Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Martha Bayard Stevens: Building a School, City and Helping the Poor

by Leah Loscutoff, Archives and Special Collections Librarian and Special thanks to Doris Oliver, Assistant Curator, for her assistance with the research for this blog post.

March is women’s history month, and for this entire month staff at the Samuel C. Williams Library would like to honor some key women from the Stevens family, who played a big part in the development of Stevens Institute of Technology and in New Jersey.

Martha Bayard Dod Stevens 

Martha Bayard Dod Stevens was a Stevens family matriarch, philanthropist, and champion to the poor. After her husband Edwin A. Stevens passed away in 1868 she became instrumental in helping to establish Stevens Institute of Technology, which he initially founded.  Looking at Edwin A. Stevens’ Will you can determine that he left her with substantial authority over the Stevens family estate. This includes bequeathing the Castle Point homestead of 30 acres and the houses that were there under her control.  As one of the executors of the will, Martha insisted that the University be geared toward science and engineering.

Martha Bayard Dod Stevens was the daughter of Albert B. and Caroline (Bayard) Dod. Born in Princeton, New Jersey, May 15, 1831. She was a lineal descendant of the Bayard family, who escaped from France to Holland, and then made their way to America, settling in New Jersey prior to the Revolutionary War.  Her relative Colonel William Bayard owned the land which is now Hoboken and large tracts of land in Weehawken. Col. William Bayard subsequently fled the country after the surrender of the British and his property was confiscated by the Government.  The land of Hoboken was then purchased by Colonel John Stevens III in 1784, so that when Miss Dod became the wife of Edwin A. Stevens on August 22, 1854, she came into possession of property that had once been owned by a member of the Bayard family.  Martha and Edwin were married for 14 years, and were parents to seven children.

Having a strong interest in education, in the late 19th century she established the Industrial Education Association, a school for young women in Hoboken, and also, the Martha Institute for training boys in industrial skills. In addition, she provided the funding to construct the Hoboken free public library in 1896. She also founded St. Martha’s Ward in St Mary’s Hospital in Hoboken, and was a liberal contributor to St. Katherine’s Home, Christ Hospital, and every church in Hoboken regardless of denomination.

Mrs. Stevens was a well-known figure in Hoboken and contributed greatly not only to the establishment of the Stevens Institute of Technology but also to the town of Hoboken itself, a place that she loved dearly. Mrs. Stevens helped to establish the charity, Helping Hand club. This charity provided aid to poor women.  The club would meet once a week to sew and then were given the garments that were made, including coal and groceries. She made it a point to give what was left of her income annually to charity and would never invest in anything. Her last benefaction was to arrange for the erection of a recreational pier for the poor, this was known as the River Walk.

Mrs. Stevens built and endowed the Episcopal Church of the Holy Innocents, at Sixth Street and Willow
Episcopal Church of the Holy Innocents
Avenue, in memory of her daughter Julia, who died in Rome when a child. The church was also founded as a “free church” in the days when there were few. It was her intention that anyone would be able to worship there, regardless of social standing and wealth.

Mrs. Stevens died on April 1,1899 and the funeral was held at the Church of the Holy Innocents on April 4th.  She was beloved by the poor of Hoboken, who greatly mourned her death.

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