A Southern Jewish Childhood
Gertrude Weil, 1879 - 1971
Like most Southern Jews, Gertrude Weil's life revolved around a small-town community, in this case Goldsboro, NC. Her father, Henry, and his brothers had arrived in North Carolina from Germany around the time of the Civil War, while her mother, Mina, grew up in an observant Jewish family in Wilson, NC. By the time of Gertrude's birth on December 11, 1879, the Weils occupied a prominent and influential position in the new but rapidly developing town of Goldsboro.
Although their affluence allowed them to enjoy a privileged white lifestyle—Henry and Mina employed a cook, a housemaid, a nurse, and a "mother's helper"—the family always maintained a sense of responsibility towards the larger community. Indeed, Gertrude made her first foray into public service work at the age of seven, helping her mother at a charity bazaar in aid of victims of an earthquake in Charleston, SC. Highly committed to fostering the political, social, economic and cultural well-being of their town and their state, the extended Weil family taught Gertrude at an early age to value social welfare and civic involvement. Weil was strongly influenced by her mother's and her aunts' many philanthropic and social service activities, as well as by her father's and her uncles' extensive civic and political work.
In 1883, only 17 years after the formation of North Carolina's first Jewish congregation, Gertrude's parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles helped to form Goldsboro's Congregation Oheb Sholom. The Weil family's integration into their town's social and economic life did not diminish their commitment to Judaism and Jewish life. As a girl, Gertrude attended religious school, observed Jewish holidays, and participated in Goldsboro's small but vibrant Jewish community.
- Sarah Wilkerson-Freeman, "The Emerging Political Consciousness of Gertrude Weil: Education and Women's Clubs, 1897–1914," MA thesis, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1986, 1–6.
- Margaret Supplee Smith and Emily Herring Wilson, North Carolina Women: Making History (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1999), 258–259.
- Moses Rountree, Strangers in the Land: The Story of Jacob Weil's Tribe (Philadelphia: Dorrance & Company, 1969), 86.