitler. She joined the National Conference of Christians and Jews, and spoke publicly against anti-Semitism.
In 1946, she joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and served for more than a decade on the New Jersey committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. She was a champion for the Equal Rights Amendment, and helped create the 1975 Helsinki Agreement on Human Rights, and the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, which monitors compliance with the agreement.
She served on the Bernardsville Board of Education, chaired the Somerset County Legal Aid Society and served on the Bernardsville Borough Council.
Following two terms in the General Assembly (1970-1973), she served as the State’s first director of the Division of Consumer Affairs.
She was elected to four terms in the United States House of Representatives, serving from 1975 to 1983. CBS Evening News Anchor Walter Cronkite dubbed Fenwick the “Conscience of Congress” for her independence and integrity.
After leaving the House of Representatives, she was appointed by President Ronald Reagan to serve as the nation’s ambassador to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. She retired in 1987, returing to Bernardsville where she lived until her death in 1992.
“Our state’s designation of March as Women’s History Month provides us the opportunity to recognize the accomplishments of women who have made a difference in the history of both the United States and New Jersey,” added Beck. “Millicent Fenwick’s many contributions deserve to be honored and remembered as part of this celebration.”
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