Who’s that woman running for office?

As Hillary Clinton represents her party as the first major-party female presidential nominee, it seems fitting to pay tribute to one of the Marks family ancestors who was well ahead of her time.  The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which granted American women the right to vote, was not ratified until August 18, 1920. Just seven years later, in 1927, Emma Hope Yates became the first woman on the ballot in Passaic, New Jersey.

Emma Hope was born on April 8, 1874, in Somerville, New Jersey to Hiram Hope and Maria Drost Hope.  Her parents moved to Belvidere, New Jersey, when Emma was still young.  As a result, she did most of her growing up there.  She graduated from Belvidere Academy and before her marriage was also a teacher there.  Although not wealthy, her parents ensured that she received a quality education.  They paid for a private tutor named George Hooper, who graduated from Leipzig University and was also a professor.  Through him, she learned multiple languages and became fluent in German and Italian.

Emma met Robert Yates, a widower originally from Ontario, Canada, at party in Belvidere several months after her father’s death in late 1898. Robert and Emma had a whirlwind courtship.  Just 3 months later, they married in Philadelphia at the Woodland Presbyterian Church on October 24, 1899.  Emma had been living in Philadelphia at the time on Chestnut Street, which is close to Woodland. There were few guests at their wedding.  The article appearing in the Belvidere Apollo about the wedding was succinct. (See Appendix, below).

After their wedding, Robert and Emma settled on Broadway Street in Passaic. Robert, who was 20 years older than Emma, was an engineer. He worked with Thomas Edison at his Orange, New Jersey laboratory.  Passaic would become Emma and Robert’s home for the rest of their lives, where they would have their two children and also where Emma would accomplish a number of firsts.

Robert Yates, Jr.as a baby held by his father Robert Yates, Sr. with Emma Hope Yates looking on.  This pictures was likely taken in early 1902.


According to an August 1, 1936 biography, which appeared in the Passaic Herald-News, Emma, in 1914, became the first woman appointed to the Passaic attendance department  And for 25 plus years after she “made the round of the schools allotted to her care, checking on truancy and delinquency . . . .”  “All the kids knew her.”  From their perspective, “she was the hookey cop.”  See “Mrs. Emma Hope Yates: First Woman Attendance Officer in City, ” The Herald-News (August 1, 1936).

Emma, however, was more than a hookey cop.  She was passionate about the lives of the children with whom she worked.  During her years with the attendance department, she studied child psychology for three semesters at the New School for Social Research in New York. She was “interested not in seeing how far one may go, but in making all go as far as possible.”  Id.

Her passion soon led to politics.  “She was the first woman whose name appeared on the ballot in Passaic and she won the election.  At the organization of the Republican City Committee, she was further honored by being made secretary of that committee.  She was also a member of the County Committee for several years for the First District of the Third Ward.”  Id. Interestingly, the 1936 Herald-News biography was silent on the office for which she actually ran.  Note that this is still a point of my research.

“Her passion soon led to politics.  ‘She was the first woman whose name appeared on the ballot in Passaic and she won the election.'”

“In 1932, [Emma] became the first female candidate for City Commissioner, with the slogan: ‘The children’s well being, their interests taken care of; the young man and young woman given more opportunities for wholesome sports.'” Although Emma did not win a seat, she “finished higher than quite a few men.” See “‘Chick-ie, It’s Mrs. Yates’ Truants’ Call, First Resounded in Passaic 25 Years Ago,” The Herald-News (Sept. 13, 1939).

Emma Hope Yates was someone who was not afraid to jump right in with both feet.  This attitude–toward her job, toward her community, and toward life–made her a pioneer. As a woman born just after the Civil War, she embraced change. She approached life believing that she could make a difference.  Her gender would not tell her otherwise.

  • Emma A. Hope Yates is the great grandmother of my husband Scott Marks. She passed away in 1945 and is buried in Somerville, New Jersey. 


October 1899 article appearing in the Belvidere Apollo about Emma’s wedding ceremony.  Note, the maid of honor gets more coverage than the bride.


Robert Yates and Emma Hope Marriage Return showing marriage on October 24, 1899 and file stamped October 27.


Robert Yates and Emma Hope Philadelphia Marriage License October 23, 1899.  Do you think that Robert did not know Emma’s actual birthdate when he applied?


Emma Hope Birth Return 1874.jpg
Emma Hope Birth Return from the New Jersey State Archives

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