Campus & Community

A Long Line of Leaders: Women of the Stevens Founding Family

Millicent Fenwick, daughter of Mary Stevens Hammond, served four terms in the House of Representatives. Fenwick was a fierce champion of the civil rights and women's movements.

Stevens Institute of Technology has always been a pioneer when it comes to women. In 1942, women were admitted into the War Industries Training School at Stevens, a federal program which provided accelerated education for those entering the fields of science and engineering, and also began admitting women to its graduate program. Since those early years, more than 7,000 women have since shaped life on Castle Point and contributed significantly to the growth and accomplishment of the University.

Perhaps the reason the Stevens community has been a pioneer for women’s education and leadership is because it is almost genetically ingrained in the University’s DNA. Here is a look at the impressive legacies and fascinating histories of some of the women of the founding Stevens family.

Martha Bayard Stevens

Martha Bayard Stevens, the second wife of the University’s founder, Edwin Stevens, was influential in building Stevens into the renowned national research university that it is today. When Edwin provided for the establishment of Stevens in his will, it was Martha – one of three executors of his estate – who insisted that the University be geared toward science and engineering.

Martha also made significant contributions to the community before her husband’s death. She provided funding for the establishment of the Hoboken library and organized and endowed the Industrial Education Association, which taught young women in Hoboken life skills like home economics and savings. Martha also founded the Martha Institute for training boys in industrial skills and was instrumental in the founding of Church Square Park, Hudson Square Park and Elysian Park.

Mary Picton Stevens

Edwin’s daughter from his first marriage, Mary Picton Stevens had the ear of President Abraham Lincoln. She was married to Muscoe Russell Hunter Garnett, a confederate politician, and they lived in Virginia with their two children. Following Muscoe’s death, Edwin sent a search party to bring Mary back to Castle Point. It was only a signed note written by Abraham Lincoln that allowed her to pass safely through Union lines and back home. 

Mary Stevens Hammond

While most of the women of the Stevens family were charitable, Mary Stevens Hammond, the granddaughter of Edwin, took philanthropy to a whole new level. In 1915, as Europe was entrenched in the Great War, Mary wanted to do her part.

In order to help the wounded, Mary decided to aid the Red Cross in building a hospital in Paris. But before leaving for France, Mary’s Aunt Elsie, a friend of Count Johann von Bernstoff, the German Ambassador to the United States, was warned by the Count that none of her acquaintances should sail on the very liner Mary had booked.

Before her departure, Mary’s husband and his brother pleaded with her to stay home, but Mary would not be dissuaded from her mission. The following day, Mary and her husband, Ogden Hammond, boarded the Lusitania.

On May 7, 1915, off the coast of Ireland, a German torpedo ripped through the hull of the ship. Another explosion soon followed. As water rushed below deck, the Lusitania began to list. Mary and Ogden secured a spot on a lifeboat, but as the boat was lowered, one of the ropes slipped and the lifeboat plunged into the water. Ogden survived. Mary was never seen again.

Millicent Hammond Fenwick

The sinking of the Lusitania, which moved America closer to war, left Mary’s and Ogden’s three children motherless. The oldest, Mary, married an Italian count and the youngest, Ogden Jr. was the U.S. Vice Consul in Vienna. But Mary’s middle daughter was perhaps the most well recognized of all women in the Stevens line.

Millicent Hammond Fenwick was by all accounts an eccentric personality who made her mark in history in myriad ways. Millicent stayed home to raise her two children, but when she and her husband divorced in 1945, she joined the workforce. For a brief time, she was a model, and then a writer for Vogue profiling such personalities as Mary Martin and Paul Robeson. At the request of Vogue publisher Condé Nast, she also authored “Vogue’s Book of Etiquette,” the most comprehensive book of its sort that had ever been written.

In 1958, Millicent began what would become a historic political career when she became the first female member of the Bernardsville, N.J. Borough Council, but was forced to leave her position in 1964 after becoming ill with a rare disease. Following her recovery, she used seemingly infinite energy to fight for civil rights and prison reform. In 1969, she was elected to the New Jersey General Assembly, and also she served as New Jersey State Director of Consumer affairs for two years.

Finally, in 1974 at the age of 64, Millicent was elected to her first of four terms to the United States Congress. She was eloquent and gritty and full of charisma. Often seen smoking a pipe, she was known among politicians as the “conscience of the Congress,” in part due to her age, but mostly due to her actions. In fact, she once protested a congressional pay raise by paying the difference back to the U.S. government.