Women in Rahway History to be featured in “Spirits of the Past” Tour

(above) On Sunday, October 1st, the Merchants and Drovers Tavern Museum will present the annual “Spirits of the Past” tour of the Rahway Cemetery. This year’s theme, “Women in Rahway History.”

Women in Rahway History

Submitted by Al Shipley, City Historian and Rahway Library Research Consultant

On Sunday, October 1st, the Merchants and Drovers Tavern Museum Association will present its 29th annual “Spirits of the Past” tour of the Rahway Cemetery. This year’s theme, “Women in Rahway History,” will feature 12 women from the pages of Rahway’s past who played a part in the history of the city, exhibited admirable attributes, or represented universal qualities. During this unique educational experience, groups are guided to gravesites where costumed actors portray each woman and tell their stories. 

Catherine Anderson – Wife of John Anderson, the man who built the Merchants and Drovers hotel and tavern in the early part of the 1790s. Mrs. Anderson will present information on the history of the building and describe tavern life as it might have been experienced in the inns of those early days.

Catherine Squier – Mrs. Squier, one of Rahway’s most prominent citizens, was the founder of the Rahway Public Library in 1858. A champion of many social and civic causes, she took a leading part in the work of the Union Aid Society, an organization formed to look after the needs of the families of men who went off to fight in the Civil War. She and her husband, William, donated many parcels of land for the construction of civic buildings, churches, and parks.

Sarah Clark – Wife of Abraham Clark, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and mother of two soldier-sons who were captured and imprisoned during the Revolutionary War. Mrs. Clark will relate the hardships and difficulties of living in this strategic and dangerous area during the war as she tried to raise her 11 children.

Carolyn Wells – Ms. Wells was an author who wrote/edited 180 books and became a best selling writer of mysteries in the years between 1909 and 1942. In 1913 she penned the first history and how-to of the mystery genre. Also a writer of essays, stories, and poems, her works were published in periodicals including The New YorkerLife, and Thrilling Detective.

Elisabeth Logan Davis – Mrs. Davis was an accomplished painter, author, and community activist while living in Rahway (1922-1958.)  Wife of Reverend Chester M. Davis of the First Presbyterian Church, she helped found the Rahway Arts Center, the Rahway Council of Church Women, was an inaugural member of the Rahway Housing Authority, and was instrumental in setting up the John F. Kennedy Community Center.

Gladys Whitehead – A life-long Rahway resident, Ms. Whitehead wrote 4 volumes of memoirs titled Reflections which contain a treasure trove of historical information about life in Rahway. As a 17 year old during World War I she did volunteer work for the Red Cross and aided the war cause by sewing, knitting, and making bandages.

Ambo – An enslaved woman, Ambo worked for the family of Abraham Terrill for 3 generations.  If legend be true, she might have served General George Washington a quick meal as he passed through Rahway during the Revolutionary War.  Upon her death she was buried in the Terrill family plot with a grave stone to mark her final resting place – a highly unusual distinction for an enslaved person.

Agnes Johnson – Mrs. Johnson’s son, John, was killed at the Battle of Gettysburg. The letters written to and from her son and military officials present a poignant picture of the tragedy of war and its effects on loved ones.

The Unknown Woman – This young woman, probably in her mid twenties, was brutally murdered by an unknown killer on March 24, 1887. The story of this unsolved crime will be presented by an actor playing the part of a citizen who experienced the events that unfolded in the aftermath of the murder.  

Ann Vonah – After Mrs. Vonah’s husband, John, enlisted in the Union Army to fight during the Civil War, she joined the cause as a volunteer nurse. Stationed in Fort Monroe, Virginia, she experienced the horrors of war as she tended to the needs of wounded and dying soldiers.

Margaret Mulvey – Mrs. Mulvey was married to her husband, John, for just three years before he was killed in action on July 15, 1918 at the Battle of the Marne during World War I. Her letters represent the love and sense of loss experienced by a grieving widow. 

Annie Shotwell – Ms. Shotwell was employed by the Rahway Board of Education for 23 years where she served as the attendance officer. Her gift was her ability to help young students who she found playing “hooky” return to school and continue their education. She helped so many students “get back on track” that a memorial oak tree and stone marker was placed on the front lawn of Grover Cleveland Elementary School in her memory.