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Eagleton Institute of Politics
Eagleton Institute of Politics

About Eagleton

About Florence Peshine Eagleton

FLorence Peshine EagletonFlorence Peshine Eagleton, a Newark native and a product of a local "finishing school," was born in 1870 and grew up as the battle for woman suffrage was coming to a head. She led the state's Women's Political Union and became vice president of the New Jersey Woman Suffrage Association, leading a petition drive in Newark that helped convince the state legislature to ratify the 19th amendment. Once the amendment was ratified, Eagleton became the first president of the Newark League of Women Voters.  She led the League in developing a series of "citizenship schools" to educate women for their new responsibilities as voters.

Beyond her suffrage work, Eagleton was active in many other organizations: the New Jersey Birth Control League, the Newark Maternal Health Center, the Visiting Nurses Association, the New Jersey League of Nations Association, and the DAR. She was among the organizers of the New Jersey College for Women, which later became Douglass College. She served as a trustee of Rutgers University from 1932 to 1946 – one of the first women in that role -- and then took on the status of "trustee emerita."

The varied threads of Florence Eagleton's life are woven together in the establishment of the Eagleton Institute of Politics. According to the story handed down over the years, she and her second husband, neurosurgeon Wells Phillips Eagleton, had an agreement: when one died, the other would get to choose how their fortune would be disposed of when both were gone. He wanted the money to foster medical research, but he died first, so her preferred cause won out, expressed in her will as "the advancement of learning in the field of practical political affairs and government [so] that a knowledge of the meaning of democracy may be increased through the education of young women and men in democratic government." Legend also says that the original draft referred only to "young women," but the men were added at the insistence of her attorneys. The will goes on to say, "It is my settled conviction that the cultivation of civic responsibility and leadership among the American people in the field of practical political affairs is of vital and increasing importance to our state and nation ... I make this gift especially for the development of and education for responsible leadership in civic and governmental affairs and the solution of their political problems."

Sources: New York Times obituary, "Mrs. Wells Eagleton, Rutgers Trustee, 83." Published 11/24/53; Hidden New Jersey website:; and stories passed down at the Eagleton Institute of Politics.