Gertrude Weil, 1879 - 1971
Weil's interest in issues of labor reform had deep roots. Not only had her mother fought for child labor legislation, but Weil's own education showed her the dire poverty endured by many working people and convinced her that women's political and economic disabilities were intimately entwined. North Carolina's labor laws, moreover, were extremely weak. In the early 1920s, women could legally work an 11-hour day and a 60-hour week, with supervisors often demanding much more. In opposition to those who argued that protective legislation would put women workers at a disadvantage, Weil believed such laws could protect women from the most exploitative industrial practices.
In 1916, Weil called for a survey of women's working conditions, believing it would be a crucial first step in reforming the worst aspects of industrialization in the state. In the 1920s, the North Carolina League of Women Voters, the Legislative Council of North Carolina Women, and the state Federation of Women's Clubs—in all of which Weil took a leading role—lobbied vigorously for the survey before legislative committees and elsewhere. Their efforts brought them into conflict with powerful North Carolinian industrial and political interests, who likened them to Trotskyite and Leninist radicals, undermining the fabric of the country.
In 1929, female textile workers in North Carolina went on strike to protest long hours, low wages, and poor working conditions. Although manufacturers opposed unionization, the state's women's groups, with Weil in the lead, strongly supported the strikes. In 1930, Weil was a leading participant in a group of progressive citizens who issued a manifesto in support of collective bargaining and free speech; nearly one-third of the manifesto's 439 signatories were women. In 1931, the women's Legislative Council finally won shorter hours for women workers, the prohibition of night work, and other industrial reforms.
- Marion Roydhouse, "'Our Responsibilities are for Women': Gertrude Weil and Labor Reform," unpublished paper delivered at "Women Working For Social Change: The Legacy of Gertrude Weil," Symposium presented by the Women's Studies Program, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, March 17, 1984.