HISTORY OF THE BERGEN COUNTY WOMEN’S REPUBLICAN CLUB
On January 22, 1923 a group of Bergen County women met in the Hackensack home of Edna B. Conklin (1924 Alternate Delegate to the Republican National Convention; Convention Delegate in 1928, 1936, 1940, 1944, 1948; Bergen County Republican State Committeewoman from 1928-1950; New Jersey Republican National Committeewoman from New Jersey 1932-1940) to launch an undertaking whose impact could not then be calculated. This was the beginning of the Bergen County Women’s Republican Club, a group of less than a dozen civic-minded women conscious of the new responsibilities and opportunities presented by the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution.
The first president of the Club was Ridgewood resident Pamela Francisco who served for only one year. Pamela also served as a New Jersey Assemblywoman for a year in 1927. In 1924, Edna Conklin took over the reins of the Club. It would begin a career of service to the Republican Party that would etch Edna’s name permanently into the history of Bergen County and the cause of women in politics. Edna had firmly established the tradition of equality in political and governmental service for women that is now a hallmark of the Bergen County Republican Organization.
The continuation of this tradition has only been possible because of the high quality of leadership that has always been the fortune of the BCWRC. Lillian Mathis, Edna Conklin’s immediate successor, was an Assemblywoman from 1942 to 1947. Eleanore Robertson of Englewood, also State Committeewoman, wrote her own personal chapter in the Club’s history during her six years as president. Similar accolades are deserved by the next two women who succeeded to that office, Louise Necker of Norwood (1958-1961) and Eleanore Nissley of Ridgewood (1961-1966). In 1963, under Eleanore Nissley’s leadership, the Club conducted a membership drive that proved so successful it won national recognition. Eleanore served as State Committeewoman and on the Board of Governors of the New Jersey Federation of Republican Women. She also had the distinction of serving as Vice Chair of the Republican State Committee for New Jersey. Sadly, Eleanore passed away last August on the last night of the Republican National Convention.
Following Eleanore Nissley in 1966 was Eleanor Dendy of Tenafly who continued to keep members informed on political and governmental happenings in the county, state and nation. Eleanor Daly of Leonia took on the presidency in 1970 and those years became known as “the years of the three Eleanors” who led Republican women in Bergen County. Eleanor Daly made sure that information from the municipal level was channeled to party leaders and officials of high echelons.
In 1974, and for the next six years, Anna Torriello of Hackensack stepped in as president. Anna was in charge of the Election Division for Bergen County and did a great deal to influence Club members to run for elective office. She also presented to the County Chairman the Club’s wishes to see more women as delegates to the National Convention. Mary Courtney of Edgewater was president for the following six years and continued to make the club a vital link in the chain of unified Republican organizations. During her tenure, Mary was appointed Superintendent of Elections for Bergen County. Under Mary’s leadership, the club supported all Republican candidates through monetary contributions which were made possible by the fundraising efforts of members who participated in the three major events of the year.
In 1986, Lillian Lagos of Glen Rock was installed as next president of the Club. She would serve four years until 1989. During her term, the Club prospered and became a vital link for all Republican women of Bergen County to be acknowledged as leaders in the county, state and nation. The reins were then passed on to Adrienne Kent of Mahwah who served from 1990 through 1991. Like many of her predecessors, Adrienne moved up through the ranks of the Executive Board and continued the primary objectives of promoting women in politics.
First Vice President Lynn Schwab of Rochelle Park ascended to the presidency after Adrienne’s untimely death. Elected in 1992, Lynn continued in the footsteps of all past presidents by expanding efforts to involve more women in all phases of government. She took the Club to new heights by getting more members to participate in fundraising events and bringing the Fashion Show to new dimensions. Our fourteenth president, Beatrice Peek of Ridgefield, continued the involvement of women in the political process. During her tenure the meetings were changed to the evening which proved very successful and increased membership among professional women, and the bylaws were revised.
Paramus’ Elaine Kosco who was the Club’s fifteenth president from 1996 to 1998 began the tradition of giving monetary contributions to women running for municipal office at the Candidates Showcase event. Until that time, only women running for county, state or federal office received donations from the Club. Elaine was instrumental in the 75th Anniversary Celebration of the Club in 1998. She was also influential in bringing Trenton to Bergen County by having Governor Christie Todd Whitman speak at Club’s 1997 annual luncheon. The Club’s bylaws were revised in 1996, and in 1997, Club members logged more than 10,000 volunteer hours on various campaigns.
Dot Romaine’s years of presidency (1998 and 1999) saw Dot successfully secure Julie Nixon Eisenhower to speak at the 2000 annual luncheon where over 300 attendees were present. Dot, who hails from Emerson, worked vigorously to make connections around the state on behalf of the Club. These connections benefited the Club in many ways, from meeting programs to luncheon speakers for many years to come, including the 2011 and 2012 luncheons where New Jersey Network Senior Political Reporter Michael Aron was the speaker, and in 2013 when New Jersey political pundit Nicholas Accocella spoke.
During Oakland native Betty Gallinghouse’s tenure as president (2000 and 2001), members attended the NJFRW’s annual legislative day in Trenton and met with State Senate President Donald DiFrancesco. Long-time Bergen County Freeholder Barbara H. Chadwick was honored for her service on the Freeholder Board, and Dot Romaine of Emerson was honored as the NJFRW’s Woman of the Year. Former Bergen County Superior Court Judge Andrew Napolitano spoke at the annual luncheon.
Eighteenth Club president Lucy Gorant of Norwood (2002 and 2003), who Lucy also served as a councilwoman in Norwood, legislative aide, freeholder aide and Vice Chairwoman of the Republican Part, started a still-standing BCWRC tradition known as the Woman of the Year Award. The purpose of the award was to annually recognize a Republican woman in Bergen County for her service to the party. In 2002, the first recipients of the award were Mary Larkin and Margaret Frontera. After Lucy’s death, the award was renamed the Lucy Gorant Republican Woman of the Year Award.
Margaret Frontera of New Milford, the Club’s nineteenth president (2004 and 2005), instituted the purchasing of strategically placed billboard locations for the county candidates in 2004 and 2005. National women’s issues Republican pollster Kellyanne Fitzpatrick Conway was an annual luncheon speaker. At the annual holiday party, over 15 cases of items collected for our troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan were delivered to the Salvation Army for shipment.
Elise Wrede of Little Ferry, the Club’s twentieth President (2006 and 2007), continued with the purchasing of the billboards for the candidates in 2006. Program presenters at meetings included the CNN and FOX News legal commentator Paul Callan of Ridgewood. The annual luncheon speaker was State Senator Jennifer Beck of Monmouth County.
Joan Kuusela of Teaneck (2008 and 2009) saw the Club’s newsletter revamped and revitalized. Programs at meetings were ramped up to appeal to the member base and to interest prospective members. Eve Hershkowitz of Upper Saddle River was the 2009 Lucy Gorant Republican Woman of the Year Award recipient at the annual luncheon, and future New Jersey Governor Chris Christie spoke at that luncheon held at the Fiesta.
Geri Mola of Elmwood Park, the Club’s twenty-second president (2010 and 2011), primarily focused on building membership and meeting attendance by hosting very interesting programs on timely topics, involving many new people in chairmanships, and endeavoring to fulfill the roles of municipal vice-chairs so each town would have a Club member for targeted outreach. Geri reached out to the world-at-large by endorsing and ensuring that a Club web site was developed. The guest speaker at the Candidates Showcase was Assemblyman Jon Bramnick, an amateur stand-up comedian. The Club’s first comedy night was held at the Royal Manor in Garfield. As a result of fund-raising efforts, Republican candidates received healthy campaign contributions during Geri’s term.
Angela Hendricks of Hackensack term (2012-2013), brought new bylaws, and a very successful first Night at the Races at the Meadowlands Racetrack, and the 90th anniversary celebration, where former Governor Christie Whitman was guest speaker. Club members worked very hard in 2013 to re-elect Governor Chris Christie, elect a Republican majority in the legislature, and the county and municipal levels.
This Club is particularly proud of their many colleagues who have risen from the ranks of the Club to fill high governmental and party offices. Pamela Francisco, our first president, had the distinction of being elected as the first woman to represent Bergen County in the New Jersey Legislature. Other women who followed her into the Legislature include Emma Peters, Mary P. Shelton, Mary Mac G. Smith, Lillian Mathis, Wilma Marggraff, Clara K. Bivona, Marion West Higgins (who was also the first woman Acting Governor), Joan Wright, Elizabeth Randall, Kathleen A. Donovan, Charlotte Vandervalk, Rose Marie Heck, Holly Schepisi and Senator Kristin Corrado.
After a splendid career in Trenton, Wilma Margraff of Oradell enjoyed the added distinction of being elected the first woman Freeholder in Bergen County. She was then chosen by her as the first female Director of a Freeholder Board in New Jersey. Bernice “Bunny” Alexander was a former president of the Women’s National Republican Club, as well as a Bergen County Freeholder. Freeholders June Clark, Joan Steinacker, Charlotte Vandervalk and Barbara Chadwick (was also the first woman Mayor of Rutherford) also served Bergen County with distinction. Maura DeNicola, the former Mayor of Franklin Lakes, was elected to the Freeholder Board in 2009 and is currently standing for re-election this year.
In 1980, Marge Roukema of Ridgewood became the first woman elected to the House of Representatives from the Fifth Congressional District. Marge proudly served the people of Bergen and Passaic in Washington DC for over two decades, retiring in 2002.
In 2010, Bergen County and this Club were honored to see another glass ceiling broken with the election of Kathleen A. Donovan as the first woman County Executive. Kathe was not only the first in Bergen County, but the first in all of New Jersey.
All of these women have brought honor to the Club, as well as to Bergen County. They are all shining examples of the type of effective woman officials whose avid interest in government found expression through membership in the Bergen County Women’s Republican Club. These are but some of the women who have left their marks on the past or who are furthering the future of the Club. To them and to the unnamed hundreds of women without whom this record of service could not have been compiled, this page is dedicated.