Tag Archive | Women’s History

Gertrude Weil—Advocate for Suffrage and Civil Rights

Weil (far left) with a group of other suffragettes. Image from the State Archives

Weil (far left) with a group of other suffragettes. Image from the State Archives

On May 30, 1971, Gertrude Weil died at the age of 91. A humanitarian, social reformer and philanthropist, Weil was born in 1879 in Goldsboro to department store owners Henry and Mina Weil.  The Weils were a wealthy Jewish family who settled in North Carolina about 1865.

Weil in 1905. Image from the State Archives

Weil in 1905. Image from the State Archives

After graduating from Smith College in 1901, Weil traveled extensively and turned her energies toward social reform. By 1920, she helped found the North Carolina Suffrage League, the North Carolina Federation of Women’s Clubs and the North Carolina League of Women Voters. She also helped establish the Wayne County Health Department. Weil served as president for the North Carolina Association for Jewish Women but worked tirelessly for interfaith activities and initiatives.

Civil rights became her focus in the 1950s when she funded a park and swimming pool for African Americans and founded the Bi-Racial Council in 1963. During her lifetime Weil received many awards, including the Smith College Medal, given to alumnae who “exemplify in their lives and work the true purpose of a liberal arts education.”

Just weeks before Weil’s death in 1971, North Carolina finally ratified the 19th Amendment, which granted women suffrage, 50 years after it had become the law of the land.

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A Female Lawyer in the 1600s

On May 25, 1673, Ann Durant became the first woman to act in the capacity of an attorney in North Carolina. Durant represented Andrew Ball in his successful effort to recover wages due him for work aboard a ship at a proceeding held at the home of council member Francis Godfrey. On at least 20 other occasions she appeared before colonial courts on behalf of herself, her husband or others. She frequently appeared to collect debts owed to her store.

Durant’s court appearances were not the first display of her self-reliance. After marrying George Durant in Virginia in January 1659, the couple moved to their “southern plantation,” settling on the peninsula today known as Durant’s Neck. George Durant served in various capacities in the colony, as speaker of the assembly and as attorney general.

In her husband’s frequent absence, Ann Durant ran their plantation, often providing accommodations for officials attending meetings of the Assembly and Council held at their house. Prisoners were also sometimes held at the Durant home, and it was on their tract that the first public structures in North Carolina, stocks and pillories, were built. She also raised nine children.

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For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, make sure you subscribe by email using the box on the right, and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.

Husband and Wife Side-By-Side in the Confederate Army

An image of Blalock from Wikipedia

An image of Blalock from Wikipedia

On March 20, 1862, Malinda Blalock disguised herself as a young man and enlisted in the Confederate army. Malinda and her husband Keith were Unionists from Watauga County.  Keith was pressured by recruiters to join the Confederate army, which he did with the intention of deserting into federal lines at the first opportunity.

Stories differ as to whether Keith was aware of Malinda’s intentions, but the more romantic version is that Keith looked over at the private walking next to him and did a double-take when he recognized his wife, who had cut her waist-length hair and donned baggy men’s clothing to become “Sam” Blalock. Sam Blalock, purportedly Keith’s brother, was described as “a good looking boy aged 16.”

Keith and Malinda served in Company F of the 26th Regiment, and shared a tent in Kinston during training.  Malinda performed all of the duties of a soldier and did not raise suspicions. When Keith realized that they would not easily be able to desert, he obtained a medical discharge by creating a severe rash, rubbing poison oak or sumac all over his body.  At that point “Sam” revealed his secret and was discharged. Keith was soon pursued as a deserter.

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For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, subscribe by email using the box on the right and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.

Women in Salisbury Riot for Bread

A newspaper account of the riot, online in the digital collections of the State Archives and State Library

On March 18, 1863, a group of about fifty women, all wives and mothers of Confederate soldiers, participated in what would become known as the Salisbury Bread Riot.  The women blamed speculators for driving up the prices of necessary items during the Union blockade.  Struggling to provide for their families, they banded together against the businesses that they suspected of speculating and demanded government prices for goods.

Michael Brown, the owner of a local store, recalled that when he refused to deal with them, the women attempted to break down his storeroom door with hatchets.  Finally he decided to give them ten barrels of flour if they would leave.  By the end of the day the women had obtained “twenty three barrels of flour, two sacks of salt, about half a barrel of molasses and twenty dollars in money.”

The group later wrote to Governor Zebulon Vance to explain their unpleasant, but justified, actions.  The Carolina Watchman, a local newspaper, commented on the event but did not place blame on the women.  The editors instead blamed the ineffectiveness of the government to provide enough food for the families at home.  This event ultimately led to better rationing of government resources to aid Civil War soldiers’ families.

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UNC-Greensboro Launched in 1891

A ca. 1915-1930 image of UNC-Greensboro from the North Carolina Collection at UNC-Chapel Hill

A ca. 1915-1930 image of UNC-Greensboro from the North Carolina Collection at UNC-Chapel Hill

On February 18, 1891, the State Normal and Industrial School—now the University of North Carolina at Greensboro—was chartered. First established as a school for female teachers, it became the Women’s College of the University of North Carolina in 1932, joining the University of North Carolina and North Carolina State College as part of the Consolidated University System. Becoming coeducational in 1963, the college was renamed the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

The State Normal School was built on ten acres in western Greensboro in Guilford County. It opened in October 1892 with 223 students and 15 faculty members. Originally, the school offered degrees in three departments: education, domestic sciences and business.

Joining the Consolidated University System in 1932, UNC-G functioned as the leading college for women in North Carolina throughout the early and mid-twentieth century. It continued to widen its course offerings, and today hosts more than 150 undergraduate and graduate programs in fields as diverse as education, the liberal arts and business. The integration of men and minority students at UNC-G expanded and diversified the university in the 1960s and 1970s. In 1995 Patricia A. Sullivan became the first female chancellor of the University.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, make sure you subscribe by email using the box on the right, and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.

Women Marines in World War II

Colonel Julia E. Hamblet, an early director of the Marine Corps Women's Reserve

Colonel Julia E. Hamblet, an early director of the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve

On February 13, 1943, the first women to sign up for non-clerical duties enlisted in the Marine Corps Women Reserve.  The Women’s Reserve was formed in 1942 when plans were put in place to build a women’s cantonment area at Camp Lejeune, consisting of several barracks, mess halls and other support facilities. Unlike other branches, the Marine Corps did not drastically relax its training regimen or admissions policies for females.

About 3,000 women trained elsewhere while facilities were being prepared at Camp Lejeune. The base remained the primary source of female Marines during World War II. During the course of the war, more than 23,000 women enlisted and nearly 1,000 held commissions. By the war’s end, almost 18,000 women who trained at Camp Lejeune were on duty, including Eugenia Lejeune, daughter of the general for whom the base is named.

Enlistees were inducted into specialties ranging from cooks and clerks to transport personnel and mechanics. One-third of the women served in aviation-related fields, particularly at the Marine Corps Air Station at Cherry Point. After the war the female Marines were considered expendable and scheduled for elimination. The women’s schools were disbanded in September 1945 and the entire reserve was discharged in March 1946.

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For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, make sure you subscribe by email using the box on the right, and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.

WAC’s Colonel Westray Battle Boyce—A Proud North Carolinian

Westray Battle Boyce. Image from the N.C. Museum of History

Westray Battle Boyce. Image from the N.C. Museum of History

On February 8, 1944, Westray Battle Boyce was promoted to lieutenant colonel and became the first woman to receive the Legion of Merit.  Few North Carolina men, and no Tar Heel women, had a more distinguished service record in World War II than Colonel Westray Battle Boyce. In August 1942 she entered training for the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, which became a part of the Army in September 1943 when the name was changed to the Women’s Army Corps (WACs).

In 1943-44 Major Boyce served on Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s staff with command over WACs in North Africa. In 1945, she was appointed director of the WAC. Once the war ended factions within the military split over the WAC’s future but General Eisenhower and Colonel Boyce, who oversaw demobilization, advocated a continued female Army presence. In 1948 the remaining women became a part of the regular Army or Reserves. Colonel Boyce retired in March 1947 due to health reasons.

A WAAC poster in the collection of the N.C Museum of History

A WAAC poster in the collection of the N.C Museum of History

A petite woman with gray hair, Colonel Boyce had the nickname “Webbie”. She took pride in her Tar Heel ancestry, keeping portraits and photographs of Battle relatives in her office. She is buried in a family plot near Rocky Mount.

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For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, make sure you subscribe by email using the box on the right, and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.