Ida Weis Friend’s life of activism began when, at age fifteen, she raised money for a hospital fountain. It ended when she died, at age ninety-five, still serving as president of the board of directors of the Home for the Incurables, a post she had held for over forty years. Her community service, representative of women’s club work during the Progressive Era and beyond, encompassed religious organizations, the woman suffrage movement, mainstream politics, public health, child welfare, and cultural philanthropy.
Ida Weis Friend was born on June 30, 1868, in Natchez, Mississippi. Her father, Julius Weis, had migrated there from Bavaria in 1845. He began peddling in the nearby countryside and eventually operated dry-goods stores in various Mississippi towns. In 1864, he married Caroline Mayer, the daughter of the family with whom he first boarded upon his arrival in Natchez. The Weises moved to New Orleans, where Julius Weis became a successful cotton factor. A prominent member of the Jewish community, he helped found and was president of Temple Sinai, the first Reform congregation in New Orleans. In 1899, he donated $25,000 for a home for elderly Jews that was named in his honor.
Caroline Weis returned to Natchez for the birth of four of her seven children. Ida was the third child, following firstborn Henrietta and oldest son Simon. Her remaining siblings, all brothers, were Sam, Marion, Joseph, and Fred.
Ida began her education at a small private school run by Flora Gayle. In 1882, her family moved to Europe for eighteen months so that the children could be educated there. She studied at Fräulein Singer’s school in Frankfurt and Mesdames Yeatman’s school in Neuilly, France, and became fluent in both German and French.
She met her future husband, Joseph E. Friend, a Milwaukee native and Yale graduate, during a Colorado vacation. They married on March 19, 1890. After a brief residence in Chicago, the couple returned to New Orleans, and Joseph Friend began work in Julius Weis’s firm. The Friends had four children: Henry, Lillian, Caroline, and Julius Weis, who founded and edited the New Orleans–based literary magazine the Double Dealer.
Following her father’s lead, Friend, a lifelong member of Temple Sinai, devoted herself to Jewish organizations. As a teenager, her first charitable act was raising money for a fountain for Touro Infirmary, a Jewish hospital over whose board her father presided. She founded the New Orleans Hadassah and served as its first president from 1917 to 1920. She also led the New Orleans women’s chapter of B’nai B’rith, which was named after her. From 1926 to 1932, she was president of the National Council of Jewish Women.
Friend was a member of the Era Club, a New Orleans woman suffrage organization. In 1920, she was the first Louisiana woman to serve at the Democratic National Convention and the following year was one of two female delegates to Louisiana’s constitutional convention. In 1946, she participated in a women’s campaign effort to help elect deLesseps “Chep” Morrison, a reform candidate for mayor in New Orleans.
Friend served as president of local, district, and state chapters of the Federation of Women’s Clubs, the New Orleans Travelers Aid Society, and the New Orleans Consumer League. An advocate of the playground movement, she donated land to the city for a playground named as a memorial to her son Henry, who died from postsurgery complications at age eighteen. Friend also became involved in interracial work. She was a member of the Commission on Interracial Cooperation in 1932 and helped found the New Orleans chapter of the Urban League in 1938.
For her lifetime of leadership and volunteer work, Ida Weis Friend was awarded the New Orleans Times-Picayune Loving Cup in 1946, a prestigious local honor. She continued to serve the community until her death on September 22, 1963, in New Orleans.
Friend, Ida Weis. Papers. Manuscripts Collection 287, Department of Manuscripts, Howard-Tilton Memorial Library, Tulane University, New Orleans.
The Israelites of Louisiana: Their Religious, Civic, Charitable, and Patriotic Life .
Kahn, Catherine C. “Ida Weis Friend.” In A Dictionary of Louisiana Biography, edited by Glenn R. Conrad. Vol. 1 (1988).
New Orleans Item, March 4, 1946, and January 28, 1953.
New Orleans Times-Picayune, September 23, 1963.
Weis, Julius. Autobiography of Julius Weis (n.d.).
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Leathem, Karen Trahan. "Ida Weis Friend." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 27 February 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on December 10, 2019) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/friend-ida-weis>.