Mention of women in our early history was limited, although we have a few interesting stories of special women of the time. On December 13, 1776 Basking Ridge became the center of attention in our War of Independence as General Charles Lee, second in command under George Washington, was arrested by the British at the Widow White’s Tavern. The Widow White’s first marriage was to Samuel Brown, who died in 1763 (ref. Samuel Brown Society!) and then remarried Ebenezer White and became widowed again. Thus Mary Brown White, a member of our church, was the proprietor of the tavern where this dramatic event occurred.
Mary Lewis was born in Basking Ridge in 1763. Mary and her husband, Joseph Kinnan, moved to Western Virginia where, in 1791, the family was attacked by Indians. Mary survived and was taken captive to the Detroit area. Somehow she managed to get a message out via an army courier which eventually reached her brother, Jacob, in Basking Ridge. Jacob launched a successful rescue effort that returned Mary to Basking Ridge, where she lived to age 85 and is buried in our cemetery.
In the second half of the 19th century, we begin to see women taking leadership positions in our church life. In April of 1872, the Women’s Foreign Missionary Society was formed with our pastor John Rankin’s wife, Nancy, as its first president. With eleven charter members, the Society grew to 100 by 1875. Contributions were made both abroad to schools in India and Syria as well as locally to mission work in Liberty Corner. In 1902 a Ladies’ Aid Society was created as a second women’s group. The Women’s Foreign Missionary Society and Ladies’ Aid Society were merged in the 1930’s to the Women’s Guild (and subsequently Presbyterian Women) which became a fixture in its service to the church over the balance of the 20th century.
Among the first church female officers in the Presbyterian denomination was Nettie Allen who served as a Trustee from 1933 to 1945. Nettie was also our church historian for many years. She recorded the names of all of those buried in the church yard, and recorded all of the epitaphs that she could find. In 1946, Miss Marjorie R Carnahan was brought in as fulltime youth director, and our history says that “her warm, friendly personality drew the young people to Church House after school hours like a magnet.” Our first woman Deacon was Clara Mastrobitista who was ordained in 1952 in our Bernardsville Italian Chapel. Our first woman Elder was Martha W. Ellis, who was ordained in 1957.
The first recorded planned gift to our church in the modern era was a bequest from Fannie Bockoven Childs. Fannie was born on her family farm on Mt Kemble Ave in 1854, was married to Frederick Childs by Reverend Rankin in 1878 and finally passed away in 1924. In her will she created a trust to support her granddaughter until adulthood. Then in 1951 the remainder of the trust was transferred to the Basking Ridge Presbyterian Church.
Over the succeeding years women have increasingly taken part in all aspects of our church life. In many cases, women now form the backbone of leadership for our Deacons, Elders, Trustees as well as staff and clergy. As part of the focus on women in our church, a women’s retreat – Personal Resurrection: The Spiritual Dimension of Everyday Life – is scheduled for Saturday March 4th.