Gertrude Marilla Cheney was born March 20, 1912, in Springfield, Massachusetts. She was the daughter of Ralph Loren Cheney (1872-1964; S.B. 1898) and Frances Stiles Cheney (1880-1946; A.B. 1901). She spent her early years in Springfield, where her father was a professor of sociology and social ethics and director of the courses in YMCA administration at Springfield College. The Cheney family moved to New Haven, Connecticut, in 1924 when Ralph Cheney accepted the position of General Secretary of the New Haven YMCA.
After graduating from New Haven Hillhouse High School in 1928, Gertrude Cheney spent a year studying French and music in Geneva, Switzerland. She entered the freshman class of Oberlin College in 1929. While at Oberlin, she majored in French and was active in extracurricular activities, including the Y.W.C.A., Cosmopolitan Club, Oberlin Band, and the All-Star Volleyball team. In addition, she was President of French House and chairman of the Women's Honor Court. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1933.
Gertrude Cheney was one of two members of the Class of 1933 selected to teach English at the Oberlin Shansi Memorial School in Taiku, Shansi, China. During 1934 she also served as English secretary to Dr. Y. P. Mei (A.B. 1924), the acting president of the school. In March of 1936, Chinese Communist armies moved into Shansi province, and the school was forced to close. Gertrude Cheney, along with several other Shansi representatives, left Taiku to seek safety in Peiping. They were able to return to Taiku in April, and she resumed her teaching duties until her term as Shansi representative ended in June 1936.
After leaving China, Gertrude Cheney returned to Oberlin to serve as the graduate assistant in Churchill House and to pursue graduate studies under a scholarship program for returned Shansi representatives. In 1937-38, she was a student at Yale University, and she received the M.A. degree from that institution in 1941. In 1938 she moved to Paterson, New Jersey, to take up the position of YWCA Secretary. In 1943-44, she was a recipient of the Kappa Alpha Theta scholarship at Columbia University in New York, where she studied in their Civilian Training in International Administration, specializing in China.
On June 24, 1944, Gertrude Cheney married Donald O. Hoffman. The couple moved to Columbus, Ohio, where Donald Hoffman was pursuing doctoral studies in chemistry at the Ohio State University. During this time Gertrude Hoffman worked as a teaching assistant in the French Department at the Ohio State University. Donald Hoffman received his Ph.D. in 1948, and the couple subsequently spent three and a half years in Cairo, Egypt, where he was a biochemist with the U.S. Navy Medical Research unit.
Upon their return to the United States in the 1950s, the Hoffmans settled in Sturbridge, Massachusetts. In 1958 Gertrude Hoffman began working in the Joshua Hyde Public Library in Sturbridge as a part-time library assistant while learning library work. During this time she also worked part-time in the Museum Education Department of Old Sturbridge Village. Gertrude Hoffman was named Head Librarian of the Joshua Hyde Public Library in 1963, and served in this position until her death in 1981.
Gertrude and Donald Hoffman had three children: Jeanne Frances Berger (b. 1946; A.B. 1967), Carolyn Sue Furrevig (b.1948), and Paul Curtis Hoffman (b. 1950).
Gertrude Cheney Hoffman died in Sturbridge, Massachusetts, on October 12, 1981.