• The Kicka$$ Hoboken Girl Martha Bayard Stevens

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    As often and unfortunately happens in the telling of history, women are left out of the core narrative. In the case of Hoboken and the Stevens Institute of Technology, neither would be what they are today without Matriarch Martha Bayard Dod Stevens. For our #HobokenTBT this week, we’re telling the story of this true Mile Square legend — read on to learn more about Martha Stevens, who was instrumental in founding Stevens, the Church of Holy Innocents,  the Willow Terrace houses {more on that here}, + other noteworthy feats:

    martha bayard stevens hoboken

    Photo: Stevens Institute of Technology

    Mrs. Stevens was born on May 15th, 1831, in Princeton to mathematics professor Albert Baldwin Dod and Caroline Smith Bayard of the formerly prominent Bayard family. Plunged into nearly destitute poverty after the death of her father, it’s an experience that influenced the rest of her life. The Bayards were originally French who escaped to Holland during the French Revolution. Shortly after that, they made their way to New Amsterdam, settled in New Jersey and purchased the {then} island of Hoboken and large swaths of Weehawken in pre-American Revolutionary War times.

    Martha’s great-grandfather Colonel John Bayard was a Patriot but another family member Colonel William Bayard sided with the Crown and fled the country when the British surrendered. His land was taken by the American Government and then auctioned off in 1784 to Colonel John Stevens. So when Martha Bayard Dod became the wife of his son, Edwin Augustus Stevens, she came into possession of property that had been owned by her family. Talk about full circle.

    martha bayard stevens hoboken

    Photo: Stevens Institute of Technology

    By all historical accounts, Martha Bayard Stevens was a deeply pious and philanthropic woman who was later eulogized as “a bright example” of position and influence in newly industrialized America. Despite her great wealth, she lived in extreme simplicity. She was a familiar sight walking the streets of Hoboken and in one local story, someone asked if she were looking for a furnished room, as clearly her manner of dress did not indicate her bearings.

    READ: Hoboken TBT: How Hoboken Got Its Name

    Embodying the Stevens family motto, “Per Aspera Ad Astra” meaning ‘to the stars through striving,’ Martha had a clear and distinct vision when it came to education and aid for the poor. After her husband Edwin Augustus Stevens’ passing in 1868, Martha, mother to seven children at age 37, played a primary role in founding Stevens Institute in 1870. While her husband’s will requested that she establish a school, he had not indicated what kind. That was her determination as was establishing the Martha Institute for training young women in the domestic arts including financial literacy {how progressive}, and the Hoboken Industrial School that trained young men in industrial trades like carpentry and metal work.

    Additionally, she founded St. Martha’s Ward for orphans in St. Mary’s Hospital; the Willow Terrace houses for workers, and built Church of the Holy Innocents as a tribute to her young daughter Juliana who tragically died at age seven. This church was different because there were no fees for a pew and all could worship regardless of class – another progressive view at the time.

    martha bayard stevens hoboken

    Photo: Stevens Institute of Technology

    The Hoboken Public Library then became a reality erected on land the Stevens owned and she donated. And one of last large endowments was a recreational pier for the poor as well as the three main parks in town. All of this in addition to annual and liberal donations to St. Katherine’s Home, Christ Hospital and every church in Hoboken regardless of creed as she never invested the interest of her investments and distributed it to the community evenly.

    Most interesting, unusual and honorable is that there are very few records of these benefactions as Martha did not care for public accolades. None the less, in her local obituary in 1899 it was written, “she was beloved by the poor of Hoboken who greatly mourned her death.” Her funeral procession included 5,000 people and was reported the biggest the town had ever seen. It was also documented that Martha was buried in a simple wicker basket as someone receiving her assistance might have been.

    See More: Hoboken TBT: The History of Leos Grandevous

    In short, as there is so much more, Martha was a living saint and truly deserves proper recognition as a primary patron, visionary, benefactor and architect of Hoboken. To that end, who seconds the motion for a statue in her honor? We definitely do.

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    Written by:

    Kate Cummings of Freestyle Restyle is a local interior designer specializing in affordable design therapy and decorative solutions for home and office, a history nerd, and rescue dog mama to Special Jonesy Brown. When not at her studio in town or walking from end-to-end checking out favorite buildings, you can find her hiking the mountains and howling at the moon in the Catskills region of the Hudson Valley.


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