Laura Wooten, a University staff member and lifelong poll worker, died on March 24 at the age of 98.
Wooten worked as a meal card checker for the Butler and Wilson College dining halls for 27 years and was greatly beloved by her co-workers, as well as the students with whom she interacted.
The Mercer County Board of Elections confirmed that Wooten, who volunteered at every election since 1939, was the longest continuously serving poll worker in both Mercer County and the state of New Jersey. With 79 years of service, she is also believed to have been the longest continuously working poll worker in U.S. history.
Wooten’s funeral took place at 2 p.m. on Monday, April 1, at the University chapel. The service was led by Reverend William D. Carter of the First Baptist Church of Princeton.
“Blessed are those who conduct themselves like Mama Wooten,” Carter said at the beginning of his address, speaking before an audience that filled over half of the chapel pews.
During the service, individuals who knew Wooten during her lifetime read aloud letters of condolence.
“Laura Wooten committed herself to fairness in our election system and protecting everyone’s right to vote,” wrote New Jersey lieutenant governor Sheila Oliver in a letter to the Wooten family.
Another letter of condolence to the family noted that Wooten would “be counted as one of the sages of our time.”
Wooten was born on Dec. 19, 1920, in Goldsboro, N.C., several months after women were given the right to vote with the ratification of the 19th amendment.
When she was four years old, Wooten’s family moved to Princeton, where she grew up and graduated as a member of Princeton High School’s Class of 1939.
In an interview with the University on Oct. 29, 2018, Wooten recalled a Nassau Street that was frequented by horses and carriages, as well as a trolley that ran from Witherspoon Street to the stores in Trenton.
Wooten also remembered a segregated Princeton. In particular, Princeton schools were not racially integrated until 1948, nine years after Wooten’s high school graduation.
Wooten’s work as a volunteer at election polls began after her graduation in 1939. Her uncle, Anderson Mitnaul, who was then running for the position of Princeton’s justice of the peace, encouraged her to volunteer. From that point forward, she never missed an election.
In her interview with the University, Wooten shared her observations about the changes in American voting culture over the decades.
“At that time, quite a few people voted,” Wooten said. “More than they do now.”
According to Wooten, the relatively higher turnout resulted from drivers visiting neighborhoods and taking people who otherwise would not have been able to vote to the polls.
“Voting is your voice,” Wooten said, encouraging University students to vote. “That’s the only way you’ll get changes.”
Wooten saw the direct impact of voting when she was at Princeton Medical Center, her place of employment for 18 years, until her retirement in 1988 at the age of 68.
When she first started working there, the hospital was segregated. The doctors and nurses were all white, and the hospital’s black employees either worked in the kitchens or the supply center. Wooten worked in the latter.
Wooten said in her interview that she didn’t remember the exact year that everything changed, but that “voting changed all that.” After the hospital was integrated, she became a nurse’s aide.
After retiring from Princeton Medical Center, Wooten became employed as a food service worker in the Butler and Wilson College dining halls. She enjoyed this job so much that she often described it as play instead of work.
Wooten is survived by her sons, Chester Wooten, Jr., and Paul Wooten; daughters, Carolyn Love, Yvonne Hill, and Leola Wooten; grandchildren, Tamar Wooten, Chantal Wooten, Blitz Wooten, Keoke Wooten-Johnson, Ontrea DiNapoli, Dayla Simon, Tonia Fletcher, Trey Love, Lovette Stevens, Troy Love, Caasi Love, Adrienne R. Hill, Billie M. Hill, Leanna Wooten, Donyel Griffin, and Donovan Griffin; 31 great-grandchildren; and one great-great-grandchild.