Murray's People: A collection of essays about fthe fascinating people who settled and developed the Pacific Northwest

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Murray C. Morgan
Nena Jolidon-Croake, Mystery Feminist of Tacoma
The Tacoma News Tribune
August 4, 1994
P. FP12

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Copyright, 1994, Murray Morgan
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Nena Jolidon-Croake, Mystery Feminist of Tacoma

spacerIt 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.
spacer She 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 in 1934.
spacer Her 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 to vote.
spacer In 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 two positions.
spacer Her 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 fund.
spacer 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.
spacer "Now 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."
spacer The 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.
spacer Her 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.
spacer Her 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.
spacer 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.
spacer 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 age.
spacer If her 1900 response about age is accurate she was born in 1856.
spacer The 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 state.
spacer "The 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.
spacer "The 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."
spacer She is first listed in the Tacoma City Directory of 1903 as Nena Jolidon Croake, "successor to Sommer & Croake, osteopath."
spacer 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 Tacoma.
spacer 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.
spacer Let us hope some history student decides to do a thesis on this enigmatic, early state legislator.

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