Rogoff, Leonard. “Gertude Weil: Jewish Progressive in the New South”, University of North Carolina Press, 2017.
Meet Gertrude Weill
Gertrude Weill (1879-1971) was a modest Jewish woman in North Carolina who felt that everyone must be treated equally… “it is the right thing to do”. Even though she was a private woman, her fights were public and passionate and she championed progressive causes during her life.
Weill was born into a prominent family in Goldsboro, North Carolina. She never married and in many ways she was a proper southern lady for almost a hundred years. She fought for women’s suffrage, founded her state’s League of Women Voters, pushed for labor reform and social welfare, and advocated for world peace.
In 1922, during an election, she spotted and ripped up a stack of illegally marked ballots as she was casting her vote and made the national news. She campaigned against lynching, convened a biracial council in her home, and in her eighties desegregated a swimming pool by diving in headfirst.
We also read of Weil’s place in the Jewish American experience. Weill worked hard to promote the causes of southern Jewry, save her European family members from the Holocaust and to support the creation of a Jewish state. She fought for systemic change yet she insisted that she had not done much beyond the ordinary duty of any citizen. Her life was one of “the intersectionality of social moment and movement her life offers”.
Writer Leonard Rogoff used historical archives and interviews with Weil’s family, neighbors, friends, and associates to give us an understanding of American life, southern life, Jewish history, women’s history, as well as the history of race relations and social justice in this country.
Weill was a New Woman before the term existed. By reading about Weill’s life. We also learn of the “power of localism, sisterhood across religious boundaries, and intellect, politics, and wealth used to advance and improve society”. Now all of us have the chance to read about how she became part of
the social, political, and moral advances of North Carolina’s workers, women, and children (black and white, Jews and Gentiles).