The building formerly known to campus as Marx Hall will now bear the name of Laura Wooten, a long-time University employee and the longest continuously serving election poll worker in the United States history, according to a University announcement on Monday, June 6.
Wooten had volunteered at local, primary, and general election polling sites in New Jersey for 79 continuous years. She also served on the University’s staff for more than 27 years, most notably in Butler and First College dining halls. Wooten died in 2019 at the age of 98.
With the renaming of the campus building that houses the University Center for Human Values as Laura Wooten Hall, the University intends to “honor her extraordinary contributions and emphasize the importance of civic engagement at all levels,” according to Monday’s statement.
The renaming comes after a vote by the University Board of Trustees, which followed the recommendation of the Council of the Princeton University Community (CPUC) Commitee on Naming — made up of faculty, staff, graduate student, undergraduate, and alumni representatives.
Associate Professor of History Beth Lew-Williams, who chairs the committee, noted in the University statement that Wooten’s “status as the longest continuously serving poll worker in the nation is a rare and exceptional achievement, one that offers a powerful example of how ordinary citizens can perform extraordinary service to the nation.”
Lew-Williams also tweeted about her thoughts on the renaming.
On behalf of Governor Phil Murphy’s administration, press secretary Bailey Lawrence wrote in an email to The Daily Princetonian that “the Murphy administration is pleased to know that Laura Wooten’s legacy will continue to live on within the halls of Princeton University.”
“Just as importantly, the spirit of Wooten’s dedication to civic engagement will also be imparted upon New Jersey middle schoolers, who will receive required civics instruction beginning in the 2022–2023 school year because of a law signed by Governor Murphy last July,” Lawrence added.
“Laura Wooten’s Law,” signed into law by Murphy in July 2021, mandates the teaching of civics and civic values in New Jersey’s middle schools.
Lawrence further noted that “it is our collective responsibility to equip our younger generations with the knowledge and skills necessary to meaningfully contribute to their communities and participate in the political process, just as Wooten did for nearly eight decades.”
Wooten, born in 1920, grew up in a segregated Princeton. She began volunteering at election polling places after graduating from high school in 1939.
Wooten worked at Princeton Hospital and, at 72 years old, became a University staff member, working in Campus Dining for more than 27 years.
Caasi Love, one of Wooten’s two grandsons who are currently working at the University, noted in an interview with the ‘Prince’ that, “being a card checker [in Butler College] ... she always had great words of inspiration, she always talked [to students].”
“She passed on a lot of herself to other people,” Love said.
For Wooten’s family, the naming of the building is a moment of pride and an important acknowledgement of Wooten’s enduring legacy at the institution.
“We are all very, very excited about the naming of the building, and the legacy that it leaves. I think it really points to what she was able to do,” Love said. “[She did] what she felt was right and what everybody feels is right, and to actually get recognized for it is very important ... especially when we talk about voting and how important it is.“
“Voting plays a critical role in ensuring a vibrant and thriving democracy,” agreed Sara Gruppo, the Community Action Program Director at the Pace Center for Civic Engagement, where she leads the center’s efforts to increase student voter turnout.
Gruppo added that in a statement to the ‘Prince’ that “Ms. Laura Wooten’s commitment to volunteering as a poll worker offers an outstanding example of one of the many ways we can all contribute to the civic health of our community.”
Similarly, President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 said in the University statement that he is “delighted” by the change. 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,” Eisgruber said.
The building’s renaming will officially become effective on July 1. It will be formally dedicated at a later date, yet to be announced.
“It is thrilling and inspiring to know that Ms. Wooten’s name and her legacy will be known and shared with future generations of Princetonians,” said Gruppo.
Madeleine LeBeau is a news contributor for the ‘Prince.’ She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Instagram @madeleinelebeau, or on Twitter @MadeleineLeBeau.