Gertrude Weil

Jewish Progressive in the New South

By Leonard Rogoff

368 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 20 halftones, notes, index

  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-3079-3
    Published: April 2017
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-3080-9
    Published: February 2017

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Awards & distinctions

2017 Ragan Old North State Award for Nonfiction, North Carolina Literary and Historical Association

"It is so obvious that to treat people equally is the right thing to do,” wrote Gertrude Weil (1879–1971). In the first-ever biography of Weil, Leonard Rogoff tells the story of a modest southern Jewish woman who, while famously private, fought publicly and passionately for the progressive causes of her age. Born to a prominent family in Goldsboro, North Carolina, Weil never married and there remained ensconced--in many ways a proper southern lady--for nearly a century. From her hometown, 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.

Weil made national headlines during an election in 1922 when, casting her vote, she spotted and ripped up a stack of illegally marked ballots. She campaigned against lynching, convened a biracial council in her home, and in her eighties desegregated a swimming pool by diving in headfirst. Rogoff also highlights Weil’s place in the broader Jewish American experience. Whether attempting to promote the causes of southern Jewry, save her European family members from the Holocaust, or support the creation of a Jewish state, Weil fought for systemic change, all the while insisting that she had not done much beyond the ordinary duty of any citizen.

About the Author

Leonard Rogoff is research historian for the Jewish Heritage Foundation of North Carolina and author of several books, including Down Home: Jewish Life in North Carolina.
For more information about Leonard Rogoff, visit the Author Page.


"A must-read for those interested in Jewish women's history. . . . Will also be inspirational and highly relevant for anyone interested in progressive politics and activism."--Library Journal

"The world came to Gertrude Weil's door, and Leonard Rogoff shows . . . that she, in turn, bridged worlds. . . . Explores the unique intersectionality of social moment and movement her life offers."--Foreword Reviews

“In capturing the expansive life of a southern lady, clubwoman, activist, and Jew, Rogoff has made important contributions to US Jewish, women's and southern histories. Highly recommended.”--Choice

“Goldsboro-born reformer Gertrude Weil was so modest about her accomplishments that she would just as soon have let the dust gather on her memory. But her humane and almost super-human engagement with the social, political, and moral advance of twentieth-century North Carolina’s workers, women, and children (black and white, Jews and Gentiles) makes Rogoff’s comprehensive, clear-eyed volume a moving and very welcome addition to the annals of Jewish history, women’s history, and the progressive tradition that still shapes the Tar Heel state today. Not all her battles were won—and many still remain—but this didn’t stop Gertrude Weil and it shouldn’t stop us.”--Emily Bingham, author of Irrepressible

"This first major biography of Gertrude Weil tells the story of an amazing southern Jewish New Woman who lived virtually all of her life in the house in which she was born but whose impact reverberated widely. In her story we see the power of localism, sisterhood across religious boundaries, and intellect, politics, and wealth used to advance and improve society. It reveals a blend of religious and familial devotion that helped to secure Weil against the prejudices of anti-Semitism and the seductions of Christian universalism."--Deborah Dash Moore, author of Urban Origins of American Judaism

"Gertrude Weil draws deeply on historical archives as well as firsthand interviews with Weil’s family, neighbors, friends, and associates, and makes an important contribution to our understanding of a wide swath of American life, southern life, Jewish history, women’s history, and the history of race relations and social justice in America." --Joyce Antler, author of The Journey Home: How Jewish Women Shaped Modern America