Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890—1920
Biography of Mina Van Winkle, 1875-1933
By Tracy Biondi, Independent Historian
Wilhelmina “Mina” Caroline Ginger was born in New York City, on March 26, 1875. Her mother, Hilda, was German, and her father, Thomas, was American. Mina had three siblings: William George, Thomas, and Francisco. By the early 1900s, Mina's father had passed and the Ginger family was living in Newark, New Jersey. From 1902-1905, Mina worked as a teacher at the Fernwood Home reform school in Glen Ridge, New Jersey. She also attended the New York School of Philanthropy (now Columbia University School of Social Work), graduating with a social work degree in 1905. While attending the New York School of Philanthropy she befriended Harriot Stanton Blatch, daughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
On October 20, 1906, Mina became the second wife of Abraham Van Winkle. Abraham owned a successful chemical firm, Hansom & Van Winkle, and was a benefactor of the Bureau of Associated Charities. Throughout her life, Mina was a tireless advocate for girls and women. She gained national attention for her work as a suffragist and as one of the country's first policewoman.
In 1905, Mina joined the National Consumers League (NCL) and the Newark Bureau of Associated Charities. Working with the NCL, she exposed the plight and harsh working conditions of immigrant child laborers on New Jersey farms. Inspired by her friend Blatch, Mina also joined the woman suffrage movement. Blatch wrote in her memoir, “[Mina] used to say I enlisted her in the woman suffrage movement before she knew where she was. My advice to her was to throw herself body and soul into the movement and create in the State of New Jersey a living, militant suffrage organization.” In 1908, Mina organized the Equality League of Self-Supporting Women, re-invigorating the women's suffrage movement in New Jersey. In 1912, the League was re-named the Women's Political Union of New Jersey (WPUNJ), with Mina as president.
The WPUNJ staged public demonstrations garnering attention for women's suffrage. Both her contemporaries and present-day scholars credit Mina with the WPUNJ's organizational success. In her 1997 dissertation on the New Jersey suffrage movement, Delight Dodyk claimed that, “Van Winkle brought diversity to the New Jersey movement and provided a place in the movement for women who chose to put their energies toward achieving a federal constitutional amendment.” Similarly, Blatch commented that, “under the efficient Van Winkle regime, New Jersey was shaken wide awake and played an important part in the campaign for the Federal Amendment.” In 1915, the WPUNJ campaigned to amend the New Jersey constitution, to give women the vote. That same year, the WPUNJ collaborated with suffragists from New York and Pennsylvania in the “Handing of the Torch of Victory” demonstration in Jersey City, NJ. In a symbolic gesture, Mrs. H.O. Havermeyer of New York passed Mina the suffrage torch. When the amendment failed, a disappointed Mina told a New York Times reporter that, “any woman who took part in the anti-suffrage campaign should be ashamed to come into the sunlight.”
In September 1915, Abraham Van Winkle died. The next year, Mina's tenure as president of the WPUNJ ended when the WPUNJ merged with the New Jersey Woman Suffrage Association. After Dr. Anna Howard Shaw stepped down from the presidency of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), Mina ran to replace her, but eventually withdrew from the campaign due to lack of support. Mina quickly turned to her next venture, moving to Washington, D.C. to head the Speaker's Bureau of the newly created U.S. Food Administration. The Speaker's Bureau consisted of teachers, scientists, and other volunteers who traveled the country encouraging food conservation during war time.
In 1916, the Metropolitan Police Department of Washington D.C. (MPDC) created a Women's Bureau. In 1918, Mina accepted a commission to serve as one of four policewomen working for the Bureau. The Bureau was concerned with the welfare and rehabilitation of runaway girls, and women who engaged in prostitution. Mina oversaw the work of the “copettes,” female detectives who policed dance halls, movie theaters, and public spaces, preventing crimes by, and against, women. In 1919, she became Bureau Director and President of the International Association of Policewomen, and in 1920, she became a Lieutenant. Mina sought to improve the working conditions, power, and resources of the Bureau. While working for the Bureau, she continued her women's rights activism, speaking at the 1921 National Woman Party's Convention with Margaret Wilson, the daughter of President Wilson.
In 1922, Mina was involved in a MPDC controversy. She was accused of insubordination for refusing to release two New York City runaway teens to men who claimed to be their fathers. Mina argued that the parents should be properly identified and the girls appropriately clothed before being returned to the men. She was tried before the Metropolitan Police Department Board and found not guilty. Representatives from over sixty women's organizations attended the trial in support of Mina and women in law enforcement.
As a social worker, suffragist, and policewoman, Mina was a tireless advocate for women. She could be critical, however, of some women. She looked down upon dance hall attendees, arguing that “a dance epidemic always precedes national disaster, as clouds precede a storm.” She also believed that women should stay home, rather than pursue a career. She argued, “The only career in every girl's life should be the developing of a real home.” Mina Van Winkle died on January 16, 1933, in New Jersey, and is buried in Pompton Reformed Cemetery in Pompton Lakes, New Jersey.
Appier, Janis. Policing Women the Sexual Politics of Law Enforcement and the LAPD. (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1998).
Blatch, Harriot Stanton and Alma Lutz, Challenging Years: The Memoirs of Harriot Stanton Blatch, (New York: G.P. Puttnam & Sons, 1940), pg. 234-35.
Dodyk, Delight W., Education and Agitation: The Woman Suffrage Movement in New Jersey, (PhD Dissertation Rutgers University, 1977), pgs. 712-18.
Kelly, John. “In the 1920s, D.C.'s Top Female Cop Tried to Clean up Our Vice-Filled City,” Washington Post, WP Company, 19 Mar. 2016, www.washingtonpost.com/local/in-the-1920s-dcs-top-female-cop-tried-to-clean-up-our-vice-filled-city/2016/03/19/e148b478-eca7-11e5-b0fd-073d5930a7b7_story.html.
“Mina Caroline Van Winkle.” http://www.njwomenshistory.org/discover/biographies/mina-caroline-van-winkle.
“Suffragist Torch Illumines Jersey,” New York Times. August 8, 1915, pg. 25.
“Women Will Keep Up Fight,” New York Times. October 20, 1915, pg. 1.
“Miss Wilson Will Speak,” New York Times. January 31, 1921, pg. 6.
“Mrs. Van Winkle Acquitted of Insubordination Charge in Washington Police Department”. The Social Hygiene Bulletin, May 1922 (Vol IX No. 5), 3.
“Policewoman Faces Trial,” New York Times. March 29, 1922, pg. 2.
“Minni Ginger: in the 1880 United States Federal Census,” Original data: Tenth Census of the United States, 1880. (NARA microfilm publication T9, 1,454 rolls). Records of the Bureau of the Census, Record Group 29. National Archives, Washington, D.C. Year: 1880; Census Place: Newark, Essex, New Jersey; Roll: 779; Page: 183D; Enumeration District: 083
“Minnie Ginger: in the 1900 United States Federal Census,” Ancestry.com. 1900 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2004. Original data: United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Twelfth Census of the United States, 1900. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1900. T623, 1854 rolls. Year: 1900; Census Place: Newark Ward 13, Essex, New Jersey; Page: 19; Enumeration District: 0132; FHL microfilm: 1240966
“Passing the Suffrage Torch,” Women's Political Union of New Jersey, Amelia Berndt Moorfield Collection: New Jersey Historical Society, Newark, NJ.
“Miss C. Van Winkle, founder of the Women's Political Union,” Women's Political Union of New Jersey, Amelia Berndt Moorfield Collection: New Jersey Historical Society, Newark, NJ.