When Elizabeth Barstow Alton decided something needed to be done, there was no stopping her.
She decided in 1966 that Atlantic County needed its own four-year college, so she turned a speech to the Atlantic City Kiwanis Club into a campaign for a college.
“(The Kiwanis Club) had never had a woman speaker,” she recalled in a 2004 interview with The Press of Atlantic City. “I needed something to say that might interest men.”
Her comments were printed in a newspaper article, and the idea caught on. Soon Alton was traveling to meetings and giving speeches to anyone who would listen. But, she recalled, she really didn’t need to talk a lot — all she needed was the three-foot map she made up with circles showing the location of all of the state’s four-year colleges. Multiple circles overlapped in the northern part of the state. But there were only three circles in the south, and none even touched Atlantic County.
“I had a big mouth, but when I showed the map I didn’t have to say anything,” she recalled in the interview.
Born into a prominent Atlantic City family, her grandfather Joseph Abridge Barstow served on the City Council and was one of the builders of the Boardwalk. She graduated from Atlantic City High School and Syracuse University and in 1931 married John Alton and settled in Ventnor. The couple had two children, and Elizabeth kept busy with many activities.
She was the first woman elected to the Miss America Pageant Board of Directors and the first woman named to the Rutgers University Board of Governors.
When she began her campaign for a South Jersey college she was already known for both her lively personality and her persistence.
“I remember her first, as a person,” said Rabbi Aaron Krauss, who supported her efforts to get the college. “She was very charming, and very dedicated. At first, the idea of the college appeared to be doomed. Way back then people really didn’t see the need for a college. We were viewed strictly as a resort area.”
He recalled that then-Gov. Richard Hughes told her he didn’t have the money for a new college, but if he could get it, he would support putting one in South Jersey. She got powerful state Sen. Frank S. Farley to back the idea, and a state bond referendum allocated money for two new state colleges in 1968, one designated for the southern part of the state.
But the fight wasn’t over. Some supporters wanted the college in western Atlantic County, near Buena, but Alton had done aerial views and thought what was then a very rural Galloway Township would be perfect. She lobbied again, and won, and the 1,600-acre site became Richard Stockton College.
When the college opened in 1971 Alton recalled being appalled by the college’s temporary location at the dilapidated Mayflower Hotel in Atlantic City, calling it “a god-awful place” where she was ashamed to park her car. The college moved to the main campus in January 1972, and Alton served on the first Board of Trustees, including a term as its chairwoman. She later wrote a book “The Stockton Story: A History of the Founding of Richard Stockton College” published by the college Alumni Association.
The college named its newly renovated auditorium in her honor in 2004. Alton died in 2006 at age 100.
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