Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Genevieve Cooke, b.1869-d.1928
By Nora Kassner, PhD Candidate in History, University of California, Santa Barbara
Corresponding Secretary, College Equal Suffrage League of Northern California
Genevieve Cooke was born in Dutch Flat, CA in 1870. She trained as a nurse, graduating in the 1888 class of the California Women's Hospital. Cooke never married, but is listed as living as a border in Oakland in 1910 and with her sister and two patients in San Francisco in 1920. She died on January 28, 1928 in Santa Clara, CA.
Genevieve Cooke's support for suffrage followed her advocacy for women's educational and professional opportunities. Before suffrage, she worked as a professional nurse, was active in nursing's Associated Alumnae and the American Nursing Association, and founded the Nurses' Journal of the Pacific Coast in 1906. In all these organizations, Cooke advocated for requiring high school education and licensure for nurses--essentially arguing that nurses should be seen as highly qualified experts rather than as low-skilled nurturers. This advocacy suggests that Cooke had long believed in women's capacity for public and professional activity and that by the time she became involved in suffrage she had already developed valuable lobbying and campaign-building skills.
As of 1905, Cooke may have opposed suffrage, or at least she believed that the Associated Alumnae should not officially support it. By 1908, however, she was pushing for nursing organizations to endorse suffrage, speaking in favor of suffrage at, for example, an Associated Alumnae meeting in 1908 and San Francisco County Nurses' Association meeting in 1910. Both of these organizations rejected proposals to officially endorse suffrage. Meanwhile, Cooke became more active in suffrage circles while briefly stepping back from some of her nursing advocacy, citing poor health.
After an amendment for state suffrage was submitted to the California ballot in February 1911, Cooke became part of the executive board of the College Equal Suffrage League of Northern California. This organization, which sought to recruit college-educated women as suffragists, utilized creative strategies including "automobile touring" to win support for suffrage. Although San Francisco and Oakland had been expected to vote against suffrage by wide margins, the College Equal Suffrage League's eight-month campaign was credited with narrowing the gap. This in turn let Southern California tip the scale, and California passed women's suffrage in 1911.
Following her success in passing California State Suffrage, Cooke remained involved in campaigns for national suffrage and as an advocate for nurses. From 1913-1915, she served as President of the American Nursing Association. She travelled extensively, lobbying and speaking to nursing groups across the country. Census records suggest that she continued working until close to the end of her life.
"California Death Index, 1905-1939," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QK91-DLL4 : 5 June 2015), Genevieve Cooke, 28 Jan 1928; citing 5425, Department of Health Services, Vital Statistics Department, Sacramento.
Harper, Ida Husted, Editor. The History of Woman Suffrage. Vol. 6. New York, NY: J. J. Little & Ives Company, 1922.
Lewenson, Sandra. Taking Charge: Nursing, Suffrage, and Feminism in America, 1873-1920. New York, NY: NLN Press, 1996.
"First Deputation of Woman Voters to U. S. Senator." The Suffragist 3, no. 32 (1915): 5-6.
"San Francisco County Notes." Nurses' Journal of the Pacific Coast VI, no. 11 (November, 1910): 521.
"United States Census, 1910," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MVGQ-S7W : accessed 13 December 2016), Genevieve Cooke in household of Lizzie T Carty, San Francisco Assembly District 34, San Francisco, California, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) ED 87, sheet 3A, family 50, NARA microfilm publication T624 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1982), roll 97; FHL microfilm 1,374,110.
"United States Census, 1920," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MHWR-MPB : accessed 13 December 2016), Genevieve Cooke, San Francisco Assembly District 31, San Francisco, California, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) ED 154, sheet 23B, line 69, family 486, NARA microfilm publication T625 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1992), roll 136; FHL microfilm 1,820,136.
"Who's Who in the Nursing World: XXIII. Genevieve Cooke, RN." The American Journal of Nursing, 23, no. 10 (July, 1923): 852.