The idea of an oral history first surfaced in 1970 when the Township was celebrating the seventy-fifth anniversary of its incorporation in 1895. Some 100 interviews were taped by volunteers. The expenses were underwritten by private contributions.
After the National Endowment for the Humanities awarded a grant in 1980 for the project to be completed, the funds were used to tape another 100 interviews and to produce a half-hour film, a companion audio-visual presentation, a photographic display of the Township's early days and this booklet. The oral history dramatizes how a community of people with a wide diversity of ethnic, religious and racial backgrounds is capable of working together to absorb major social changes and to create a community which exemplifies unity without uniformity.
The oral history, now a permanent part of the Teaneck Public Library collection, is available in whole or in part for loan to community organizations, schools and libraries.
This brief outline of the history of the Township of Teaneck is presented as a way of introducing users to any of the component parts of the oral history.
Teaneck Becomes a Township (Period I: 1895 - 1929)
In the first 35 years following its incorporation, the Township of Teaneck gradually moved away from its origin as a rural farming community. In this period, a number of major changes took place, including the opening and dedication of the Municipal Building (1926), the completion of the high school (1929), the opening of Holy Name Hospital (1925), the opening of the first public library building (1927) and the completion of a number of churches, including Presbyterian (1905), St. Anastasia (1908), Christ Episcopal (1913), Teaneck Methodist (1915), Baha'i (1916), Community Church (1921), St. Mark's Episcopal (1925) and St. Paul's Lutheran (1925).
As the period came to a close, construction of the George Washington Bridge had begun and the population was growing rapidly (it quadrupled between the 1920 and 1930 federal censuses).
Milestones of social change: In this period, Dutch, Norwegian, Danish, French, German and English families contributed to the population growth.
Non-Partisan Government (Period II: 1930 to 1944)
Half a century ago, Teaneck was a quiet suburban community. But years of dissatisfaction with local government triggered a popular movement for what was then a radical new idea: non-partisan government. This system attracted new residents who were receptive to change, setting the stage for dramatic events that focused the spotlight on a community committed to making democracy work. The George Washington Bridge was completed, leading to a second period of rapid population growth (between 1930 and 1950, Teaneck's population doubled). With the completion of Route 4, Township government decided to preserve a green belt on both sides of the highway, a decision which came to distinguish the Township from all its neighbors fronting on the traffic artery. In 1932, Teaneck's Central Park (now Milton A. Votee Park) was begun as a WPA project.
Early milestones of social change: During this period, Teaneck began developing its multi-ethnic, multi-racial character, as significant numbers of Irish, Italians, Greeks, Armenians, Jews and blacks moved into town. The first Jewish religious school opened in 1933 and the First Baptist Church became integrated in the 1940's.
Social Change (Period III: 1945 to 1964)
The community's accommodation to social change was reflected in many of the events of this 20-year period. In the early years of the period (1949), Teaneck was chosen by the US Army as a model American community. Yet by the end of the period, the "model community" was being shaken by a controversy which climaxed when the Township's electorate voted (in 1964) overwhelmingly in favor of candidates who were committed to voluntary integration of its public schools.
In 1949, the Teaneck Jewish Community Center was dedicated. In 1951, a new building housing the Police Department was dedicated and in successive years (1957 and 1958), two junior high schools were completed.
Bergen Junior College, which had moved to Teaneck in 1936, experienced a major postwar expansion and became the Teaneck campus of Fairleigh Dickinson University in 1957.
Milestones of social change: Matthew Feldman became Teaneck's first Jewish mayor in 1959. He created the Advisory Board on Community Relations, which became the Township's vehicle for coping with ethnic and racial problems within the community.
An International Community (Period IV: 1965 to 1985)
Perhaps stimulated by the voluntary integration of the public schools, the influx of other nationalities broadened; the 1980 census reported Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Filipinos, Asian Indians, Chinese, Koreans, American Indians, Japanese, Eskimos, a Hawaiian and a Guamanian. According to a recent survey, students at the high school speak a total of 24 languages!
To combat racial steering, the Council enacted an anti-blockbusting ordinance in 1966. The measure is credited with helping to maintain the community's racial, religious and ethnic balance.
Organizations were formed that underlined the community's diversity: chapters of NOW, UNICO and AARP; a Chinese community school; an Afro-American educational center; Dar-Ul-Islah, an Asian Indian group.
Other milestones of social change: In 1970, the Township elected its first black Council member and its first Councilwoman; the Council chose its first woman mayor (1974), its first black mayor (1982), its first black Municipal Court judge (1979) and its first woman judge (1981); the Police Department was integrated (1965) and the High School's Class of 1981 was the first to graduate after being integrated from kindergarten onward.
Scores of Township residents gave generously of their time and energy to create the oral history. Space limitations make it impossible to recognize all of these residents, but it is appropriate to acknowledge, with profound gratitude, the contributions of those who did the interviews for the tapes that are the core of this historic collection.
They are Theodore Branch, Ethele Brown, Marie Burr, Clifton B. Cox, Dr. Orra N. Davage, Myrna Gillespie, Alice Hecht, Audrey Henson, Gloria Howard, June Kapell, Helen Klein, Ann McGrath, Richard Rodda, Meryl Sachs, Virginia Stilles, Lou Schwartz, Mildred Taylor, Robbie Wedeen, Hilde Weisert and Mary Zuvernick.
Appelbaum, Joy Zacharia, The History of the Jews of Teaneck, Teaneck, NJ, Jewish Community Council of Teaneck, ©1977.
Code of the Township of Teaneck, Ordinances 26-22.1 to 26-22.5.
Cole, Leonard A., Blacks in Power, Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press, ©1976.
Damerell, Reginald D., Triumph in a White Suburb, New York, William Morrow, ©1968.
Lake, Robert W., The New Suburbanites: Race and Housing in the Suburbs, New Brunswick, NI, Center for Urban Policy Research of Rutgers University, ©1981.
Leiby, Adrian C., The Revolutionary War in the Hackensack Valley, New Brunswick, NJ, Rutgers University Press, ©1962.
Morrill, Robert N., A Glimpse of the Old Days, Wolfeboro, NH, Kingswood Press, ©1982.
Sloat, Evelyn C., The Story of the Township of Teaneck, 1941 (manuscript).
Taylor, Mildred, The History of Teaneck, Teaneck, NJ, Teaneck American Bicentennial Committee, ©1977.