Princeton Personality by Jean Stratton

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PAST AND PRESENT: "When I was a girl, my teachers told me that Princeton was a very special place. After I went away, and then came back to it, I realized how true that was." Retired survey research expert Helen Crossley enjoys a rare quiet moment on the porch of her Princeton home.end of caption


Princeton Resident Helen Crossley Looks Back on Career in Government and Survey Research.

Helen Crossley is a traveler. She has just returned from Prague, with a side trip to Berlin to revisit the Brandenburg Gate, and already has plans to attend an upcoming business conference in Phoenix, Arizona. In between these long journeys, she drives at least once a month to Washington, D.C., where she has a condominium.

Her international travels began in the summer of 1937, she recalls. "I was 15, and it was before my junior year in high school. My grandmother gave me money for a European trip, including Germany. I went with a friend and a chaperone, and it was a very enjoyable time. I went sight-seeing on a motorcycle and learned to drink wine and beer! My friend had a German pen pal who brought his friend, and we all went around together. The German friend was later killed in Russia during the war."

Subsequent travels have taken her to many parts of the world and to all 50 states, but throughout her life and impressive career in survey research and government, she has always returned to Princeton, the town where she grew up.

"Although I have lived in many other places, I have always kept Princeton as my legal address," says Ms. Crossley, who continues to live in the house her parents built in 1923.

Born in Germantown, Pa., she came to Princeton at the age of two. She was the first child of Archibald Maddock Crossley and Dorothy Fox Crossley. A brother Joseph and sister Dorothy were born a few years later.

Ms. Crossley looks back on a happy childhood. Her father, originally from Fieldsboro, and whose father Joseph Crossley owned the Crossley Machine Company in Trenton, worked for an advertising agency in Philadelphia, later moving on to do market research for the Literary Digest in New York.

Scientific Polling

"My father was inventive and decided to go out on his own," recalls Ms. Crossley. "In 1926, he founded his own market research company, Crossley Inc. He was first known for his work in radio ratings, and won the Harvard Bok Award for this. In 1936, he jumped into the public opinion polling fray, and signed up with the Hearst newspapers. Along with George Gallup and Elmo Roper, he was considered one of the three pioneers of scientific polling."

Ms. Crossley remembers good times growing up in Princeton on Battle Road. "There were no school buses then, and we all rode our bicycles to school. There was also a lot of snow in the winter, and we'd ride on Battle Road on a sled tied to a car and also go coasting on the golf course. And, of course, we skated on the lake. Also, later Einstein walked by our house on his way to the Institute, and my sister talked to him.

"Every Saturday afternoon, we went to the movies at the Garden. It was a double feature for 25 cents! I remember one of the pictures was always a western. Our first car was a Model A Ford, and then we had a long series of wooden Ford station wagons. We would travel up to New England, where my mother, my siblings, and I spent most summers in a rented cottage on Cape Cod. I loved the water, and I still swim as often as possible.

"Princeton was a lovely town when I was growing up, with nice people who had interesting lives," continues Ms. Crossley. "There was a certain academic segregation, however. We were not University people, and if you were not University, sometimes you were second class in some eyes. And at that time, there was also racial segregation in the schools."

"I went all the way through Miss Fine's School," she adds. "I enjoyed school, and I took it very seriously. In those days, boys attended Miss Fine's through the fourth grade, and Nick Katzenbach (later U.S. Attorney General), Harry Sayen, who became prominent in local politics, and Chris Chapman, who was later in the Foreign Service, were all in my class."

Miss Fine's was then located at what is now the site of Princeton Borough Hall, notes Ms. Crossley. "It was a small school, and was in the building that was the former Princeton Inn. At the May Day Celebration, there was a May pole, and the Historical Society's exhibit at Bainbridge House currently has our home movie of this."

Great Resource

Gail Stern, director of the Historical Society of Princeton, is grateful to Ms. Crossley for her generosity in providing Miss Fine's School memorabilia to the Historical Society.

"Helen has been a longtime supporter and a great resource for the Historical Society. Her home movies of her childhood class dancing around the May pole at Miss Fine's School are a wonderful addition to our current exhibition, 'Lost Princeton.'"

Ms. Crossley was a very good student at Miss Fine's, especially enjoying languages. "I very much admired my French teacher Mrs. Wade and also my history teacher Mrs. Albion. They were strong influences for me."

Having combined seventh and eighth grades, Helen graduated in 1938, and received the Woman's College Scholarship Prize.

"I decided to go to Radcliffe," she reports. "I was influenced by my mother who went there, and it was right next to Boston. Radcliffe was independent and hired professors from Harvard to teach courses. We had smaller classes, and we probably got a better education than a lot of people.

"I enjoyed my four years there very much. I immediately fell in with a much broader group of people, some of whom I see to this day. 10 of us from our dorm set up a Round Robin letter writing group in 1941 to pass on our news. At one time, it ranged from Tokyo to Paris. There are only seven of us now, but it goes from Minnesota to Maine to Washington."

Choral Singing

Ms. Crossley majored in government, was on the field hockey and swimming teams (earning a letter for "Form" in sidestroke), and a member of the German Club, which she joined "because it held dances, and I liked to waltz!"

She also loved music, especially choral singing. The combined choruses of Radcliffe and Harvard sang a number of concerts with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, she recalls, singing the music of Bach, Brahms, and Beethoven, conducted by Serge Koussevitzky.

Ms. Crossley remembers one concert in Providence, R.I., when she was a senior, not so much for the music as for a world event, which propelled the U.S. into World War II.

"We were singing with our choral group in Providence that Sunday afternoon, when we got the news Pearl Harbor had been attacked. It was a huge shock."

Recalling the magnitude of that event led Ms. Crossley to make a connection to the more recent September 11, 2001 tragedy. "September 11 was very reminiscent of Pearl Harbor for me, but so many people in Princeton were affected, it was even more personal."

After graduation in 1942, Ms. Crossley headed to Washington, D.C., where she worked in the Office of War Information (0WI) and then for the War Food Administration.

Double Acrostics

"While I was still at college, an astronomy professor recruited some of us to take a job in cryptography after we graduated," she recalls. "My roommate and I signed up. She went into the WAVES as an officer to work in cryptography, but because at that time you couldn't go to Officers Candidate School if you wore glasses, which I did, I wasn't eligible. But my brief experience in cryptography left me with a great love of double acrostics, which I still do!"

In OWI, Ms. Crossley analyzed newspaper editorials regarding the war's progress, and in the War Food Administration, she worked on surveys investigating shortages. It was a time of rationing, she points out. "Imagine being limited to three gallons of gasoline a week!"

At the end of the war, she determined to concentrate on survey research.

"By September of 1945, I had pretty much decided I was interested in public opinion work, and I asked my dad if I could work for the company. In fact, I had always been interested =8B really from the fourth grade. My father was commuting to New York, and he'd bring back stacks of things to tabulate. So I learned at age nine to do this, and got an early start.

"He was reluctant to have me join though =8B in those days, you mostly were a teacher or secretary before you got married =8B but he did let me. So I lived in New York, first in Greenwich Village in a residence for young ladies and then on West 75th Street in a basement apartment with a friend. We had a very old-fashioned German landlady who didn't want us to have boys visit.

"I worked on radio ratings and was in New York for two years. I thoroughly enjoyed being in New York City, but I was really a country girl, and I decided I didn't want to work in a big city, with all the crowds and noise."

Founding Members

Ms. Crossley thought a graduate degree would help her career, and she obtained a fellowship to the University of Denver, where she earned an M.A. in social science, writing her thesis on public opinion research.

"On the way to Denver in the fall of 1947, my mentor, Don Cahalan suggested I stop in Williamstown, Mass., where the American Association of Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) was being established. My father and I were founding members. He served as president and I was secretary-treasurer.

"There were also people from abroad at Williamstown, and they founded the World Association of Public Opinion Research (WAPOR). I was very involved in WAPOR too, serving as the first female president."

In 1950, Ms. Crossley's travels began in earnest, when she headed to Washington to work in the office of the Armed Forces Information and Education division in the Department of Defense.

"I spent six months in Washington, and then went to Germany, where I did survey research among the military regarding re-enlistment and relations among the German people. This was an opportunity for me to travel, and it was the beginning of what became a very good career," she explains.

Memorable Holiday

"I got there in August or September of 1950. The Korean War had broken out, and the military was very thinned. I remember I went on a New Year's weekend holiday to Bavaria, wondering if the Russians would invade Germany. It was a very memorable holiday, and when we got back after New Year's, the Russians had not invaded."

Returning to Washington in 1955, Ms. Crossley joined the United States Information Agency (USIA) and concentrated on survey research.

"The Agency was set up by President Eisenhower as part of the People-to-People program to tell America's story to the world," explains Ms. Crossley. "It ran libraries, exchange programs, and the Voice of America. It had a lot to do with winning the Cold War.

"I was there until 1960, and we were very dedicated. We have a USIA Alumni Association, and we get together. I have friends from there whom I see when I go to Washington."

In 1960, continuing her travels, Ms. Crossley went to Korea as part of what is now the AID program.

"I wanted the Far East experience," she points out, "and an interesting incident happened when I was there. In 1961-62, I was president of WAPOR, and there was to be a meeting in Baden Baden. As a full-time government civil servant, I had to get permission to go, and I was refused. They said I was needed in Korea, but I managed to pull some strings, and ended up going to Baden Baden at my own expense, where I was on the platform with German Minister of Economics Ludwig Erhard."

Private Sector

After several years working for the government, Ms. Crossley decided to return to Princeton in 1963 to work in the private sector.

"I became an independent consultant, doing academic and commercial work, and also more and more projects with my father. He set up a variety of political surveys and analyses, including working for Nelson Rockefeller when he was Governor of New York and later when he tried to run for the Presidency. My dad didn't want to be known as Rockefeller's pollster, though, so he worked for others, including a friend of Lyndon Johnson.

"There is an interesting story," she continues. "Johnson's friend commissioned a confidential poll regarding the President's popularity in three counties, including one in New Hampshire. The results in the New Hampshire poll were positive, but they were not representative of the entire state. They were given to Johnson, who released them to the papers. But he had broken confidentiality and misused the figures. My father was very upset, and asked a reporter to explain what had happened. It led to an AAPOR rule stating all members must agree to go public if their surveys are misrepresented.

"He was active in several different kinds of polling," continues Ms. Crossley. "The most obvious is public opinion polling =8B the issues of the day. More than half of his work was market research =8B products, such as cars, food, beer, etc. A lot of people fail to see that this is an important part of society's commercial existence. My father's premise was that this helps the whole system produce what people want.

"Later, my father became especially interested in conflict resolution and in the role public opinion survey research could play in getting two sides to look at each other and resolve nationality conflicts.

"On the whole, polling is healthy. People's views should be respected. I think the importance of this work is getting people to see other people's interests as well as their own, and widen their view of the world. I have always wanted to do this work. I'm a listener, not a talker."

Positive Force

George Gallup Jr. of the Gallup Organization and son of the founder of the Gallup Poll, is an admirer of Ms. Crossley and her contribution to the field of opinion research.

"Helen is a thorough-going professional with a remarkable depth of experience in all phases of survey research. She has worked in many areas, including international research, public policy, and political research. Meticulous in her analysis and reporting of survey data, she has been a very positive force in the survey research industry in the last 50 years.

"Helen has always retained a fascination with research methodology and also with the potential of survey research to make new discoveries about human-kind and to bring about positive change in societies around the world."

During her career, which has covered such a wide range of information-gathering and analysis, Ms. Crossley co-authored a book, "American Drinking Practices", based on a national study of American drinking habits she and a social research group undertook at George Washington University.

She is also especially proud of her efforts at USIA to have some 3000 reports of international public opinion surveys declassified, for which she received USIA commendation. "I became more of an archivist," she reports, "It took a lot of hard work with the bureaucracies, but now the material is in the National Archives and available to anyone.

"I am also sorting through cabinets-full of my father's work, materials which will go to the Archives of Survey Research Pioneers at the University of Connecticut. This is a very big job!"

Cultural Opportunities

Ms. Crossley remains active in AAPOR and WAPOR, attending meetings of both organizations, and now serves as WAPOR's official historian.

When she is in Princeton, she takes part in many of the cultural opportunities offered here, including singing with the Princeton Society of Musical Amateurs. She has been a member of this group since its founding when she was a junior at Miss Fine's School, and music continues to be one of her greatest pleasures.

"I love music, and I keep the radio tuned to 89.1 FM, the classical station. I am also a subscriber to the Opera Festival of New Jersey, and while I especially love classical music, I also still enjoy the Big Bands music from the 1930s and '40s."

Ms. Crossley's interest in music is noted by Markell Shriver, co-chair of the Opera Festival of New Jersey, and long-time friend of the Crossley family.

"When I was a child going over to the Crossley house opera was going full force on the radio every Saturday. And Helen is one of the few people I know who really takes full advantage of what Princeton has to offer =8B concerts, plays, lectures, the opera =8B she goes to everything!

"Two things I think her friends admire most about Helen is her intellectual curiosity and her independent spirit. She is interested in everything and wants to know about everything. She is so bright. She has traveled all her life, and it is very interesting to talk with her about politics and world affairs."

Ms. Crossley is a fan of the town in which she has lived on and off her whole life, especially admiring Princeton's scenic beauty, but she is also aware of many changes.

"The biggest changes in Princeton are the crowds, traffic, and development. I don't think the current development is a benefit to the town. They tried to stay a small town, but I'm afraid we're becoming a city. Also, the property taxes are a big problem for people."

Special Place

Nevertheless, Princeton is still a special place in her eyes, and she is especially pleased that friends of long-standing continue to live here too. "I see a lot of my old friend and former Miss Fine's classmate, Nan Agar. We get together for lunch and also have a subscription to McCarter."

Adds Mrs. Agar, now a Rocky Hill resident: "It's really wonderful to have a friend from school still around at our age! We can share many memories of Princeton before World War II and what it was like then. One of the things we could do was use the Princeton University library, which was especially important to Helen, who was one of the brightest girls in our class. And we'd all ride our bikes to school =8B we called ourselves 'The Bicycle Brigade'.

"After we graduated, we went our separate ways, and of course, Helen traveled a great deal. But now we are back together, having good times again."

Although very much a part of today's world, Ms. Crossley has some reservations about the increasingly high tech society. "I have a PC, and I do e-mail, but AOL drives me crazy! I still think the telephone is the best means of communicating."

An enthusiastic reader when she has time, Ms. Crossley enjoys a variety of books, including mysteries. "I have also started Hillary Clinton's book, and I did read "Princeton Mysteries'. I just wish I had more time."

Especially for travel! Of the places she has already visited, she is partial to New England, the Seattle area and San Francisco in the U.S., and "abroad, I especially enjoy Switzerland for its beauty, its seasonal alternatives, and the orderly way they live. I am also a great admirer of Korea for the beauty of the country and the character of the people."

But there are still so many places yet unseen! "I have stacks and stacks of travel brochures," she says, smiling. "I particularly want to go to Nova Scotia, South America, Alaska, and Antarctica."

And as her friend Markell Shriver says, "Helen is always ready to go!"


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