Home Biography of Gertrude Lynde Crocker, 1884-1969

Biography of Gertrude Lynde Crocker, 1884-1969

Biography of Gertrude Lynde Crocker, 1884-1969

composite of two photos of Gertrude Crocker
Old photgraph of Gertrude Crocker in a light-colored dress.

Gertrude Crocker photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

By Sara Schliep, Archivist and Cataloger, Folger Shakespeare Library

Gertrude Lynde Crocker was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on January 7, 1884 to Eliza Warner Lynde and John Tweedy Crocker. By 1900, Crocker’s family had moved to Hinsdale, Illinois where her father worked as a purchasing agent for the Chicago, Milwaukee, & St. Paul railroad. Little is known of Crocker’s early years growing up in Hinsdale, but she attended grammar and high school in Chicago before beginning her college education at her mother’s alma mater, Vassar, in the fall of 1903. After two years, Crocker returned to her family home in Hinsdale and enrolled at the University of Chicago where she studied mathematics, earning her Bachelor of Science in December 1911.

In 1914, Crocker and her older sister Ruth traveled to Europe but World War I “caught them in Austria” cutting their travels short, as was later reported in the Chicago Tribune. Soon after returning to the states, Crocker became an active suffragist—by late 1914 she was in Washington, D.C. working for the Congressional Union for Women’s Suffrage (Congressional Union). Her activities were frequently reported in their weekly publication The Suffragist, which noted that she was “studying the technique of Congressional procedure,” participating in poster brigades, leading street meetings, and selling copies of The Suffragist. That year, she successfully lobbied her Illinois Congressmen at the Capitol who pledged their support of the suffrage amendment and she helped organize the deputation that visited President Wilson on January 6, 1915. By March 1915, newspapers were calling Crocker “one of the most zealous leaders” of the Congressional Union’s suffrage campaign, helping to bring the Susan B. Anthony amendment before Congress that January.

Crocker organized in North Carolina for several weeks in early 1915 before returning to Illinois as its State Organizer during the Congressional Union’s 1915 “back-fire” campaign. A Washington Herald article explained that the campaign would arrange for a convention to be held in all 48 U.S. states “to build back-fires under every Congressman who opposed” the suffrage legislation in the 63rd Congressional session. During the spring and summer of 1915, Crocker sent weekly reports back to Congressional Union headquarters to be published in The Suffragists “Campaign Through the Country” column and used her position as State Organizer to recruit other women to the cause, writing in a mass mailing of June 15, 1915 that “We women of Illinois who have enjoyed the rights and privileges of partial suffrage must see how desirable it is that women of every state in the Union should have full suffrage.” At Congressional Union co-founder Alice Paul’s suggestion, Crocker attended the convention of women voters held in Chicago in June 1916 where the National Woman’s Party was formed.

While Crocker would later confide to Congressional Union co-founder Lucy Burns in a letter that she felt “overwhelmed at speaking before such a large crowd,” Crocker was a vocal advocate for suffrage. She gave the principal talk at a May 1915 meeting at the home of the Chicago Branch chairwoman, Miss Edith Swift, and spoke at other local gatherings, such as a meeting of the Sixth Ward Civic League and at a picnic of the Illinois Equal Suffrage Association honoring suffragist Lucy Stone. Crocker was also a speaker in the delegation that visited Illinois Congressman George Edmund Foss in September of 1915. She also helped organize the Illinois state convention, serving as the committee’s Treasurer, and would host Alice Paul for several days at her home in August of the same year.

That winter, Crocker returned to Washington, D.C. and put her degree in mathematics to use in earnest as she took “charge of ticket sales for the Susan B. Anthony pageant to be given at the Convention Hall in December” as part of the Congressional Union’s National Convention. She served as a marshal in the convention’s opening march to the Capitol and White House on December 6, 1915. By February 1916, Crocker had assumed a position as the Congressional Union’s Assistant Treasurer and worked closely with Treasurer Joy L. Webster to track memberships and donations and to arrange Congressional Union organizers’ travel and send funds across the country to them as they rallied national support for women’s enfranchisement. In March 1917 when the Congressional Union merged with the National Woman’s Party (NWP), which was widely covered in national newspapers, Crocker became its Treasurer but only served through May before entering war service working for the U.S. Treasury Department.

Since John Crocker was a prominent member of Chicago society, the Crocker sisters’ suffrage activities were frequently covered in the local newspapers, and the Chicago Tribune reported that after hearing Crocker’s “glowing accounts and zeal for the cause,” her sister Ruth became an active Congressional Union member. In a May 1916 publicity stunt covered by The Suffragist and several newspapers, the Crocker sisters presented a birthday cake to Illinois Representative William Elza Williams in Statuary Hall of the U.S. Capitol with the message “May the coming year bring you joy and the Susan B. Anthony amendment.” Later that year, their brother Paul would marry fellow Congressional Union organizer Ruth Astor Noyes, further solidifying suffrage as a Crocker family cause.

On January 10, 1917, the Congressional Union escalated its militant tactics and Crocker was among the 12 women, known as “Silent Sentinels,” who participated in the first ever picket protest outside the White House as a member of the morning detail stationed at the East Gate, which was widely reported in articles like “Suffrage Pickets for White House” published in the Evening Star. The picket campaign continued for over two years in addition to demonstrations and watch fires. Crocker would be arrested, tried, and convicted on charges of disorderly conduct, meeting and speaking publicly without a park permit, and building fires alongside her fellow suffragists (including her sister Ruth), ultimately serving three sentences in the District Jail. On October 20, 1917, Crocker was arrested with Alice Paul, Dr. Caroline Spencer, and Gladys Greiner for picketing at the White House. The Evening Star reported her conviction of disorderly conduct and a sentence of 30 days after refusing to pay the $25.00 fine. In a letter smuggled out of the Washington District Jail in November 1917 to Crocker’s mother and published in the Chicago Tribune, Crocker spoke of feeling like “a rat in a trap” caught there “merely for holding a banner in front of the White House.” While recounting the conditions of the jail, she noted being put in solitary confinement where she was “cold all the time,” but recognized that she was “unusually fortunate” for having a view out the window opposite her cell.

Like other imprisoned suffragists, Crocker went on hunger strikes during each of her sentences to continue the protest. After a six-day hunger strike following her August 1918 arrest, for which she was sentenced to 10 days in the District Jail, The Suffragist reported that Crocker was “among the most severely ill” such that when leaving the prison, she “was hardly able to walk from the taxi to the door of the [NWP] Headquarters.” For her service to the cause, Crocker would be among the 1918 recipients of a silver prison door pin with a heart-shaped padlock, designed by NWP member Nina Allender and modeled after a sketch made by Alice Paul of her District Jail cell door. In January 1919, while President Wilson was in Paris meeting with other world leaders to determine the terms of peace following World War I, Crocker and her fellow NWP suffragists held demonstrations in Lafyette Square and lit fires outside the White House, which they used to burn the text of Wilson’s speeches lauding European freedom. Suffragists saw Wilson’s stance as hypocritical since U.S. women did not enjoy the same freedoms as their male counterparts, either at home or abroad. During one of these watchfire demonstrations, Crocker was arrested and would serve a 5-day sentence. The suffragists’ grassroots organizing and their acts of civil disobedience culminated in the ratification of the 19th Amendment on August 18, 1920.

Following the success of the suffrage campaign, Crocker settled in Arlington, Virginia where she opened and operated the Little Tea House from 1921-1946. In its early years, Crocker was assisted by her sister Ruth who moved to Boston before she died in 1932. Crocker would recall in a 1934 interview published in the Washington Post that she started her own business because she was strapped for money. Overlooking the Potomac River and featuring an unobstructed view of the Capitol, the Little Tea House was a popular spot with Washington D.C.’s elite. Notable guests included President Harding, First Ladies Mrs. Harding, Mrs. Coolidge, and Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt; Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes; and Amelia Earhart. The Little Tea House would be featured as a romantic backdrop in the 1926 novels Roundabout by Nancy Hoyt and The Silk Coquette by Temple Bailey. In the 1930s, it would become a destination for honeymooners who could rent the tower recently added to the grounds, and which is the only part of the Little Tea House still standing today.

Crocker, who never married, “braved public disapproval” with her sister Ruth “and adopted a little girl, Ellen,” although they “always..had to end up explaining” their unconventional domestic arrangement; this facet of Crocker’s life was covered in a 1947 Washington Post article that also made it clear that any such public disapproval had little effect, since Crocker, who was 5 foot 2 inches, had “the courage of a 6-footer and will dash in where angels fear to tread.” In a letter published in the Arlington Historical Society Magazine, Ellen would recall that Crocker “worked every day from 8 am to after the dining room closed for orders at 8 pm…there were menus to plan & bookkeeping to do…she was a workaholic in the true sense & an incredibly smart business woman.” In 1936, that business acumen would earn her a share in her late father’s estate after a court ruled that Crocker, then age 52, had “reached an age of prudency” and demonstrated that she was able to manage her own affairs, having built a successful tea-room business then valued at $100,000.

In addition to her entrepreneurial pursuits, Crocker remained a social activist and advocate for women’s political and economic rights until her death in 1969. The National Woman’s Party records held in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress show that she was active in the NWP during its fight for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in the 1940s; however, Crocker fell afoul of Alice Paul and NWP leadership when she helped convene a “Rump Convention” of NWP members who were unhappy with Paul’s ERA tactics. After this 1947 rift, her involvement in the organization declined. Crocker was also a member of the American Federation of Soroptimist Clubs and a member and the assistant Treasurer of the People’s Mandate, run by fellow suffragist Mabel Vernon, which opposed war and focused on achieving peace through the connection of women’s groups across the U.S. She was also active in local organizations including the Arlington Chamber of Commerce, the Arlington Civic Federation, the League of Women Voters, Arlingtonians for a Better County, and the Soroptimist International of Arlington, the latter of which she helped establish; records of these organizations are held the Arlington Public Library’s Center for Local History archival collections.


Pertaining to Crocker’s early years

For Crocker’s details, see Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1820-1897. Microfilm Publication M237, 675 rolls. NAI: 6256867. Records of the U.S. Customs Service, Record Group 36. National Archives at Washington, D.C. (via Ancestry.com).

For Crocker’s parents’ full names, see entry for April 15, 1873 in Milwaukee Public Library. Milwaukee Vital Records. Call Number: 929.3. Milwaukee, Wisconsin (via Ancestry.com).

United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Twelfth Census of the United States, 1900. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1900. T623, 1854 rolls (via Ancestry.com).

“Gertrude Crocker, Spirited Battler for Equal Rights,” Washington Post (Washington, D.C.), Jan. 19, 1947.

Crocker’s Vassar alumna file and transcript.

United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Thirteenth Census of the United States, 1910. (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1910. T624, 1,178 rolls (via Ancestry.com).

“President Confers Titles and Degrees,” The Daily Maroon X, no. 56 (Dec. 22, 1911): 4.

Pertaining to Crocker’s suffrage years

“Picketing a President”, Chicago Tribune (Chicago, Illinois), Jan. 13, 1917.

National Woman’s Party. “Campaign Through the Country,” The Suffragist 3, Issue 9 (Feb. 27, 1915): 7.

National Woman’s Party. “The Vote in the House of Representatives,” The Suffragist 3, Issue 1 (Jan. 2, 1915): 6.

For coverage of Crocker as “one of the most zealous leaders” of the CU, see:

  • “Suffragists Would Head New House Calendar,” Brazil Daily Times (Brazil, IN), Mar. 8, 1915.
  • “Suffragists Would Head New Calendar,” Fort Wayne Sentinel (Fort Wayne, IN), Mar. 19, 1915.
  • “Suffragists Would Head New House Calendar,” Muncie Evening Press (Muncie, IN), Mar. 5, 1915.
  • “Suffragists Would Head New House Calendar,” Reading Times (Reading, PA), Mar. 8, 1915.
  • “Suffragists Would Head House Calendar,” Reno Gazette (Reno, NV), Mar. 17, 1915.
  • “Suffragists Would Head New House Calendar,” Salina Daily Union (Salina, KS), Mar. 8, 1915.
  • “Suffragists Would Head New House Calendar,” News-Review (Roseburg, OR), Mar. 11, 1915.
  • “Suffragists Would Head New House Calendar,” Pittsburgh Press (Pittsburgh, PA), Mar. 5, 1915.
  • “Suffragists Would Head New House Calendar,” Wilkes-Barre Times Leader (Wilkes-Barre, PA), Mar. 10, 1915.
  • “Suffragists Would Head New House Calendar,” Sheboygan Press (Sheboygan, WI), Mar. 5, 1915.

These articles were accompanied by a photo of Crocker holding a copy of The Suffragist.

“Women to Fight in Every State,” Washington Herald, (Washington, D.C.), Apr. 4, 1915.

Gertrude Crocker to Mrs. Adams, 15 June 1915, Box I:28, Reel 16-17, National Woman’s Party records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress. https://lccn.loc.gov/mm82034355.

National Woman’s Party. “The State Conventions of the Congressional Union,” The Suffragist 3, Issue 16 (Apr. 17, 1915): 5.

Gertrude Crocker to Lucy Burns, 13 June 1915, Box I:28, Reel 16-17, National Woman’s Party records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress. https://lccn.loc.gov/mm82034355.

“Favor Anthony Amendment,” Chicago Tribune (Chicago, Illinois), May 8, 1915.

National Woman’s Party. “Campaign Through the Country,” The Suffragist 3, Issue 18, (Apr. 24, 1915): 8.

National Woman’s Party. “Campaign Through the Country,” The Suffragist 3, Issue 39, (Sept. 25, 1915): 7.

Gertrude Crocker to Lucy Burns, 15 August 1915, Box I:30, Reel 18. National Woman’s Party records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress. https://lccn.loc.gov/mm82034355.

National Woman’s Party. “Congressman Foss Cordial to His Constituents,” The Suffragist 3, Issue 38, (Sept. 18, 1915): 8.

National Woman’s Party records, 1850-1975, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress. https://lccn.loc.gov/mm82034355.

“Purely Personal,” The Washington Herald (Washington, D.C.), Nov. 2, 1915.

“March for Suffrage,” The Washington Post (Washington, D.C.), Dec. 6, 1915.

National Woman’s Party. Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage National Department Officer list, The Suffragist 4, issue 7, (Feb. 12, 1916): 2.

For an example of the coverage of the CU and NWP merging and officers being elected, see “Miss Paul Heads Woman’s Party,” Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), Mar. 3, 1917.

National Woman’s Party. “The New Treasurer of the National Woman’s Party,” The Suffragist 5, Issue 73 (June 16, 1917): 5.

Ellen Puterbaugh, interview by Center for Local History staff, September 11, 2000, transcript and recording, Arlington Public Library, Center for Local History, Oral History collection, VA 975.5295 A7243oh ser.3 no.149.

National Woman’s Party. “Birthdays and the Judiciary Committee,” The Suffragist 4, Issue 18, (May 13, 1915): 10.

For Ruth Astor Noyes’ marriage to Paul Delafield Crocker see Ancestry.com. Cook County, Illinois Marriage Indexes, 1912-1942 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011.

Harris & Ewing, Washington, D.C. The first suffrage picket line leaving the National Woman’s Party headquarters to march to the White House gates on January 10, 1917. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/mnwp000216/. Women of Protest: Photographs from the Records of the National Woman’s Party, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. Accessed 2021-05-10.

“Suffrage Pickets for White House,” Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), Jan. 10, 1917.

“Four More Pickets Sent to Occoquan,” Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), Oct. 22, 1917.

“Jail Horrors Described by a Suffragist,” Chicago Tribune (Chicago, Illinois), Nov. 4, 1917.

“Suffrage March to White House Ends in Arrests,” Chicago Tribune (Chicago, Illinois), Aug. 7, 1918, 5.

National Woman’s Party. “The Government’s Surrender,” The Suffragist 6, Issue 32 (Aug. 31, 1918): 5. The Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument’s collection of National Woman’s Party records contains two copies of a photo of Crocker being assisted out of the taxi following her release. See items 1918.001.079.01 and 1918.001.079.02, National Woman’s Party Photograph Collection, Belmont-Paul (Washington, D.C.).

“26 Suffragists to Get Tribute,” Washington Herald (Washington, D.C.), Dec. 15, 1918.

“97 ‘Suff’ Pickets to Get Prison Pins,” Washington Post (Washington, D.C.) Dec. 2, 1917.

“Women on Hunger Strike After Watch Fire Arrests,” Chicago Tribune (Chicago, Illinois), Jan. 15, 1917, 7.

Pertaining to Crocker’s post-suffrage years

“White House Makes Known Season Plans,” Washington Times (Washington, D.C.), Oct. 2, 1921.

Obituaries, “Crocker,” Washington Post (Washington, D.C.), Mar. 6, 1932.

“Romances Bloom at Tea House that Offers Moon with Meals,” Washington Post (Washington, D.C.), Mar. 10, 1934.

“Tea Hostess of Presidents in Court Fight,” Chicago Tribune (Chicago, Illinois), Mar. 27, 1936.

“Honeymooning Couples Gravitate to Tea House,” Washington Post (Washington, D.C.), Jun. 28, 1934.

“Gertrude Crocker, Spirited Battler for Equal Rights,” Washington Post (Washington, D.C.), Jan. 19, 1947.

See the published correspondence in Collins, Sara. “The Little Tea House: A Revisit,” The Arlington Historical Magazine 11, no. 4 (October 200): 44-49.

“Found Prudent, Capital Woman Wins Lawsuit,” Washington Post (Washington, D.C.), Apr. 1, 1936.

“Share in $100,000 Estate Awarded Tea House Owner,” Evening Star (Washington, D. C.), Apr. 1, 1936.

National Woman’s Party records, 1850-1975, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress. https://lccn.loc.gov/mm82034355.

“Peace Leader Leaves on Long Speaking Tour,” Washington Post (Washington, D.C.), Jan. 26, 1938.

“Arlington County News,” Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), Jun. 13, 1926.

“Civic Committees Named in County,” Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), Mar. 5, 1929.

See collections RG 14 Records of the Arlington Civic Federation, RG 44 League of Women Voters, RG 94 Arlingtonians for a Better County, RG 156 Records of Soroptimist International of Arlington, and PG 215 The Little Tea House at the Center for Local History, Arlington Public Library, Arlington, Virginia.