Kate Whelan Brown

Katherine Whelan Brown:

The Family Politician

The date of Katherine Whelan's birth is known to have been November 15th, according to her sister's address book. The year is a bit murky. She was certainly older than her sister Mary who was born in 1877; the 1880 census, which has the ages of all the other Whelans right, states that Katherine was seven in that year. This means that she would have been born on either on November 15, 1872 or on November 15, 1873. Probably the former date is correct as Mary Whelan (born in March of 1877) was listed as two, meaning that the census took place before her birthday, and thus before Katherine's as well. However, the 1900 census states that Katherine was born in November of 1875. Yet this census lists Mary as having born in 1880, and seems to have the ages of Katherine's parents wrong as well.

Katherine (pictured at right), called Kate, was a pompous and bossy woman. She attended Public School Number 1 and St. Aloysius Academy in Jersey City. Later she attended the Ann Morgan School.

In about 1912, she married James A. Brown at St. Peter's Roman Catholic Church in Jersey City. James was a protestant, and family tradition holds that Kate, or perhaps her sister Gay, was thrown out of the Catholic Church for a time for that reason.

James and Kate may have settled in White Lake, Sullivan County New York for a while. They certainly visited there, as we have pictures of them that were taken there.

After the couple returned to Jersey City, Kate took some public speaking courses (this may have been at the Ann Morgan School) and became active in local politics for the Democratic Party. She may have done this to help support the family; it is said that James was not the best provider. The Browns lived at 9 Virginia Avenue and later at 329A Arlington Avenue in Jersey City.

During World War One, Katherine was active in war work and also visited many military camps, both in New York and New Jersey, where she entertained the troops with readings and recitations.

In 1921, she ran for, and was elected to the New Jersey State Assembly, by a majority of 47,000. She was one of the first women and the first female Democrat to be chosen for the job. Kate, who represented the 11th District of the 8th ward of Jersey City, was again elected in 1922, this time with a majority of 80,000. She was serving as late as April of 1923. As an Assemblywoman, Kate sponsored a tenants law to regulate leases of indefinite terms which was passed and went into effect in March of 1923. She was also involved in the passage of the Night Work Bill in April of 1923, which banned women from working at certain times of the night. Her name, and that of her fellow legislators, is said to be engraved on a Jersey City Bridge.

At about this same time, Kate Brown was also the organizer of the Democratic Women of the 8th ward, President of the 8th ward Democratic Women's League, a member of the Jersey City Women's Club, a member of the Queen's Daughters, League of Women Voters and of the National Council of Catholic Women.

After her service in the State Legislature, Kate was elected to the Board of Freeholders, Hudson County's governing body. She was the first woman to serve on the Board, and was a close ally of and campaign speaker for "Boss" Frank Hague, the mayor of Jersey City from 1917- 1947. He was famous for saying "I am the law" and "We hear about constitutional rights, free speech, and the free press. Every time I hear these words I say to myself, "That man is a Red, that man is a Communist. You never hear a real American talk like that." During this period Kate was also a regular at the Roosevelt mansion at Hyde Park

Katherine was in poor health by the 1930's and had to have a nurse with her for the last several years of her life. She may have lived at Long Branch New Jersey during this time, where she was photographed in June 1939 (at left with husband James). She was implied to be living in a 1940 obituary and was stated to be dead in one from 1955.

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