In this new book, Leonard Rogoff examines the life of Gertrude Weil, a reformer from Goldsboro, North Carolina. Though today Weil is largely not remembered, Rogoff, in the first full-length biography of her, offers a fascinating and informative account that not only examines her activism but also effectively situates her within the context of American social, economic, and political history. Weil was not always correct in her beliefs; for example, she supported the eugenics movement and arrived at the cause for equality between whites and African Americans relatively late in life. But throughout this work, Rogoff is able to demonstrate that she was unafraid to challenge social norms. To accomplish this, he utilizes many letters that Weil exchanged with family members and friends. In these sources, which Weil incorrectly insisted had “nothing of any value,” Rogoff finds a veritable treasure trove that demonstrates how Weil became involved with different causes as well as her changing attitudes toward many issues (p. 282). The strongest section of this book is Rogoff's treatment of Weil's fight for suffrage and the struggles she faced living in the small town of Goldsboro, where people feared that women's suffrage could upset the racial status quo. Weil also had to contend with the fact that many women of all economic backgrounds did not see suffrage as a priority. However, Weil, whose values were largely shaped by her Reform Jewish beliefs, saw suffrage as the best method of achieving reform and was extremely active in both the National Women American Suffrage Association and the Equal Suffrage Association of North Carolina, both of which pushed the state to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment. Due to her prominence and family standing, her efforts ensured this cause was one that the North Carolina legislature could not ignore. This dynamic shows how powerful women's activism could be at a time when they were thought not to have a voice. Once the Nineteenth Amendment passed, Weil tirelessly utilized her vote, and while she was nominally Democratic, at least in her younger years, Weil made national headlines in 1922 when handed a ballot already filled out for her. “After tearing it to shreds,” Weil went on to destroy other marked ballots, leading Republicans to consider drafting her for Congress, a plan that she insisted, in no uncertain terms, she had no interest in (p. 153). Though Rogoff might be correct when he asserts that Weil “would have dismissed her biographer as a ‘damn fool’” and insisted that she had not done anything worthy of accolades, she would have been mistaken (p. vii). This book not only gives readers a glimpse into Weil's tireless advocacy but also contributes to our understanding of American, southern, Jewish, and women's history from Reconstruction through Weil's death in 1971. Rogoff's nuanced treatment of the subject is appropriate for both scholars and the general public. © The Author 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Organization of American Historians. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Journal of American History – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 1, 2018
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