Gertrude Weil

Jewish Progressive in the New South

By Leonard Rogoff

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

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-6858-1
    Published: July 2021
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-3079-3
    Published: April 2017
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-3080-9
    Published: February 2017
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-4347-0
    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

“Invites further research into the history of southern Jewish women’s organizations, specifically how these women’s racial and class identities both broadened and constrained their otherwise cosmopolitan worldviews.”--The Journal of Southern History

“Though today Weil is largely not remembered, Rogoff, in the first full-length biography of her, offers a fascinating and informative account that not only examines her activism but also effectively situates her within the context of American social, economic, and political history.”--The Journal of American History

“A smoothly written biography [and] an important contribution to the field.”--American Jewish Archives Journal