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Getting to Know Dr. Jane Colfax

Updated: Feb 26

By: Tessa Payer, Museum Specialist at the Wayne Museum and Staff Member of the Passaic County Department of Cultural & Historic Affairs

On this day in 2005, Dr. Jane Colfax passed away, leaving behind an immense legacy; both in her medical achievements and the preservation of her family home.

Jane Adelia Colfax was born on June 21st, 1923 to Richard Colfax and Elyse Schoonmaker. While Jane spent her early childhood living on East 32nd Street in Paterson, where her father worked as a lawyer, she likely looked forward to visits to the Schuyler-Colfax House in Wayne, which had descended through members of the Schuyler- and later Colfax- family since the 1690s. Here, young Jane and her brother, Richard Jr, reveled in the more rural setting and enjoyed the company of their grandmother, Adelia Colfax, and aunt, Jennie Colfax, who occupied the home following the death of Richard’s father, William W. Colfax, in 1909. Later in life, Jane would recall being entranced with her grandmother’s pet crow, which she’d taught to sit on her shoulder. Following grandmother Adelia’s death in 1933, however, Jane and her family moved to the Schuyler-Colfax House full time. Despite Jane’s travels throughout her life, the Schuyler-Colfax House would always be home to her.

Two children, a boy and girl, sitting on a large model of a cannon in a park. Black and white photograph.
Figure 1- Richard and Jane Colfax, photographed in Eastside Park during their childhood in Paterson. From the Wayne Museum.

As she moved into the home that had housed generations of Schuylers and Colfaxes, Jane found herself drawn to another family tradition- medicine. Her great-grandfather, William Washington Colfax, had been a doctor, and census records suggest that, at least in his young adulthood, Jane’s grandfather, another William W. Colfax, attended medical school. Surrounded by her great-grandfather’s medical papers, she decided, from a young age, to pursue medical work. She graduated from Pompton Lakes High School in June 1940, showing her career interests with a commencement speech entitled “Causes of Bad Mental Health,” and attended the University of Vermont for a year.

The United States’ entry into World War II in December 1941 provided Jane with another opportunity for medical training. With the increased demand for nurses by the US military, nursing schools were finding it dif