Elementary school teacher and former First Lady of New Jersey Jean Byrne

18522023-largeThere are many examples of talented teachers who have also made a mark in the political world. Such is certainly the case with Jean Featherly Byrne, an elementary school teacher who also became the First Lady of New Jersey.

Jean was born in Newark, New Jersey, on October 17, 1926. Her parents were George and Jane (Crysler) Featherly. She was raised in nearby West Orange. After she graduated from West Orange High School, Jean enrolled in Bucknell University, where she earned her bachelor’s degree. Although she majored in Spanish, she garnered academic awards in English composition and literature. She later earned her master’s degree in education from New York University.

Jean taught second grade at an elementary school in West Orange, New Jersey. She also taught in schools in Harlem and Manhattan. Jean married Brendan T. Byrne in 1953. In those days, women teachers were not allowed to work when they were in the family way, so when Jean became pregnant with her first child in 1954, she was forced to resign from her teaching position. Jean and her husband had a total of seven children together.

Jean became the First Lady of New Jersey when her former husband, Brendan Byrne, was elected governor in 1974. The couple served their state until 1982. During her tenure as First Lady, Jean concentrated her energy on issues related to education and health care. One of her daughters was born with Down’s Syndrome, so Jean advocated tirelessly for research into the condition. She was a lifelong advocate of quality education and civil rights.

Jean and Brendan were divorced in 1993, and Jean settled in Princeton, New Jersey. She passed away from babesiosis, a tick-borne disease which affects the red blood cells, on August 9, 2015. She was 88 years old.