Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Gertrude Weil: Jewish Progressive in the New South

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Gertrude Weil: Jewish Progressive in the New South

Article excerpt

Gertrude Weil: Jewish Progressive in the New South. By Leonard Rogoff. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2017. Pp. xiv, 354. $35.00, ISBN 978-1-4696-3079-3.)

In the first biography of Goldsboro, North Carolina, suffragist and social justice activist Gertrude Weil, historian Leonard Rogoff s argument is twofold. First, he counters Eli Evans's portrayal of North Carolina Jews as provincial by arguing that although Weil was entangled in the state's complex racial and gendered hierarchies, she was "cosmopolitan with roots" (p. x). Second, Rogoff offers Weil's career as usable history for readers seeking to "live a meaningful life" (p. xi). Weil was steeped in classical Reform Judaism and the civic-minded German ethos of Bildung--"moral education and self-improvement"--and she believed that Jews were meant to model moral conduct for other nations (p. 2).

While Gertrude Weil: Jewish Progressive in the New South builds on literature on North Carolina, women's studies, and Jewish history, Rogoff closely follows Anne Firor Scott's classic survey The Southern Lady: From Pedestal to Politics, 1830-1930 (Chicago, 1970), which documents how the southern women's club movement helped affluent white southern women build networks crucial to organizing politically. Rogoff also complements Pamela Tyler's and Landon R. Y. Storrs's research on the southern woman suffrage movement and consumer activists' emerging maternalist political apparatus. Weil mirrors Storrs's twentieth-century Jewish consumers and advocates whose northern education and international affiliation made radical, interracial organizing possible. Weil's career, however, provides a long view of grassroots movements, and Rogoff extends organizational histories by charting how Weil mobilized social networks to mitigate segregation, poverty, and public health crises for seventy years.

The first four chapters examine Weil's spiritual and educational development. Rogoff outlines the Weil family's German Jewish familial network that linked urban nodes like New York City and Baltimore to outposts such as Goldsboro and facilitated assimilation while maintaining traditions, language, and ties to Europe. Additionally, Weil's classical education in North Carolina and at Smith College sharpened the independent, civically engaged idealism that propelled her to join New Woman social work agencies that advocated "municipal housekeeping" to reform political systems (p. …

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