Gertrude Hill Berger Cuthbert (1869–1944) was a Denver socialite and philanthropist. Born into a prominent family, she inherited drive and ambition from her successful parents and established a legacy for herself in politics, suffrage, and local charitable organizations. She was regarded as one of the most notable forces in women’s suffrage in the American West and successfully spearheaded a project to establish Denver’s first dedicated children’s hospital, where treatment was free.
Gertrude Hill was born on January 26, 1869, to Alice and Nathaniel P. Hill in Black Hawk. She was a highly proficient pianist, but little else is known about her early years. In 1882 she entered the University of Denver to study music. She attended on and off until at least 1886 but does not appear to have graduated.
Hill married Charles Bart Berger on November 5, 1890. Berger was born in Pennsylvania but grew up in Denver and attended Denver High School. After his graduation from Yale in 1888, Berger began working at Colorado National Bank and quickly rose to the rank of cashier, becoming well known in the city’s business and social worlds. But in January 1891, Charles Berger fell ill and died of diphtheria. Gertrude was pregnant at the time and gave birth to their only child, Charlotte Alice Berger, in August. After her husband’s death, Gertrude and her daughter lived with her parents until 1900, when she married Lucius Montrose Cuthbert.
Gertrude Hill and Lucius Cuthbert had been friends for many years; he was a popular clubman who was well known in Denver society. A successful attorney, he was a partner in the firm of Rogers, Cuthbert, and Ellis, and served as counsel for several national and regional railroad companies, including Pullman and Colorado Midland. Later he became president of United Oil, succeeding his father-in-law, Nathaniel P. Hill, and brother-in-law, Crawford Hill. After their marriage, the Cuthberts built a mansion at 1350 Logan Street in Capitol Hill, where they had three children: Gertrude in 1901, Alice in 1902, and Lucius, Jr., in 1904 (he died two years later). Together, the Cuthberts were an influential couple professionally and socially. Cuthbert’s sister-in-law Louise Sneed Hill recognized them as members of her elite social group, the Sacred 36, and named them in her 1908 social register Who’s Who in Denver Society.
In 1915 Lucius Cuthbert died suddenly of heart failure after a weeklong illness. After her second husband’s death, Gertrude Cuthbert persisted as a dynamic social and philanthropic force.
Business and Philanthropy
When patriarch Nathaniel P. Hill died in 1900, Gertrude Cuthbert joined the rest of her family—mother Alice Hale Hill, sister Isabel Hill, and brother Crawford Hill—in establishing the Hill Land and Investment Company to manage their properties and other holdings. Cuthbert served on the board of directors.
In the early 1900s, Cuthbert became involved in the effort to establish the first children’s hospital building in Denver. The need for a specialized children’s hospital had been recognized in 1897, when a small group of society women, including Margaret Brown and Louise Sneed Hill, founded the Babies’ Summer Hospital. At that time, children were being treated at the county hospital, and there was no dedicated area for their care. Initially, the Babies’ Summer Hospital establishment was small, consisting only of several tents in City Park and minimal medical staff.
By 1908 the organization was officially incorporated as the Children’s Hospital Association (now Children’s Hospital Colorado), but the “hospital” still did not have permanent space or full-time staff. To fix that, in 1909 Cuthbert led a committee of prominent women—including Gladys Cheesman Evans, Louise Sneed Hill, and Emma Phipps (daughter of Senator Lawrence C. Phipps)—seeking to build the first dedicated children’s hospital in Denver. These women believed that establishing a separate structure dedicated to children on land adjoining the county hospital would improve care, and they wanted children’s treatment to be free. Cuthbert was successful in leading fundraising efforts for the building, which opened in 1910. Treatment was not free for all, but poor families did not have to pay.
Cuthbert’s efforts led her to become a member of the Children’s Hospital Association board, one of two women who represented the hospital’s founders. She consistently raised money for the hospital over the years, served as chair of a new building committee in 1914 (the new facility opened in 1917), and eventually became director of the association.
Cuthbert was also an active board member of the Young Women’s Christian Association (an organization her mother was heavily involved in), a member of the arts committee of the Denver Chamber of Commerce, and second vice-president of the Denver Orphans’ Home Association. Her work with these charities propelled their success and provided necessary care and shelter for those in need in Denver.
Following in the footsteps of her father, a one-term US senator from Colorado, Gertrude Cuthbert became vice-chairman of the Republican state committee in 1914 and chairman in 1915. Like her mother, who had been involved in Colorado’s successful 1893 suffrage campaign, and her sister, who had founded a young women’s suffrage group, Cuthbert was a major supporter of the ongoing women’s suffrage movement. In Colorado she served as chair of the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage, holding suffrage events at her home and raising funds to send women to the 1915 Woman Voters Convention. She was on the Congressional Union’s national executive committee, and she worked with famed suffragists Alice Paul and Alva Belmont to coordinate national convention delegates from Colorado. She also raised money to fund women who traveled across the country to garner support for a national suffrage amendment. Newspapers declared her one of the most important suffrage activists in the American West.
In 1915 Cuthbert spoke at the first Woman Voters Convention, held in San Francisco, where she also served as a Colorado delegate. Part of the convention’s purpose was to get names on a suffrage petition to Congress and President Woodrow Wilson; the convention yielded 500,000 signatures. After the convention, Colorado senator Charles Thomas, who was chair of the Senate Committee on Woman Suffrage, refused to receive the envoy of women carrying the petition. Cuthbert sprang into action and led a group of women to confront Senator Thomas. After the meeting, the women were able to overcome his opposition and argue for a national suffrage amendment in front of the committee.
Also in 1915, Cuthbert participated in what was known as Denver’s longest parade, a march of more than 3,000 women for suffrage. Cuthbert headed the delegation from the Congressional Union with her sister-in-law, Louise Sneed Hill. In 1917 she served as a member of the National Woman’s Party’s national advisory council. After the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920, she helped found the Colorado League of Women Voters.
Cuthbert spent most of her remaining years in California, Paris, and London (where she became a fellow of the Royal Geographic Society). Nevertheless, she remained active with the Colorado charities she had led by continuing to make donations and attending functions when she visited the state.
Cuthbert died on December 16, 1944. Often overlooked in Colorado history, she was an important figure who used her social prominence and platform to propel the women’s suffrage movement on a local and national scale, helping secure the vote for future generations of women.