Biographical Sketch of Bertha Violet Shippen Irving

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890—1920

Biography of Bertha Violet Shippen Irving, 1876-1945

By Lisa Hendrickson, Independent Historian

Bertha Violet Shippen was born on October 18, 1876 in St. Louis, Missouri, the daughter of Elizabeth Jones Winslow and Judge Joseph Shippen. One of Elizabeth Jones Winslow's ancestors, Kenelm Winslow, came over on the Mayflower. Another ancestor, Peter Folger, was one of Nantucket's first settlers and was Benjamin Franklin's maternal grandfather. Members of the Shippen family were prominent in the 18th & 19th century in the Philadelphia area. Edward Shippen III (1703-1781), her great great grandfather, was one of the founders of both the College of New Jersey in 1746 (which became Princeton University in 1753) and of the Philadelphia Academy (which later became the University of Pennsylvania). Edward III was also the founder of Shippenburg, PA, and in 1744 was elected the mayor of Philadelphia. Edward III's brother, Dr. William H. Shippen Sr. (1712-1801), was a doctor and a member of the Continental Congress. In 1750, Dr. William H. Shippen Sr. and his son Joseph W. Shippen built a mansion called Old Shippen Manor that still stands and is a museum in Oxford Furnace, NJ. Bertha's great aunt, Margaret (Peggy) Shippen (1760-1804), was the second wife of Benedict Arnold. Her great grandfather, Coronel Joseph Shippen Jr. (1732-1810), graduated from Princeton in 1753, was Secretary to the Governor of Pennsylvania (William Penn), and was a judge at the county court in Lancaster, PA.

Bertha's father, Judge Joseph Shippen (1839-1923) graduated from Harvard and was appointed as the commissioner to hospitals in Philadelphia. The family moved around, first settling in Missouri, then by 1880 in Yonkers, NY, by the 1890s in Chicago, IL, and by 1909 in Philadelphia. Initially, Bertha attended public school in Chicago and later studied in private schools in Heidelberg, Stuttgart, Paris, and Geneva. She graduated from the Faelten School of Music in Boston and became a successful piano teacher in both Chicago and New York. In addition to her formal schooling, she helped teach music and English classes at Hull House in Chicago under the direction of Jane Addams.

On February 21, 1899 she married Robert Archibald Irving in Chicago. They had four children, Helen Elizabeth, Margaret, Robert Shippen, and Edward Winslow. The Irving family moved around a lot first residing in Chicago, Pittsburg, and then in Philadelphia. By 1911 they had moved to Haddonfield, NJ (401 Warwick Road) where Mr. Irving had his own insurance business. Robert A. Irving ran for Congress in 1914, but was defeated by Frank F. Patterson. In June of 1929, her husband passed away. Bertha's son, Robert Shippen Irving (1909-1980), became a respected banker in Philadelphia. From 1934-1940 he served as an underwriting supervisor for the Federal Housing Administration, and served as treasurer for the National Corporation for Housing Partnerships in Washington from 1970-1973.

Bertha was active in the woman suffrage movement and like many suffragists, was also active in the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). The WCTU began working with the New Jersey Woman Suffrage Association in 1884. In 1890, because of their involvement with the WCTU, Lucy Stone split from Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton effectively creating two opposing suffragist groups. Starting in 1915, Bertha's suffragist activities included giving speeches and lectures at many meetings across New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. She was the chairman of the Camden County Suffrage Association and from 1915-1917 and was also the Congressional Chairman of the Third Congressional District of New Jersey. She was a featured speaker at the suffrage convention in Elizabeth, New Jersey in January 1916. The focus of that convention was to analyze the reasons why women's suffrage had been defeated in the fall. Throughout 1917, she actively campaigned for women's suffrage in New York State. Bertha's political involvement began after winning the right to vote. In the years 1920, 1921, 1922 she ran unsuccessfully as a candidate for the New Jersey State School Board. An ardent Democrat, at the 1924 New Jersey Democratic National Convention, she served as an alternate delegate representing the 1st District. For 13 years she was a member of the Camden County Democratic Committee serving several years as vice chairman.

In addition to the women's suffrage movement, she was very involved in civic issues including temperance and prison reform. Some of the organizations she was involved with were: Daughters of the American Revolution, Legislative Committee of the State Federation of Women's Clubs, Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), Mothers' Congress of New Jersey, Women's Committee of the Council of Nation Defense (during WWI), New Jersey League of Women Voters, State Executive Board of the Consumers' League, and Philadelphia Music Club. A very active and outspoken member of the state board of education, Shippen proposed to make the State Education Commissioner the executive officer of the state board which would help increase cooperation between the State Department of Education and the State Board of Education work together. She also lobbied for temperance education in high schools. Governor Moore appointed her to the State Board of Regents n 1932. Although she had been very active in the temperance movement, in 1926, the Camden county branch of the WCTU ousted her from its membership because of her statements that prohibition had been a failure and that temperance would best be achieved through education of youth.

In June of 1933 she was named acting postmaster of Haddonfield and was nominated for the permanent job by President Roosevelt. Confirmed by the Senate in 1936, she was the first woman to hold this position. In her later years she lived at 228 King's Highway East in Haddonfield, NJ. She passed away at home on March 26, 1945.


New Jersey Historical Society website: (the Shippen family papers: 1750-1775) (For additional information there is a collection of Shippen family letters at The Winterthur Library)

  • Federal Census: 1900, 1910, 1920, 1940
  • US Cities Directories 1822-1995
  • NJ State Census: 1915
  • McKay Family Tree

Gordon, Felice D., After Winning: the Legacy of New Jersey Suffragists 1929-1940, (New Brunswick, NJ, Rutgers University Press, 1986), pp. 58, 81, 97, 98, 100.

Scannell, John James, William Edgar Sackett, Scanell's New Jersey's First Citizens and State Guide-Volume 2, (Patterson, NJ, J.J. Scannell, 1919), pp. 577-79.

“Suffrage Convention Tomorrow Night,” The Courier-News, January 20, 1916, p. 1.

“Parties Name Chiefs in Camden County,” Trenton Times, October 3, 1922. P. ?

“Lively Debate in State School Board on Temperance Instructions,” The Daily News, February 10, 1924, p. 1.

“School Survey Not Endorsed by the State Board,” Daily Home News, January 12, 1925, p. 3.

“Camden W.C.T.U. Ousts Mrs. Irving as Lukewarm ‘Dry,'” Philadelphia Inquirer, January 8, 1926, p. 1.

“Bertha Shippen Irving Passes Suddenly, “ Haddon Gazette (Haddonfield, NJ), March 29, 1945, p. 8.

“Teachers Asked Change,” Asbury Park Press (Asbury Park, N. J.), April 1, 1926, p. 5.

New Jersey Department of Education, “Mrs. Robert A. Irving appointed a member of the State Board of Education,” Education Bulletin, Volumes 8-9, June 1923, pp. 186-87.

Harvard College, Report of the Class of 1860 (Boston: Harvard Press, 1860), p. 82.


Photograph of Bertha Irving from Google:


Photo of Bertha Irving from The Philadelphia Inquirer, January 8. 1926, pg. 1

back to top