Student Story: Women’s History Has Great Impact On South Jersey Communities

By: Jennifer Duran, Camden Academy Charter High School, Camden

The Alice Paul Institute in Mount Laurel, NJ. Photo credit: Alice Paul Institute Facebook page.

SOUTH JERSEY — March is a month set aside to commemorate women’s successes and contributions to American history. It’s important we praise these women for suffering so many years of hardships and gender inequality. It is especially valuable that we keep in mind the incredible women who have made – and continue to make – significant contributions to our own South Jersey communities. Despite the fact that many gender obstacles still exist today, there are women who are determined for social change and empowerment. 

Women like Alice Paul inspire others to take action for gender justice today. The twentieth-century feminist continues to be celebrated for her determination in advocating equality for both women and men. The Alice Paul Institution is a memorial dedicated to honoring the legacy of Alice Paul’s work, reminding people of Paul’s significant role in leading the suffrage movement in South Jersey. The institution is located in Mount Laurel, New Jersey, where Paul was born and raised.

Another admirable woman’s work who has contributed to societal change in South Jersey is Margaret Bancroft. During the 19th century, Bancroft realized that children with developmental disabilities had the ability to learn when they were given individual care, patience, and affection. She was determined to rent a house in Haddonfield and open her own school. 

As a result, Bancroft founded the Haddonfield Bancroft Training School in 1833, which was later renamed The Bancroft School and relocated to Mount Laurel, NJ. The school is now thriving and continues to provide numerous opportunities for families and students in need of special education. 

In 1894, Bancroft also helped in the development of the Haddon Fortnightly, a women’s organization. She hoped that the women’s group would support its members’ educational, literary, and social pursuits. The organization is still very much active today, demonstrating the resilience behind Bancroft’s vision.

Aside from these exemplary historical leaders, there are women who are currently making history. These women are role models for young individuals looking to make their dreams come true but may not have had the access to the necessary resources growing up. One of these famous role models is Tasha Smith.

Smith is an actress, director, and producer born and raised in the city of Camden, New Jersey. She grew up in a single-parent household with her mother and twin sister, Sidra Smith. Smith endured many difficulties such as her mother having a drug addiction. It wasn’t long before she followed her mother’s example and started using drugs herself. Smith eventually dropped out of Camden High School during her freshman year and moved to California around the age of 19. Despite growing up in a community with drugs and poverty, she was driven to find a career in Hollywood and worked her way up.

Tasha Smith became well known for her role as Angela Williams in Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married?, and its sequel Why Did I Get Married Too? She continues to be a positive example for many who share similar childhood experiences and for those who wish to pursue a career in acting.

Another astounding woman who is currently active in ascribing change is Kyle Ruffin, the current president of the Impact100 South Jersey Leadership Council. The Impact100 is a group of committed and inspired women who hope to expand their reach and involve other women from Burlington, Gloucester, Camden, and Cumberland counties. The women work together in an effort to transform lives through collective giving, resulting in high-impact grants being given to local nonprofit organizations. 

Ruffin is also the author of In Stroke’s Shadow: My Caregiver Story, a heartwarming narrative about how she became her mother’s full-time caretaker after the first of three strokes. Ruffin’s continuous work is awed by others as she continues to make such an impressive and notable mark in South Jersey.

Along with these remarkable women are so many other ambitious celebrities, egalitarians, and advocates who continue to inspire change in our communities. As we recognize these women and their accomplishments, we acknowledge contributions to social justice and gender equality, and hopefully, that encourages others to take the leap and strive for the same. 

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