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Nina M. Wells

Lawyer and state government appointee Nina Mitchell Wells was born in 1950 in Washington, D.C. She attended Immaculate Conception Academy, an all-girl catholic high school, and graduated from there in 1968. Wells then enrolled in Mount St. Joseph College, now Mount St. Joseph University, in Cincinnati, Ohio. In 1970, she transferred to a women’s college, Newton College of the Sacred Heart, where she received her B.A. degree in 1972. Wells went on to receive her J.D. degree from Suffolk University Law School in 1976.

After a brief stay in Los Angeles, California, Wells began her legal career as assistant corporation counsel for the City of Newark legal department. In 1990, Wells served as head of the Division of Rate Counsel in the Department of the Public Advocate while Governor Jim Florio was in office. She then served as vice president and senior attorney at the CIT Group from 1994 until 1996. In 1996, Wells was hired at Rutgers University School of Law and served as the assistant dean for the Minority Student Program. In 1998, she was named vice president of public affairs at Schering-Plough Corporation and president of their philanthropic arm, Schering-Plough Foundation. Wells was then appointed to New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine’s cabinet as the Secretary of State of New Jersey in 2006, and served in that position until 2010.

Wells has served on numerous boards including Seton Hall Preparatory School, Newark Day Center and Teach for America. In 2013, she served on the board of trustees of both the Victoria Foundation and the New Jersey Performing Arts Center Women’s Association. She received a nomination by President Barack Obama to serve on the board of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. Wells has also been the recipient of several awards and honors such as the New Jersey Women Lawyers Association Women’s Initiative & Leaders in Law (WILL) Platinum Award and the Montclair Art Museum Honoree for Arts Education. Wells has received honorary degrees from Drew University and the College of St. Elizabeth.

Wells and her husband, criminal defense lawyer Theodore Wells, reside in Livingston, New Jersey.

Nina Wells was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on September 11, 2014.

Accession Number

A2014.216

Sex

Female

Interview Date

9/11/2014

Last Name

Wells

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Middle Name

Mitchell

Schools

Immaculate Conception Academy

Mount St Joseph University

Newton College of the Sacred Heart

Suffolk University Law School

First Name

Nina

Birth City, State, Country

Washington

HM ID

WEL04

Favorite Season

Spring

State

District of Columbia

Favorite Vacation Destination

Grand Cayman

Favorite Quote

You Only Live Once.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

9/9/1950

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Seafood

Short Description

State government appointee and lawyer Nina M. Wells (1950 - ) served as the Secretary of State for New Jersey from 2006 to 2010.

Employment

City of Newark Legal Department

Department of the Public Advocate

CIT Group

Rutgers Law School-Newark

Schering-Plough Corporation

Schering-Plough Foundation

Governor Jon Corzine's Cabinet (New Jersey)

Garfinkel's

U.S. Social Security Administration

New Jersey Bell Telephone Company

Bell Communications Research

Favorite Color

Green

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Nina M. Wells' interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Nina M. Wells lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Nina M. Wells lists her siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Nina M. Wells talks about her paternal grandmother

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Nina M. Wells describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Nina M. Wells remembers her relationship with her father

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Nina M. Wells describes her father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Nina M. Wells describes her earliest childhood memories

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Nina M. Wells describes her extracurricular activities

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Nina M. Wells remembers her summer jobs in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Nina M. Wells remembers modeling for Garfinkel's in Washington, D.C., pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Nina M. Wells remembers modeling for Garfinkel's in Washington, D.C., pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Nina M. Wells describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Nina M. Wells describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Nina M. Wells remembers visiting her parental grandmother

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Nina M. Wells talks about her aspiration to attend college

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Nina M. Wells describes her social life during high school

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Nina M. Wells talks about her social activities

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Nina M. Wells remembers dating her husband

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Nina M. Wells remembers transferring to Newton College of the Sacred Heart in Newton Centre, Massachusetts

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Nina M. Wells describes her experiences at Newton College of the Sacred Heart

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Nina M. Wells describes her decision to attend the Suffolk University Law School in Boston, Massachusetts

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Nina M. Wells talks about the early years of her marriage

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Nina M. Wells talks about the differences between law schools

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Nina M. Wells remembers studying at Langdell Hall in Cambridge, Massachusetts

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Nina M. Wells describes her experiences at Suffolk University Law School in Boston, Massachusetts

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Nina M. Wells remembers the first case as counsel to the City of Newark

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Nina M. Wells describes her reasons for moving to Newark, New Jersey, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Nina M. Wells describes her reasons for moving to Newark, New Jersey, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Nina M. Wells describes her role as counsel to the City of Newark, New Jersey

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Nina M. Wells talks about the Garden State Bar Association

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Nina M. Wells recalls the notable African American lawyers in New Jersey

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Nina M. Wells remembers the events of the 1970s in Newark, New Jersey

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Nina M. Wells describes her role at the New Jersey Bell Telephone Company

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Nina M. Wells talks about the breakup of the Bell system

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Nina M. Wells describes her experiences at Bell Communications Research, Inc.

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Nina M. Wells describes her work with the New Jersey Department of the Public Advocate

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Nina M. Wells talks about New Jersey Governor James Florio

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Nina M. Wells describes her involvement on charitable boards, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Nina M. Wells describes her involvement on charitable boards, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Nina M. Wells talks about her two-year sabbatical

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Nina M. Wells describes how she came to work for CIT Financial Corporation

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Nina M. Wells recalls her assistant deanship of Rutgers Law School in Newark, New Jersey

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Nina M. Wells talks about balancing her career and her family

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Nina M. Wells describes her position at the Schering Plough Corporation

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Nina M. Wells remembers meeting New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Nina M. Wells talks about her relationship with New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Nina M. Wells describes how she became the New Jersey secretary of state

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Nina M. Wells remembers honoring Judge Robert L. Carter

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Nina M. Wells remembers the election of President Barack Obama

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Nina M. Wells talks about the political role of the New Jersey Department of State

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Nina M. Wells talks about New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Nina M. Wells describes her experiences as New Jersey secretary of state, pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Nina M. Wells describes her experiences as New Jersey secretary of state, pt. 2

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Nina M. Wells talks about the defunding of the New Jersey Network

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Nina M. Wells talks about diversity and segregation in New Jersey

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Nina M. Wells talks about New Jersey politics

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Nina M. Wells recalls her appointment to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Nina M. Wells reflects upon her marriage to Theodore V. Wells, Jr.

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Nina M. Wells describes her hopes and concerns for the African American community, pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 9 - Nina M. Wells describes her hopes and concerns for the African American community, pt. 2

Tape: 7 Story: 10 - Nina M. Wells reflects upon her legacy

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Nina M. Wells narrates her photographs, pt. 1

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Nina M. Wells narrates her photographs, pt. 2

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$6

DAStory

8$5

DATitle
Nina M. Wells remembers dating her husband
Nina M. Wells remembers honoring Judge Robert L. Carter
Transcript
So tell, talk about meeting Ted [Wells' husband, HistoryMaker Theodore V. Wells, Jr.].$$Yeah. Well, I, like I said, I knew a lot of the kids from Coolidge [Calvin Coolidge High School; Calvin Coolidge Senior High School, Washington, D.C.], and a young man had asked me to go on a bus trip, and the bus trip was sponsored by the coach of Calvin Coolidge, the football coach. So if the team did well every year, he would take them on a bus ride to--we were going to see the Baltimore Bullets [Washington Wizards] play in Baltimore [Maryland], basketball game. So it was like a big deal. So this young man asked me to go, and I said, sure. So I'm on the bus, and sitting in front of me was Ted--excuse me, and his girlfriend. Then afterwards, he--Ted turned around and saw me, and then he said to my date, "Let's trade numbers, phone numbers," so they traded phone numbers, so Ted called me. But at the time, he was known as Tokey. He was a jock. And I kind of knew about him, and he was like in a nice crowd, but not exactly my crowd. Like if he'd come to the parties, he wouldn't get in the front door. They would end up coming in later when somebody would open the door for them.$$(Laughter).$$So I was like, I know this guy. I seen him come in the back door. I'm like, he's not one of the invitees, invited guests, so I told him I didn't--wasn't interested. I said, "No, I know you, and I know your friends, and that's--no, no thank you." So he kept calling me, and then he had a friend call and say, "Oh, I can, I can tell you, he's really a good guy. He's really smart. He does well in school. He's really nice." I was like, "No, I don't--I'm not interested." So he kept on, kept on, kept on calling. He goes, "Why don't you even give me a chance? Like one date." I was like, I don't know. So I said, okay. So I went out on one date with him, and I was like totally impressed 'cause I thought he was more of a--I used to say, "You're, you're just a hoodlum, and your friends are hoodlums." But I just meant that they were like, you know, kind of really out there, but he was so nice, and he was so well dressed, and I thought he was going come with some hip hop clothes on, and he had on Bass weejuns [G.H. Bass and Company], and I was like, oh, my god. You look nice. So from that point on, I thought maybe he was worthy of my attention, so--and then I found out that he was really like--really interested in going to college, too, which was really important 'cause at first my father [Ignatius Mitchell, Jr.] did not like him.$$Oh, he didn't.$$No.$$What did he say?$$No. He was I don't really--I don't know. He's--Ted was pretty much raised by his mom [Phyllis Wells]. He goes, "Oh, a single parent." I'm like, "I'm [sic.] a single parent." And my father said, "No, I don't think I really like him. I don't think he's a good date." And I said, "Well, you don't know him. You have to get to meet him, meet his family and everything." So once Ted--once my father met Ted's mother, he said, "Oh, she's really lovely." And then, believe it or not, Ted's family, once we started dating, his family, his mother and sister [Toni Wells] would join us for Christmas dinner for like years, and then when we decided to get married, we just got married at, at a Christmas dinner informally, so it was so interesting how the mothers really became friends.$$Oh, the two mothers became friends (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) Yes, yes.$$Okay. Not the fath--$$Yeah.$$The two mothers.$$The mothers 'cause Ted's father [Theodore V. Wells, Sr.] wasn't in the picture.$$Right.$$And then--$$Right.$$--my father thought Ted's mother was quite lovely, too.$$Okay.$$But my father didn't join us for dinner. My mother [Pearline Jackson Smith], remember, was (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) I see.$$--remarried, yeah.$$So you know--$$So it was interesting how we kind of merged the two families, yeah (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) Because I read that you went to see movies your first date, 'Fahrenheit'--maybe 45- (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) '451.' That was--well, that was the first date, but don't forget, when I met Ted, that wasn't a date.$$Right. That--$$They switched (simultaneous)--$$--(simultaneous) that was on the bus.$$Yes. How did you read that?$$Go on, all right.$$Where did that come from? That's true, 'Fahrenheit 451,' yeah, absolutely. Thank you for refreshing my recollection, yeah. I--we used to--I used to keep track. I'd write down every date and give it a grade (laughter). For years and years I had a record of every place we went, and then I would evaluate it. I mean, how was it? And what was he like? (Unclear), right?$So (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Yeah.$$--talk about what, what happened.$$Yeah.$$You became the--$$Yeah. I became the secretary of state for New Jersey, and previous governors had moved certain functions out of the department for a variety of reasons, and Governor Corzine wanted to put it back in. But one of the fun things I did was, I was part of the senior staff, which really meant that you met with the governor every single day at eight o'clock in the morning, and, basically, what you would do is you sat around with like ten people, and you talked about all the priorities for the administration, what we were going to do that day, what public events there were, how we were going to execute things, and, basically, you, you were like the pulse of state government every single day, you know. Were there key issues you'd heard about that the governor needed to be aware of? If he was, you know, considering certain actions, what was your reaction? How did you feel about things, and, you know, so you were sort of eyes and ears outside of your own cabinet position, so you got a chance to really see everything that was going on in the state government, and to--and, politically, and you were--you know, had the political, you know, you have to be attuned to what was happening politically, comment accordingly, and if you saw opportunities. One of the really fun, fun, fun things I did, and I have a picture to capture it, is Ted [Wells' husband, HistoryMaker Theodore V. Wells, Jr.] said to me, "While you're there, ask the governor--we got to give Judge Robert L. Carter [HistoryMaker Robert L. Carter], we got to get him a building, a school, a school, a building, something. Nina [HistoryMaker Nina M. Wells], you're on a mission. Let's go do it." So I talked to Jon Corzine, and he says, "I'm fascinated with Judge Carter's career." I said--twenty-four [U.S.] Supreme Court arguments, won twenty-three. You know, argued Brown versus Board of Education decisions [Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 1954], you know, before Thurgood [Thurgood Marshall] did, and Thurgood is getting feedback, and then they go and they come, the whole nine yards. 'Simple Justice' ['Simple Justice: The History of Brown v. Board of Education and Black America's Struggle for Equality,' Richard Kluger], you know, right, taking the pages out of 'Simple Justice.' And Corzine said, "What a phenomenal idea. Let's see what we can do." And I talked to Cory [Cory Booker], and it's like, "Cory, give me a school." "Everything is just so school board, and it's so difficult." So I said, "We got to find a building. We got to find a building, got a find a building." The department of education [New Jersey Department of Education], we said, "That's the perfect building," in Trenton [New Jersey], right. So I have this wonderful--we had a reception for Judge Carter here. Of course, we had a wonderful--at the department of education, we had the entire department, all of these great, you know, key people in state government, and governors come out and dedicate the department of education building [Robert L. Carter Building] to Judge Robert L. Carter. I'll show you the signage that is in front of it. And that morning, we were all set for the media and everything. That morning Judge Carter's wonderful son called and said Judge Carter was too sick to even get in the car. You know, he had coronary heart disease. I mean, this was maybe five years before he passed. He was very sick. And he said, "But we're coming," he and his brother [John Carter and David Carter]. He said, "We're coming and we'll speak and everything." And we're like, "No problem." So we have this wonderful, wonderful ceremony. Everybody in the department of education was going like really crazy. What's really nice, though, is that it's been memorialized in the lobby. First of all, there's a beautiful, huge sign which I'll show you. Then this--his, his bust, a plaque, the whole history of everything he did. They said busloads come to that building, it's like on the, you know, tour. If you come down to the statehouse in Trenton, that's one of the things that's a must see. Busloads of kids get out and read about Judge Robert L. Carter, which I think--who was a New Jerseyan, right?$$Now, so (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Yeah.$$--talk about his relationship with New Jersey and his, you know--$$Yeah. Started school in Newark [New Jersey], and his father [Robert L. Carter, Sr.] died. His mother [Annie Martin Carter] was a nurse, and she moved the family to East Orange [New Jersey], and he went to high school in East Orange. And, I mean, a lot of people from Newark and from--of course, he was a top, top, top student at Barringer High School [Barringer Academy of the Arts and Humanities] in Newark. A lot of people do not know, and in East Orange and graduated with honors, but he had a lot of challenges, though, because East Orange, at that time, was primarily Caucasian, and they didn't want him even to use the swimming pool, and he talks about how, you know, he dealt with all of the racism and everything and still graduated the tippy top of his class, and, you know, and then went Lincoln University [Lincoln University, Pennsylvania] and then on to Columbia Law School [New York, New York]. But a lot of people in Newark do not know him, so it's so nice now to have the department of education building in Trenton dedicated to him, and so it's exposed people in a way that they never would have been exposed, and then Raymond M. Brown, the son of the famous lawyer [Raymond A. Brown], although, he is also very famous, has a program called 'Due Process,' and they did a whole segment on Judge Carter right as he passed, so it's a wonderful piece, and they've replayed it over and over and over again, and I wish it could be part of something in your library.$$I, I actually saw, saw the piece (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) Did you see the program?$$I saw the program.$$Yeah.$$So--$$Letting people in Newark know--$$Right.$$--in New Jersey.$$So let me--I mean, that was a wonderful thing to do. Did he, did he get to see the wall, though?$$He, he never got to see it. Although, we had pictures.$$Oh.$$Because in his later years, he couldn't travel. Don't forget Trenton for him would have been two hours in the car, but his sons--you should see the pictures, amazing. We did a whole portfolio. But then we had a reception here at the apartment, and I, I brought it out so you could see it.