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By Bill Wichert May 9, 2012

State Sen. Nia Gill claims New Jersey has not had a Democratic congresswoman in nearly 40 years

New Jersey has a long-standing reputation as a Democratic state, but not since the late 1970s has a Democratic woman represented the Garden State as a member of Congress.

State Sen. Nia Gill pointed out that history in an interview Monday on NJToday about her bid for the 10th Congressional District seat previously held by the late Donald Payne. Gill is one of the Democrats running in the June 5 primary to represent the district, which spans Essex, Hudson and Union counties.

"There has not been a Democratic woman in Congress from New Jersey in almost four decades," said Gill, who is African-American. "There has never been an African-American woman ever elected to Congress from the State of New Jersey."

While a Republican congresswoman represented New Jersey as recently as 10 years ago, Gill is right that a Democratic woman from the state has not served in Congress since U.S. Rep. Helen Stevenson Meyner served two terms from 1975 to 1979, PolitiFact New Jersey found.

Gill is one of six Democratic women seeking their party’s nomination on June 5 for four congressional seats throughout New Jersey. Democratic candidates for the other eight seats are all men.

The state’s current congressional delegation includes six Democrats and six Republicans, but no women. The seat held by Payne, who was a Democrat, remains vacant.

First, let’s talk about the history of New Jersey women serving in Congress.

Five women -- including three Republicans and two Democrats -- have represented New Jersey in Congress. The first representative was Democrat Mary T. Norton, known as "Battling Mary," who served 12 terms between 1925 and 1951.

The other representatives and their years of service are as follows: Florence P. Dwyer (R), 1957-1973; Helen Stevenson Meyner (D), 1975-1979; Millicent Fenwick (R), 1975-1983; and Marge Roukema (R), 1981-2003.

Now, we’ll discuss the service of Meyner, the last Democratic congresswoman.

Meyner -- who was married to former New Jersey Gov. Robert Meyner -- first ran for Congress in 1972, when the original Democratic nominee withdrew from the race for failing to meet the federal citizenship requirement. At the time, that congressional district spanned Hunterdon, Sussex, Warren, Mercer and Morris counties.

That year, Meyner lost to Republican Joseph J. Maraziti, but she defeated Maraziti in the 1974 election. Meyner narrowly won re-election in 1976 over Republican challenger William Schluter.

During her four years in Congress, Meyner "developed a reputation as a thoughtful internationalist and advocate of human rights issues," according to her profile on the House website, "Women in Congress."

Meyner was a critic of the nuclear arms race as well as human rights abuses in the Philippines. She opposed attempts to suspend or expel Israel from the United Nations.

Meyner also helped to prevent her district’s Picatinny Arsenal from shutting down and sought to sustain the state’s ailing textile industry. "In her first term, she supported legislation that aided destitute women, including a vote to provide federal funding for abortions through Medicare," according to her profile.

However, in the face of high inflation, rising gas prices and a lagging economy, Meyner lost her bid for a third term in 1978. She was defeated by Republican James A. Courter by just under 5,500 votes.

To learn more about Meyner’s service, check out her complete profile here.

Our ruling

In an interview Monday on NJToday, Gill claimed: "There has not been a Democratic woman in Congress from New Jersey in almost four decades."

That history lesson is accurate, because the last Democratic congresswoman from New Jersey was Meyner, who served two terms between 1975 and 1979. The most recent congresswoman from either party was Marge Roukema, a Republican who left office in 2003.

We rate the statement True.

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Our Sources

NJToday, 10th Congressional District Candidate Says She Should Win, May 7, 2012

U.S. House of Representatives: Office of the Clerk, Women in Congress, accessed May 7-8, 2012

Women in Congress, Profile of former U.S. Rep. Helen Stevenson Meyner, accessed May 7-8, 2012

The Star-Ledger, U.S. Sen. Menendez backs Donald Payne Jr. in 10th District Congressional race, May 4, 2012

Women in Congress, Profile of former U.S. Rep. Marge Roukema, accessed May 7-8, 2012

New Jersey Division of Elections, List of Primary Election Candidates, April 17, 2012

Fitzgerald’s Legislative Manual: 2011, pgs. 1051-1052, accessed May 7-8, 2012

Fitzgerald’s Legislative Manual: 1979, pg. 811-813, accessed May 8, 2012

U.S. House of Representatives: Office of the Clerk, Election Statistics, accessed May 8, 2012

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State Sen. Nia Gill claims New Jersey has not had a Democratic congresswoman in nearly 40 years

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