VINELAND — When 172 women of this fledgling city gathered in the old Plum Street Hall in 1868 to vote in the presidential election, they knew their actions were purely ceremonial.
The votes were cast in protest of a system that denied women suffrage, and their actions drew national attention, according to local historians.
The symbol of that protest — the actual ballot box — is on display in a glass case at the Vineland Antiquarian and Historical Society. Society officials hope people will come to see it and other displays as part of its 150th anniversary this year.
The society is the oldest of its kind in New Jersey. Society officials plan a series of events including a photo contest, a semiformal ball and a rededication of the city’s first house.
For society administrator Patricia A. Martinelli, the event marks the history of a city founded in 1861 by Charles K. Landis as a progressive haven for people seeking a new life, and a place where forward thinking was welcome.
That included “radical new ideas,” such as equality for men and women, she said.
Martinelli said the society documents how Landis’ city grew into an agricultural powerhouse in the state, developed into one of the nation’s largest poultry centers in the late 1940s and had a significant glass-making industry. The society tells the story of the city’s people, including waves of immigrants that included, at times, Italians, Hispanics and, now, Asians, she said.
“The thing of it is, Vineland became such a significant community beginning in the 19th century,” Martinelli said. “It is important to remember that as we move into the future. Vineland managed to do so many wonderful things.”
The society, housed in what Martinelli said is the oldest continually-used museum in the state, documents a time from when Landis generally held control of the community.
Landis was, for instance, the city’s first postmaster, she said. The desk he used for that duty and the city’s first post office box – about the size of a shoebox, but big enough to handle the mail for the municipality’s 100 residents – is also in the society’s museum
Landis was also for a time the only person who sold real estate, Martinelli said. The society houses artifacts related to that venture.
The society has collected its materials from numerous sources over the years.
“People tend to give us stuff they don’t know what to do with,” Martinelli said.
In fact, so much material is stored in the building on the corner of Elmer and Seventh streets that society staff never knows what it will find next. Some of the material shows the regional impact Landis had on South Jersey, she said.
For instance, Martinelli said she stumbled across one of Landis’ original books that outlined his founding of Sea Isle City in Cape May County. Landis began the venture with a loan from his sister, Matilda, she said.
The amount: $1,500.
“You couldn’t buy a lawn there for that much now,” Martinelli said.
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