Princeton University officials announced Monday that a building will be named for Laura Wooten, a former local resident and university employee who has been recognized as the longest-serving election poll worker in the United States.
Wooten, who lived in Princeton and Lawrence, worked at the university in campus dining for more than 27 years. She died in 2019 at the age of 98.
Marx Hall will be renamed Laura Wooten Hall effective July 1. The building, located along Washington Road in Princeton, houses the Princeton University Center for Human Values, academic offices, a department library, and teaching spaces. School officials said plans for a formal dedication will be announced at a later date.
The Princeton University Board of Trustees approved the renaming of the building based on the recommendation of the school’s Council of the Princeton University Community Committee on Naming, a committee of faculty, staff, students, and alumni representatives that gives advice to the board regarding the naming of programs, positions and spaces at the university.
The naming of Laura Wooten Hall is intended to honor Wooten’s contributions and emphasize the importance of civic engagement at all levels.
“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,” Princeton University President Christopher Eisgruber said in a written statement. “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 volunteered as a local poll worker at primary and general election polls for 79 years. Last summer, Gov. Phil Murphy signed “Laura Wooten’s Law,” citing her as the longest-serving poll worker in the country. The law focuses on middle school curriculum guidelines to ensure that students study the values and principles underlying the American system of constitutional democracy, the function of government, and the role of a citizen in a democratic society.
“Laura Wooten’s life is a study in civics,” Murphy said at the July 2021 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.”
Wooten was born in Goldsboro, North Carolina in 1920, the same year women’s right to vote was ratified in the U.S. She moved to Princeton as a young child at a time when the schools were segregated and began volunteering at election polls after graduating from high school in 1939.
“Her 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,” wrote Associate Professor of History Beth Lew-Williams, chair of the Council of the Princeton University Community Committee on Naming.
“Voting is your voice so if you don’t go out and vote for things, there will never be any changes. That’s the only way you’ll get changes, is to vote,” Wooten said in a 2018 university interview. “The privilege in a democracy of being able to vote means a lot to me.”
Wooten moved from Princeton to Lawrence Township later in life and spent her last election day in 2018 working at the polls from dawn to late evening. Her dedication was spotlighted by NBC Nightly News and recognized by Vice President Kamala Harris, who was a senator at the time. “Vote every time. Let nothing and no one stop you because your vote is your voice,” Wooten told NBC News.
She has been recognized for her service by the New Jersey State Senate, the municipality of Princeton, and a number of organizations including the League of Women Voters of New Jersey, the National Association of Secretaries of States, the New Jersey chapter of the NAACP, and the National Newspaper Publishers Association, a trade association of more than 200 African American–owned community newspapers in the United States.
University officials said Wooten was well-known among faculty, students and staff, engaging everyone in conversation as she checked meal cards at the entrance of Butler College dining hall. Two of her grandsons also work on campus: Caasi Love, assistant director of finance and planning for Princeton’s School of Engineering and Applied Science, and Isaac Love III, a custodian in Princeton University Building Services. They are among Wooten’s 16 grandchildren and 31 great-grandchildren.
While Wooten was beloved by the campus community, school officials said the honorific naming is intended to recognize her service to the nation and contributions to the democratic process rather than her service as a Princeton employee. “She never served as an elected official, worked in government, or even graduated from college, but she helped to safeguard one of the fundamental pillars of democracy: the right to vote,” Lew-Williams wrote on behalf of the committee.
“Laura Wooten was a Black woman who was educated in Princeton’s segregated public schools and worked at Princeton’s segregated hospital, but she never lost faith in the democratic system,” Lew-Williams wrote. “She believed that everyone’s vote mattered and made it her personal duty to ensure citizens’ voting rights at the polls. Her dedication to service in honor of the democratic process – without compensation or recognition – aligns with core university values.”
The Princeton University Board of Trustees referred Marx Hall to the committee. In October of 2019, university officials announced plans to name the building for Louis Marx of the class of 1953. The building was dedicated in 1993, but the donor’s circumstances changed, making him unable to fulfill his fundraising pledge.