Helen Zimmerman Tucker
Member of the Chevy Chase Reading Class, 1900-1910
Helen Zimmerman Tucker, 1868-1922
Born in Baltimore on November 15, 1868, Helen Zimmerman was the third daughter of Virginia-born John William Zimmerman and his second wife, Eliza Jane Taylor. Her father was described as a "stock, bill, and real estate broker," and when he died in 1872, his estate was worth $50,000, or more than $850,000 today. In a family history, it is said of John that he was a talented painter who devoted considerable time "to the brush," and an ardent lover of Shakespeare, owning a number of his works.
Helen was only four years old when her father died, and she continued to live with her mother and sister until well into her twenties, primarily on West 22nd Street in Baltimore, until she met Charles Cowls Tucker. The details on how a young woman in Baltimore met a young lawyer in Washington are unknown, but Helen Zimmerman and Charles Tucker were married on April 28, 1898.
Charles Cowls Tucker, 1869-1922
Charles Tucker was a District of Columbia native, born March 3, 1869, to Charles and Mary Ann Cowls Tucker. Like Helen, his father died while he was still a boy. He sold newspapers on the streets of Washington until he took an interest in law. He was educated in D.C. public schools and attended Corcoran Scientific School (later the School of Engineering and Applied Science at GW University) before receiving his law degree from the Columbian School of Law in 1889. In 1893 he was appointed official reporter for the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. By 1897 he was lecturing at the National University Law Scohol on torts and criminal law. He later became professor of law of sales, admiralty law, and lecturer of legal bibliography.
The Tucker Home at 12 East Lenox Street, Chevy Chase
A month before their marriage, Charles purchased land in Block 36 of Section 2 from the Chevy Chase Land Company, the location of the Tuckers' future home at 12 East Lenox Street on the southwest corner of Brookville Road. A year later, when Helen was six months pregnant, they moved into their new house. On August 22, 1898, their first child, Helen Cowls Tucker, was born. It is believed she was the first child to be baptized at the new All Saints Episcopal Church.
On June 23, 1902, the Helen and Charles welcomed their second and youngest daughter, Jean Taylor Tucker. Another member of the Reading Class, Helen Childs, a daughter of the rector at All Saints Church, was asked to be her godmother. In her oral history, Jean remembers playing at the Childs’ home on Connecticut Avenue.
Charles Tucker was an avid photographer, and according to his daughter Jean, he had several cameras, including a stereopticon. He developed his photographs in a darkroom in the basement of their East Lenox house. At the time of his daughter Jean's oral history interview with CCHS, she donated copies of his photographs which document his young family in various rooms of their house, on the lawn, and around the neighborhood. They provide us with an intimate view of domestic life in Chevy Chase at the turn of the twentieth century.
In addition to photographs of members of the Tucker family, one of Charles Tucker’s photographs is of an African American woman kneeling or sitting next to a toddler in a white dress, shown below. Both of them are on the clover grass near the front porch of the Tucker house. On the back of the original photograph, they were identified as “Otte with Helen.” Helen was the Tucker’s oldest daughter, so the photograph was probably taken around 1902.
The woman in the photograph may have been Alice Claytor or Clator, who is listed as living with the Tuckers in the 1900 Census as a servant, and again in the 1910 Census as a maid. The presence of Alice, or Otte as the children may have called her, must have made it possible for Helen Zimmerman Tucker to attend daytime meetings of the Chevy Chase Reading Class as well as the many evening events scheduled by social clubs. The Tuckers' younger daughter Jean remembered in her 1994 oral history that the family “…always seemed to have maids in those days. A nurse and a maid…”
Because Alice Claytor lived with the Tuckers, we were able to learn a little more about her from U.S. Census records. Many other household workers, including cooks, housekeepers, maids, nurses, and gardeners, worked for the middle and upper class residents of Chevy Chase, but they didn't always "live in." Commuting daily on foot or on the Connecticut Avenue streetcars, they traveled from their homes in the District of Columbia and nearby Maryland.
By the 1920 Census, Alice Claytor was living and working in the home of Charles H. Stockton in the District of Columbia. Census records indicate that she was born in 1862, so she would have been about 40 years old at the time of the Tucker family photograph from 1902.
A notice of Alice Claytor's death in 1928 was placed in The Evening Star on November 15, 1928 by the Ladies Reliable Immediate Relief Society. These few bits of evidence do not begin to tell the story of Alice Claytor or other women and men who worked in the homes of Chevy Chase.
Helen Tucker was an Early Member of the Chevy Chase Reading Class
In 1900, Helen was asked to join the Chevy Chase Reading Class, then in its second year. The members took turns serving as the leader for the weekly meetings that ran from 11 am to 12:30 pm. Helen was a member for eight years, until she and her family moved to the District of Columbia in 1910.
She served as “Chairman” for the year 1906-1907. Her friend Helen Childs and Mrs. Davis assisted her as they developed the program of reading for that year on the theme of “Four Great Masters of Literature.” Members shared discussions of Homer, Dante, Milton and Cervantes. The Reading Class spent four weeks on Miguel de Cervantes, and Helen herself led some of these discussions.
Helen also led the discussions of the French dramatist Jean Racine, British poet laureate Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and Belgian playwright Maurice Maeterlinck, among others.
“She always wore hats.”
Helen Zimmerman Tucker was part of the group of Reading Class members who gathered for a photograph in 1905, taken at 3 West Lenox Street. Each member is holding a small bouquet of flowers; perhaps they are celebrating the fifth anniversary of the group. Looking at this photograph at the time of her CCHS oral history interview, her daughter Jean Tucker Roberts said, “Isn't that wonderful. My mother is the only one in a hat. She always wore hats.”
Family Travels in the U.S. and Abroad
The Tuckers liked to travel. In the summer, they often traveled by train and ferry (with their dog and a bird and a cook) to their cottage in Siasconset on the eastern end of Nantucket Island. Helen would buy food by the barrelful ─ flour, sugar, and other groceries -- to last for their summer. Their servants would travel with the family, too. In 1909, Helen and Charles sailed to Europe, and three years later the whole family made the trip, celebrating Jean Tucker’s tenth birthday onboard the ship.
The Tuckers Move to the District of Columbia
By 1910 the decision was made to find a new house, this time within the District of Columbia. The Tuckers moved first to a lovely row house at 1615 21st Street NW, a few blocks from Dupont Circle and later, after their European trip in 1912, to 2117 Connecticut Avenue NW.
Helen’s relationship with the Chevy Chase Reading Club seems to have ended with the move back into the District, but she and Charles continued to be very active at the Chevy Chase Club where Charles played golf. Charles also became a member of the newly-formed Alfalfa Club, which celebrated the birthday of General Robert E. Lee each year at the Chevy Chase Club.
The Tucker Daughters Grow Up in DC
In the summer of 1913, ten-year-old Jean Tucker made news in the newspapers when she and her friend from across the street, Virginia Selden, sponsored a “tableaux” and a lemonade stand to raise money for the Emergency Hospital. Even though they charged only 5 cents admission, they managed to raise $3. Their efforts inspired other young girls around Washington to hold similar events.
During World War I, Charles was commissioned a major in the Judge Advocate General’s office in 1918. After the war, he resigned with the rank of colonel. By this time, he was also general counsel for the Commercial National Bank, the Mt. Vernon Savings Bank, and the Washington-Virginia Railway.
Much of the year 1919 was spent preparing for the “coming out” party for their oldest daughter Helen, an elaborate tea held at their home on December 3. The Washington Herald described twenty-year-old Helen as “one of the most charming of the seasons debutantes.” In August the following year, Helen took both her daughters on the “Grand Tour” of Europe aboard the ship Absaroka, visiting Great Britain, France, Belgium, and Switzerland for “travel & study of art.” Not long after their return, Helen and Charles announced Helen’s engagement to Eliphalet Frazer Andrews, Jr., son of the portraitist and director of the Corcoran School of Art. They were married on April 9, 1921. Jean Tucker was maid of honor for her sister.
The Knickerbocker Theater Tragedy
On January 27, 1922, snow began to fall over Washington, quickly turning into a blizzard. By the evening of the 28th, nearly two feet of snow had accumulated, bringing Washington almost to a standstill. Helen Tucker Andrews was at her home on 16th Street with her husband and their new baby, Mary Lord Andrews. Jean Taylor Tucker was staying overnight in Alexandria for a dance.
Undeterred by the storm, Helen and Charles Tucker decided to go to the movies ─ something they loved to do. According to their daughter Jean many years later, “they just got together and got their old clothes on” and headed for the Knickerbocker Theater at the corner of 18th Street and Columbia Road NW to see the new silent movie adaption of George M. Cohan’s comedy “Get-Rich-Quick Wallingford.” In spite of the weather, more than 300 other Washingtonians managed to join them.
As the orchestra played near the close of the intermission, people filed back into the theater to watch the second reel. A loud hiss could be heard; then the roof collapsed under the weight of two feet of snow, crashing down tons of steel and bricks on the crowd below. Ninety-eight people died in the tragedy. The body of Charles Tucker was recovered early the next morning. Helen’s body was found around 2:30 that afternoon.
Following the deaths of her parents, twenty-year-old Jean Taylor Tucker moved in with her sister Helen and her husband. That June, Helen and Jean placed a memorial lamp in St. Margaret’s Church, designed by Helen and made by the Tiffany Studios in New York
Helen and Charles Tucker’s Daughters
Helen Cowls Tucker Andrews’s first husband died from tuberculosis in 1932 at the age of thirty-four. During World War II she served as a Red Cross volunteer at the Bethesda Naval Hospital. She married Rear Admiral Atherton Macondray, who died in 1949.
She married one more time, in 1973, at the age of seventy-three. Her third husband was Armistead Peter, a descendent of George Washington’s step-granddaughter, and heir to Tudor Place, the family estate in Georgetown. By the time of her death more than twenty years later, she had been, among other things, a director of the National Trust for Historical Preservation, vice-president of the Tudor Place Foundation, and a director on the Scottish National Trust. The Washington Post described her as “born beautiful, witty and intelligent. Even strangers adored her. She sprinkled happiness like rosebuds in her path. She became a dedicated preservationist, a captivating flirt, a theatrical storyteller -- all attributes of a grande dame.” She died on May 3, 1995.
Jean Taylor Tucker married Alan Hunt Roberts on June 9, 1923. Their marriage lasted sixty years until his death in 1983.
In June 1994, she sat down for a series of oral history interviews for the Chevy Chase Historical Society Oral History Project, sharing her memories of her family when they lived in Chevy Chase.
She died at her home in Alexandria on May 30, 2002, just seven days before her 100th birthday.