Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Grace Lillian (Mrs. John A.) Cross, 1861-1930
By Amanda Ciulla, Sophia Coveno, Spencer Estridge, Kartik Prakash, Ava Scully, High School Students, Westford Academy, Westford, Massachusetts
Treasurer and Honorary Vice President, Rhode Island Equal Suffrage Association; Member of the Rhode Island Executive Committee of the New England Woman Suffrage Association; Member of the Board of Directors, Sprague House Association; Member of the Board of Directors, Rhode Island Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children
Grace Lillian Reed was born on June 18, 1861 in Abington, Massachusetts to Amos Newton Reed and Sarah Elizabeth Boynton Reed. Her father was a prominent and wealthy merchant in the area. Abington is located in Plymouth County and Reed was a descendant of a settler from the Mayflower in the early 1600s. Both her maternal and paternal ancestors dated back to early colonial Massachusetts. Grace Reed graduated from the Gannett Institute in Boston Massachusetts and married John A. Cross on November 12, 1884. John Cross was from Providence, Rhode Island, had attended Brown University, and initially worked as a clerk in his father's company, the Valley Worsted Mills. Later in their marriage, John Cross had a high-profile career as a businessman, serving at various times as the treasurer of the Diamond Machine Company, the New England agent of the Manufacturers Commercial Company, and as president and treasurer of the Mercantile Advance Company. The couple established a home in Providence and had two children—Marguerite (b. 1885) and Ralph (b.1892). The Crosses were members of the Central Congregational Church.
Starting in the 1880s, Grace Cross became active in philanthropic and social reform organizations in Rhode Island. In 1888, she served on the board of directors for the Ladies' Aid Association for the Rhode Island Homeopathic Hospital. By 1895, she was vice president of that organization. John A. Cross was also active in community service, often in conjunction with his wife. He served on the board of directors for the Homeopathic Hospital; subsequently, she served in the Hospital's ladies' group. In the 1900s, Cross served on the board of directors of the Rhode Island Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, a child welfare organization. The vast majority of her community service was devoted to the Sprague House Association, which started off as the Mount Pleasant Working Girls' Club and then transitioned first to the Sprague House Association and then the Federal Hill House. The organization provided social services, educational activities, and recreation for working-class and immigrant residents. Grace Cross served on its board of directors for several years in both the 1900s and 1910s and her husband was also active on the board of directors and as treasurer of the organization. By the 1910s, their daughter, Marguerite, now known by her married name as Mrs. J. Urban Erdgren, was also active in Federal Hill House activism.
In addition, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Cross served on the board of directors of the Audubon Society of Rhode Island, a nature organization; as an officer of the Rhode Island Society of Mayflower Descendants and the Society of Colonial Dames, genealogical organizations; on the board of managers and secretary of the Irrepressible Society, an organization in Rhode Island that offered social services for the community, such as providing employment to women in need and giving away clothing to poor families; and treasurer of the Handicraft Club, an organization designed to promote and protect traditional domestic arts.
By 1916, Grace and John Cross served as members of the community centers' committee of the Immigrant Educational Bureau in Rhode Island. This committee shared a similar mission to the Sprague House Association and worked to create community centers across the state that offered services for working-class and immigrant populations, including mothers' clubs, baby clinics, educational and domestic classes, and sporting and social activities. Committee members included social and political leaders such as the governor's wife and the mayor of Providence. Cross's reform and philanthropic work focused on improving conditions for economically and socially disadvantaged members of the community.
Grace Cross became an active member of the Rhode Island woman suffrage movement in the 1910s, usually as "Mrs. John A. Cross." Her earliest documented involvement was in 1914, when she served as treasurer, a member of the arrangements committee, and a patroness for the Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Party's fundraising ball. Sara Algeo, chairman of the Woman Suffrage Party, wrote in her memoir that Cross and the other members of the event's committee "worked indefatigably for its success." Cross's daughter also assisted with the suffrage ball. Cross worked on the Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Party's 1914 bazaar, which was designed to raise money and awareness for the suffrage cause. Cross attended and served as patroness for a 1914 lecture on "Feminism" by Vida Sutton, a famed suffrage speaker, actress, playwright, and member of the Woman Suffrage Party.
In 1915, the Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Party merged with the Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Association and College Equal Suffrage League to become the Rhode Island Equal Suffrage Association (RIESA). Cross was elected treasurer of the new organization, a position she held until 1917. Cross was responsible for a major public event for RIESA in 1915. She hosted a suffrage lawn party at her summer home in Wickford, RI that included one hundred and fifty guests, an orchestra, suffrage speakers, and state politicians. She also served on RIESA's legislative committee in 1915 and hosted weekly committee meetings at her house. The legislative committee was working to pass a bill that would provide Rhode Island women with the right to vote in presidential elections. The legislature did not pass the presidential suffrage bill in 1915 but did so in 1917. In 1916, the legislative committee continued to work on the presidential suffrage issue and undertook a project to interview every state senator in Rhode Island about the bill. Cross participated in that legislative action.
In 1916, Cross worked at the RIESA suffrage booth at the Providence Pure Food Fair, a high-profile annual event where RIESA raised awareness about suffrage, distributed literature, and sold suffrage merchandise. Cross and Mary B. Anthony were in charge of entertaining visitors attending a suffrage conference held in Providence in 1916. Carrie Chapman Catt was the primary speaker at that conference and other suffrage leaders from across the country also attended. In 1917, Cross was appointed to the Rhode Island executive committee of the New England Woman Suffrage Association, a regional organization affiliated with the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). In addition, Cross served on a RIESA committee that organized a series of lectures on "City Government" by a Brown University political science professor in 1917. One of these lectures was hosted by Cross in her home. By 1919, as the passage of the nineteenth amendment on woman suffrage neared, she was appointed an honorary vice president of RIESA.
Following the ratification of the suffrage amendment, Cross became a member of the United League of Women Voters in Rhode Island, a civic and reform organization that emerged out of RIESA locally and NAWSA nationally. She assisted with a local reception for Maud Wood Park, former NAWSA and current LWV president, in 1922. In addition to her work with the League of Women Voters, in the 1920s, Cross was a founding member of the Woman's Committee for Law Enforcement, an organization that worked to support and protect anti-alcohol prohibition laws. She also continued as an officer of the Handicraft Club. Grace Cross died of heart disease on January 3, 1930 in Providence, Rhode Island. She is buried in Swan Point Cemetery in Providence.
Ida Husted Harper, ed. The History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. 6: 1900-1920 (New York: J.J. Little & Ives Company, 1922). [LINK]
"Amos Newton Reed," Find A Grave, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/81715656/amos-newton-reed.
"John Alexander Cross," Find A Grave, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/144669254/john-alexander-cross.
William Richard Cutter, ed. New England Families: Genealogical and Memorial, Volume 4 (New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1915).
Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, Sixty-Third Congress, Third Session (Washington, D.C. 1915), 92.
"State Medical Matters," The Atlantic Medical Weekly 4, No. 22 (November 30, 1895), 344.
"Community Centers in Rhode Island," Providence Magazine (August 1916), 556.
"New England Officers Chosen," The Woman's Journal 48, No. 20 (May 19, 1917), 117.
"Sprague House Association," The Providence Journal, November 24, 1905.
"Society," The Providence Sunday Journal, May 10, 1914.
"Suffragists Open Three-Day Bazaar," The Providence Journal, December 4, 1914.
"Lawn Party," The Providence Journal, July 27, 1915.
"Pure Food Fair Opens To-Night," The Providence Journal, February 14, 1916.
"Woman Suffrage Workers Interview State Senators," The Providence Journal, March 1, 1916.
"Personal and Social," The Providence Journal, March 2, 1917.
"Immigrant Bureau Chooses Officers," The Providence Journal, October 30, 1917.
"A Half Century of Suffrage," The Providence Sunday Journal, June 1, 1919.
"John A. Cross, 85, Providence, Dead," The Providence Journal, February 10, 1942.