Murray C. Morgan
Nena Jolidon-Croake, Mystery Feminist of Tacoma
The Tacoma News Tribune
August 4, 1994
Northwest Room Home
Copyright, 1994, Murray Morgan
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Mystery Feminist of Tacoma
is remarkable how little biographic information we have about the
life of Dr. Nena Jolidon-Croake of Tacoma, one of the first two
women to serve in the Washington State Legislature.
may also have been the first female physician in Pierce County.
But we don't know where she spent her youth, where she was
educated, when she came to Tacoma, where she went when she left
town in 1923, or what she did before her death was in Los Angeles
public record during approximately a quartercentury in Pierce
County is that of an active and effective feminist. She served as
president of the Washington Equal Suffrage Society. She was a
comradeinarms of Tacoma's Emma Smith Devoe in the successful 1910
campaign to amend the state constitution and give women the right
the first election to be held after the adoption of the Fifth
Amendment she filed for one of the two seats from the 37th
Legislative District, which embraced much of downtown Tacoma and
the North End. Five other candidates, all male, also sought the
slogan was "Consideration for Women is the Measure of a
Nation's Progress." During her sixweek canvass she spent
afternoons at parlor gatherings in the homes of women she had
found to be sympathetic during the suffrage campaign. The issues
she raised were the need for legislation opposing child labor
andcapital punishment, favoring vocational training in public
schools, juvenile courts and establishment of a teachers' reserve
When not teaklatching, she went door to door talking to those she
described as "the stay-at-homes and the sometimes
disinterested." Evenings, she went to public forums to debate
her rivals. Any free time she spent cranking the phone and
expounding on the need for women law-makers.
that woman is enfranchised," she argued, "it is only
just and fair that she be given a trial. If she fails it will be
no greater crime than it is for the man that sits by her side, and
we know that men have not always made a success in law making. In
going to the legislature, I will make but few promises, but this I
will say: I am willing and eager to learn and will always be found
at my post, doing the very best my conscience dictates."
six candidates - two Republicans, two Democrats and two
Progressives - were competing for two positions. The races were
not for individual seats. The two candidates from the 37th
receiving the most votes would go to Olympia. It was a close-run
race. Dr. Jolidon-Croake finished second, nine votes behind one of
the Republicans but 68 ahead of the other Republican.
election was challenged by a Democrat who finished fourth. He
complained she had violated the rule against campaigning within
the tolling station. But she explained that she had used her
machine (she was one of the first women in Tacoma to drive) to
bring seven friends to the polls. They were already committed to
vote for her victory and she had not needed to campaign. Her
victory was certified.
husband, John B. Croake, a former Pierce County deputy sheriff and
former U.S. district customs collector, whom she had married in
Victoria, B.C., "sometime around 1890" died at the age
of 63 during her first year in office. She did not file for
reelection but continued to live in the family home at 513 S. L
St. until 1923 when her name disappears from the city directory.
Nothing more was heard about her in the papers until 1934 when a
oneparagraph item from The Associated Press with a Los Angeles
dateline appeared in The News Tribune reporting her death.
Other information about her career is sparse. She first appears in
the local census records in 1900, where she is listed as Mary
Jolidon-Croake. She told the census taker that she was 44 and had
been married 20 years. In the 1910 census she gave her first name
as Nena, her age as 45, and again reported she had been married 20
years. In 1920 she reported herself a widow and declined to give
her 1900 response about age is accurate she was born in 1856.
most complete information about her antecedents is found,
surprising, in an article that appeared in the great Paris weekly
L'Illustration, which in 1913 told its readers about the election
of a woman of French extraction to the legislature of an American
cradle of her family is Vauthiermont in the ancient county of the
Haut-Rhin," said the paper. "Her greatgrandfather was
one of the French volunteers enrolled in the United States to take
part in the revolutionary war of independence. After his return to
France the soldier of Washington became a teacher. He was mayor of
Vauthiermont in 1814, at the time of the invasion of the Allies,
and was killed by the Prussians.
grandfather of Mme. Jolidon-Croake, also a teacher in
Vauthiermont, quitted France for America in 1826. He took with him
two children, one of whom, Francois Jolidon, returned often to the
old country and kept alive the most intimate relations between the
American and French branches of the same family."
is first listed in the Tacoma City Directory of 1903 as Nena
Jolidon Croake, "successor to Sommer & Croake, osteopath."
This raises the question of when and where she studied medicine.
Osteopathy is based on theories advanced by A.T. Still in 1871.
The first school of osteopathy was founded in Missouri in 1892,
but by then she seens to have been married to Croake and living in
a form filled in for the 1913 legislative session, Dr.
Jolidon-Croake's response on the line for higher education was
simply "Yes." It seems probable that she studied
privately with Dr. Everett A. Sommer, an osteopathic physician who
lived only a few blocks away on South G Street and maintained
offices in the California Building.
us hope some history student decides to do a thesis on this
enigmatic, early state legislator.
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