DEDICATED TO DEMOCRACY: Laura Wooten strolled on the Princeton campus in 2018 with two of her grandsons who work at the University: Isaac Love III, left, a custodian in building services, and Caasi Love, right, assistant director of finance and planning in the School of Engineering and Applied Science. The University has announced that a campus building will be named Laura Wooten Hall effective July 1. (Photo by Mark Czajkowski)
By Donald Gilpin
A Princeton University building will be renamed in honor of former Princeton and Lawrence Township resident Laura Wooten, who has been recognized as the longest serving election poll worker in the country.
Intended to honor Wooten’s contributions and to emphasize the importance of civic engagement at all levels, the naming of Laura Wooten Hall was approved by Princeton’s Board of Trustees and announced, appropriately, on Monday, just one day before yesterday’s New Jersey Primary Election Day. The naming was recommended to the trustees by the Council of the Princeton University Community Committee on Naming, which is made up of faculty, staff, student, and alumni representatives.
“I am grateful to the naming committee for this inspiring recommendation, and I am delighted that Princeton will honor Laura Wooten for her extraordinary contributions to our nation and the democratic process,” said Princeton University President Christopher L. Eisgruber. “The addition of Laura Wooten’s name to the tapestry of our campus will recognize Princeton’s history, the breadth of our community, and the positive impact that one remarkable person can have through lifelong dedication to public service and civic values.”
Wooten, who worked in campus dining at Princeton University for more than 27 years and also worked as a nurse’s aide at Princeton Medical Center and as a teaching assistant at Community Park School, volunteered at local, primary, and general election polls in New Jersey for 79 years, up until her death in 2019 at the age of 98.
Born in North Carolina in 1920, Wooten moved to Princeton when she was 4 and graduated from Princeton High School in 1939, the same year she started working at the polls.
On July 23 last year New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed “Laura Wooten’s Law,” requiring civics instruction at the middle school level throughout the state.
“Laura Wooten’s life is a study in civics,” said Murphy at the signing ceremony. “She set a tremendous legacy of service. Even more importantly, in her life, born in the segregated South, she persevered through sexism and racism,
including right here in New Jersey. Her life stands as evidence that change in a democracy comes not from those who hold elective office, but through the work of ordinary citizens.”
Also speaking at the ceremony, Wooten’s daughter, Yvonne Hill, emphasized her mother’s commitment to the democratic process and the importance of voting to help bring about change. “Her famous words were, ‘Don’t say you can’t make a difference. How can you make a difference if you don’t vote?’” said Hill.
Wooten has also been honored by the New Jersey State Senate, the town of Princeton, the League of Women Voters of New Jersey, the National Association of Secretaries of State, the New Jersey Chapter of the NAACP, and the National Newspaper Publishers Association, an organization including more than 200 African American-owned community newspapers.
Currently named Marx Hall, the building to be renamed Laura Wooten Hall, effective July 1, is located on Washington Road and houses the University Center for Human Values, academic offices, a department library, and teaching spaces.
“Voting is your voice so if you don’t go out and vote for things, there will never be any changes,” said Wooten in a 2018 interview with Princeton University. “That’s the only way you’ll get changes, is to vote. The privilege in a democracy of being able to vote means a lot to me.”