An independent, intelligent, and industrious woman, Tillie De Leon is the matriarch of the original Peha family in Seattle, Sephardic immigrants from the Greek Island of Rhodes. One of the first Sephardic children born in Seattle, Tillie’s ground-breaking life continued when she left her close-knit community and moved to Los Angeles to take an accounting job. Married and widowed in Los Angeles, Tillie married Albert De Leon and returned with him to Seattle. Ever hardworking and optimistic, Tillie continued her paid work until age 80, and remained active in volunteer activities.
Tillie Israel DeLeon describes the Sephardic community in Seattle, including the history of its immigration from Rhodes and Istanbul (which she did not herself experience firsthand). She portrays interactions in Seattle between Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews, the Sephardic Jews from Istanbul and Rhodes, and Jews and non-Jews. The Educational Center had a social importance for the children and they also attended religious school. In 1928, DeLeon attended the University of Washington for two years, although it was difficult financially and she then went to business school and became a bookkeeper. She moved to Los Angeles, where she married her husband in 1943. He brought his family over from the Old World. He died in 1953. She coped with his death slowly and became a real estate agent. She remarried in 1959. She stopped working while her husband worked, and when he stopped working because of health reasons, returned to work, having several jobs until age 80. She now volunteers at the Senior Center and Thrift Shop, getting much fulfillment out of the work, and is also interested in cancer research organizations, the Fred Hutchinson Center and City of Hope (her first husband died of leukemia). Throughout the interview, DeLeon describes Sephardic customs, food, songs, holiday observance, values, sayings, arranged marriages, heirlooms, and stories. Finally, she reflects on the role of grandparents and women.
How to cite this page
Oral History of Tillie DeLeon. Interviewed by Roz Borsntein. 24 May 2001, 1 June 2001. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on December 9, 2023) <https://jwa.org/oralhistories/deleon-tillie>.
Oral History of Tillie DeLeon by the Jewish Women's Archive is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at https://jwa.org/contact/OralHistory.