Donate Now

Session 4: Supplemental Readings

Nancy Ward: War Woman of the Cherokee

--by Emily Herring Wilson

If you had been born to a Cherokee mother and father in what is now North Carolina before the Cherokee had any contact with European settlers, you would have been a member of your mother’s clan and you would have lived in your mother’s house. Property belonged to the women, and they had a great deal of freedom in choosing their partners and in managing their families. Some women even spoke in meetings and helped decide tribal matters, including whether to go to war.

The Cherokee had a matrilineal society, which means that everyone traced kinship through the mother’s side of the family. Indian life was also matrilocal, which means that families lived in the woman’s house. After marriage, a husband moved in with his new wife.

When British explorers began to settle in the New World, they introduced a different model for society--one that was patriarchal, or dominated by men. By the beginning of the 1700s, Indian life had been so dramatically altered by white control that the role of Indian men and women within their own villages was changed forever.

One Indian woman’s life reveals some ways in which she upheld her native culture and some ways in which she adapted to the new. She was Nanye’hi, whose own people called her War Woman and, later, Beloved Woman because of her leadership within the Cherokee Nation. She was also highly regarded by white scouts, hunters, and government agents, who valued her friendship and advice. They called her "the famous Indian woman Nancy Ward."

The following more recent history relates in a unique way to Nancy Ward: In upper East Tennessee at the turn of the 20th century James Abraham Walker, a part-time tombstone sculptor and possibly a descendant of Nancy's daughter, Catherine, was moved by the legend to produce a quaint statue. It was approximately five feet high and represented Nancy Ward, holding in her right arm a fawn and in her left hand a plaque with the words "Nancy Ward, Watauga, 1776", referring to the first occasion on which she helped the pioneers by warning them of impending attack by Dragging Canoe, her cousin and the Cherokee who most effectively resisted the white settlement of Cherokee land. Walker intended this work of folk art as a gift to be placed on her grave, but financial reversals in 1912 caused him to sell it to a man, who taking advantage of the bargain price, put it at the head of his deceased wife's grave.

The statue was photographed in the Arnwine Cemetery overlooking the Clinch River, near Liberty Hill in Grainger County, Tennessee, by David Ray Smith in August, 1975....Sometime in the late 1970's or very early 1980's the statue was stolen from the grave....The community is quite upset that someone finally stole the statue. For years they feared someone would take and sell it. They sure do want it to be returned. There is some speculation that it might turn up on Nancy's grave near Benton, Tennessee, however, this has not yet been the case. It would surely be a shame if the stature were to be destroyed. Maybe, just maybe, it will turn up again. Photo and text courtesy of David Ray Smith*. See for full text. 

Nanye’hi was born around 1738 in the Cherokee town of Chota on the Little Tennessee River. Her mother’s brother was the famous Attakullakulla. He was called the Little Carpenter because he was good at putting together treaties. Before Nanye’hi was born, Attakullakulla had gone with several Cherokee chiefs to England, where they had met the king. When Nanye’hi was a little girl, she likely heard stories about her uncle. Perhaps she was influenced in this way to become a friend of the new settlers.

Nanye’hi’s childhood was spent in a very confusing time. There were many different kinds of conflicts going on. Indian tribes often went to war against each other, as they had throughout their history. Also, France and England fought each other for control of North America in the French and Indian War (1754-1763). Later, the American colonies fought the English in the American Revolution (1775-1783). Many Cherokee favored the British, but Nanye’hi took the side of the colonists.

When Nanye’hi was in her teens, she married Kingfisher, and they had two children--Fivekiller and Catherine. Kingfisher was a member of the Deer clan, but the children became members of their mother’s Wolf clan. When the children were small, Nanye’hi must have lived like many other Cherokee women--tending her own small garden, working in the community fields, preparing food for her family, and participating in village life. Nanye’hi’s life changed dramatically when she joined Kingfisher in a war party to fight the Creek Indians in Georgia. She probably went along to help prepare food for the warriors, but when the battle began, Kingfisher was killed. Nanye’hi seized his gun and helped defeat the Creek Indians. The Cherokee recognized Nanye’hi for her bravery in battle and called her War Woman. This title meant that she could speak in council meetings and had the power to decide the fate of prisoners.

When Nanye’hi later married a white trader named Bryant Ward, she became known as Nancy Ward. They had a daughter, Elizabeth. Their marriage lasted only a few years because he joined his other family again. But Nanye’hi was later an honored visitor in his home.

Learning so much about the European settlers must have helped her to understand and accept them. On several occasions she warned settlements about Indian attacks. She once saved a white woman from being burned alive by Indian warriors who were angry that European settlers had broken treaties and taken Indian land. In return for Nanye’hi’s help, the settlers treated her as their special friend. 

Nancy Ward's grave near Benton, Tennessee. 
Photo courtesy David Ray Smith*.

Because of the settlers’ success in claiming land as their own and because of the weapons they had available to defend it, Nanye’hi must have decided that the only way to preserve any of the Indians’ way of life was to make peace with the settlers. At the same time, she did not want the Cherokee to give up any more of their land. She asked that the Cherokee and the settlers establish "a chain of friendship."

Nanye’hi, called Beloved Woman by the Cherokee in her later years, died in 1822. In the next decade, most of the Cherokee were forced to leave North Carolina on the Trail of Tears to moveto government lands in the West. Some were allowed to remain in the western mountains of North Carolina, where their descendants live today as members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

See and for more on Nancy Ward.

*David Ray Smith 
SmithDRay's Nancy Ward page:

Dorothea Dix in North Carolina

Dorothea Dix, a philanthropist and health care reformer from Boston, spent three months in North Carolina in 1848 studying conditions in prisons, hospitals, and poorhouses. She became distressed over her findings, especially upon witnessing the treatment the mentally ill received. Dix lobbied influential North Carolina Democrats to provide funds for an asylum to properly care for the mentally ill. Eventually, James Dobbin, a member of the House of Commons, united Whigs and Democrats on the issue, and the legislature passed a bill calling for a tax to be levied. After tax revenue had accumulated for several years, construction of the hospital began in 1853 at a site in Raleigh that soon became known as “Dix Hill.” In 1856 the legislature directly appropriated funds for the Insane Hospital of North Carolina, which accommodated 150 patients. Dix traveled to other states and even other countries to futher her cause, playing a direct role in founding 32 hospitals for the mentally ill. She has been called one of the most politically active women of her generation.

For a biography of Dix, go to

What One Young African American Woman Could Do: The Story of Dr. Charlotte Hawkins Brown and the Palmer Memorial Institute

--by Charles W. Wadelington

Palmer Memorial Institute, located east of Greensboro, began in 1902 as a rural African American school and succeeded as a unique private school for more than sixty years. Dr. Charlotte Hawkins Brown was its founder and leader for fifty of those years.

She was born in Henderson in 1883 to descendants of slaves. In 1888 the family moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, near Boston, to escape Jim Crow practices of the South and to obtain a better chance at social, economic, and educational growth. Though she was one of the few blacks students in Cambridge’s schools, young Brown was an excellent student, and by chance she met educator Alice Freeman Palmer, who became her mentor. [Go to for more information on Brown's early life.]

Palmer was so impressed by Brown’s diligence at pursuing an advanced education that she helped sponsor Brown’s schooling. Palmer also introduced Brown to many important people in Boston society--people she would later approach to help with her school.

The beginning of a dream

After a year of junior college, Brown accepted a twenty-five-dollar-a-month job from the American Missionary Association (AMA) and returned to her home state to teach poor, rural African American children.

She arrived at a run-down Bethany Institute in Sedalia in 1901. Her desire to help African Americans in the South drove her to begin repairs, but the AMA decided to close the school. Without a job, Brown was encouraged by local African Americans to start her own school. The young eighteen-year-old virtually single-handedly made it happen.

She secured money and encouragement from her friends in the North and moved the school across the street to a blacksmith’s shed. Brown soon raised enough money to establish a campus with more than two hundred acres and two new buildings. She selected an initial board of trustees who were all African American, unlike the trustees at other schools of that era--even African American –oriented schools. After Brown hired a small staff and secured the additional support of local black and white leaders, Palmer Memorial Institute (Palmer) began operations.

The campus of Palmer Memorial Institute, ca. 1915 
The large structure in the center is Memorial Hall. To the left is the Domestic Science Cottage; to the right is Grew Hall (a dormitory), followed by the Industrial Building.

Palmer offered to rural African American young people an unusual opportunity for cultural learning. The school’s goal was to provide a facility where African American people could escape the then-common assumption that African Americans were innately inferior to white people and did not need any schooling beyond vocational training.

In 1900 North Carolina had more than two thousand privately operated schools for African Americans. But most teachers had only elementary school education and could instruct their students only up to that level.

Palmer was different because Brown was offering college preparatory instruction in a junior and senior high school setting. Classes included drama, music, art, math, literature, and Romance languages. Students were divided into small circle groups with teachers who served as counselors and advisers. Each student received personal training in character development and appearance. All students had to work one hour per day for the school.

Troubles and victories

By 1915 Palmer had gained support from national figures such as educational leader Booker T. Washington, Harvard University president Charles William Eliot, and Boston philanthropists Carrie and Galen Stone.

After a major fire destroyed two of six main buildings in 1917, Brown’s determination to raise enough money to offset the loss prevented the school’s closing. This successful effort also encouraged increased biracial, or black and white, cooperation for Palmer and its community.

The Stones, white northerners, became Palmer’s largest donors. They were the first large donors to support Palmer and did so because of its holistic approach to total education and its quality liberal arts programs to educate black Americans beyond basic training levels.

Renewed biracial support and fund-raising efforts and increased contributions from across the nation resulted in Palmer’s first major brick building and a new status as the only accredited rural high school, for African Americans or whites, in Guilford County. When another key building burned in 1922, a financially stronger and more community-oriented Palmer continued normal operations.

Brown introduced more liberal arts classes and advanced math and science courses to students at Palmer. She introduced the study of African American history at a time when no other high school in North Carolina was teaching it.

A holistic education to uplift the individual

Brown took a year off to travel and study. In Europe she shared ideas with black educators Mary McLeod Bethune and Nannie Helen Burroughs. Together, these three women were known as the Three Bs of Education. The Three Bs believed in combining a holistic triangle of ideas and lessons to achieve racial equality: Brown’s triangle combined education, religion, and deeds; Bethune’s triangle was "the head, the heart, and the hand"; Burroughs’s was "the book, the Bible, and the broom." By the mid-1920s Brown was a nationally known speaker who stressed teaching these concepts through culture and liberal arts for racial uplift.  [Go to to learn more about the "Three Bs."]

At the state level, she helped create the first school for delinquent African American girls. As time passed, Brown started a junior college and built a new boys’ dormitory. Palmer’s growing reputation increasingly drew middle- and upper-class students from outstanding families in the United States, Africa, Bermuda, Central America, and Cuba.

In 1937 Brown closed the elementary and junior college departments and convinced Guilford County officials to open the county’s first public rural high school for African Americans. She became known as the "first lady of social graces" after appearing on national radio and publishing the book The Correct Thing to Do, to Say, to Wear in 1940. In the mid-1940s Brown raised a $100,000 endowment, and Ebony magazine published a feature article on prestigious Palmer, calling it "the only . . . school of its kind in America."

In 1952 Brown retired after fifty years. She hand-picked Wilhelmina M. Crosson of Boston to succeed her as Palmer’s president. Following a long illness, Brown died in 1961 and was buried with great honor on the campus she loved.

Palmer Memorial Institute has become a state historic site. It was the first state-supported site to honor the contributions of African Americans and women. Ongoing programs depict the history and development of African American education in North Carolina.

The school’s legacy also lives on through generations of students and graduates who have been influenced by Palmer’s philosophy: "Educate the individual to live in the greater world." These individuals have become known around the globe as writers and singers, teachers and professors, doctors and lawyers, actors and actresses, scientists and mathematicians, and government officials.

The Brave Heart and Generous Spirit of Gertrude Weil 

--by Ellen Z. McGrew

Gertrude Weil’s energetic life was filled with commitment to the people, ideas, and causes she believed in. This bright, unassuming woman came from a family of wealthy, cultured, German-Jewish merchants who lived in Goldsboro, the place Gertrude called home for all of her long life (1879–1971). The sense of responsibility instilled in her by her family carried Gertrude through the turbulent years of two world wars and the drive for woman’s suffrage (the right to vote).

Gertrude attended Goldsboro’s public schools until she was sixteen. She then finished high school at a branch of Columbia Teachers College in New York City in order to prepare herself for entering Smith College. Smith is a prestigious school for young women located in Northampton, Massachusetts.

Gertrude wrote home frequently while in college. Many of these letters are preserved in the North Carolina State Archives, along with snapshots that Gertrude took. Young Gertrude commented on her teachers, studies, friends, living quarters, and extracurricular activities like sleigh rides, field days, rarebit (fondue) parties, visits to New York and Broadway plays, tennis, golf, and bicycling.

While at Smith, Gertrude did volunteer work at a settlement house in Northampton called the Home Culture Club. This club was an adult education program whose members met in small groups in private homes. By 1900 classes were held for immigrants and mill workers to study English, writing, literature, nature, piano, sewing, and cooking. This volunteer work was Gertrude Weil’s first independent involvement in her lifelong pursuit of educational, cultural, and social growth for all classes of society.

After graduating from Smith in 1901, Gertrude traveled abroad with her parents on the first of her numerous trips all over the world. She then returned to Goldsboro and assumed her share of household duties and the gardening. Gertrude specialized in growing chrysanthemums, which she would take down to the early morning train for delivery later that day to relatives in Baltimore and New York.

Household duties did not occupy all of Gertrude’s time. She followed her mother into the public life of her community, serving on boards and commissions. Because she worked hard, got on well with people, and knew how to make things go, she usually ended up as chairman. These issues involved Gertrude in local politics at a volunteer level only, however. Because she was a woman Gertrude could not vote or hold political office in her community or state. Indeed, before passage of the Nineteenth (“Susan B. Anthony”) Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1920, North Carolina laws excluded “idiots and lunatics, illiterates, convicts, and women” from voting. Gertrude’s determination, intelligence, and ability to organize soon led her into challenging this exclusion of women from a basic political right.

Gertrude Weil of Goldsboro (far left) was a driving force in the woman’s suffrage movement in North Carolina. 

Beginning in 1914, Gertrude Weil assumed the presidency of the Goldsboro chapter of the Equal Suffrage League of North Carolina. From this start she quickly gained statewide prominence as a leader in the fight to win woman’s suffrage. She gave speeches, wrote letters, directed suffragist activities across the state as president of the Suffrage League, and spearheaded a lobbying campaign to influence North Carolina’s state and national legislators into favoring the idea. Disturbed by the “recalcitrant” legislators who refused to accept women as responsible citizens, Gertrude spoke out strongly saying, “Political justice demands that one group of tax paying citizens shall not be discriminated against on account of sex; that women shall share equally with men the privilege and responsibility of choosing their officers and law-makers.”

Not everyone agreed with her. One male opponent calmly wrote Weil in 1919 that “Christianity was the only thing that has ever elevated [woman]. That any thing but that will help her I really believe to be a delusion.” Undaunted, Weil and the Suffrage League conducted a lobbying effort in 1920 to urge the General Assembly to support ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment. Thirty-six states in favor of ratification were needed for victory, and passage of the amendment required the vote of just one more state. Gertrude wanted North Carolina to share in the honor of approving woman’s suffrage. In August 1920, however, the General Assembly voted against ratification of the amendment. It fell to Tennessee to pass the deciding vote in favor of ratification a few days later.

With ratification Gertrude Weil and North Carolina suffragists were jubilant, one woman exclaiming in a telegram to Gertrude, “Congratulations on your good fight and thank God for Tennessee.” The Suffrage League gave a victory banquet at the Yarborough Hotel in Raleigh honoring the sixty-four North Carolina legislators who had voted in favor of ratification and Governor Thomas W. Bickett. Bickett had reluctantly recommended passage of the amendment since ratification was inevitable. The banquet was a great success, with a skit of the governor’s message to the stubborn General Assembly provoking “oceans of laughter” that left Governor Bickett “bent in the middle” with amusement. Later, when the Suffrage League reorganized as the League of Women Voters, Gertrude Weil served as president of that organization, too.

Weil engaged in other activities in the following years. in 1928 she gave speeches supporting Al Smith, the Catholic Democratic nominee for president. During the Great Depression, Gertrude worked with local relief and employment agencies. Those in need of shoes could go around to the Weil house for a slip of paper authorizing a free pair of shoes from the family department store. By the 1930s this Goldsboro resident was known internationally for her countless political and humanitarian projects, many of which were organized through the Federation of Women’s Clubs and the League of Women Voters.

The coming of World War II focused Weil’s attention on her many Jewish relatives in Germany and Nazi-occupied France, some of whom were being sent to concentration camps. During the years 1939 and 1940 Gertrude helped to pay transportation costs, visa expenses, and all other fees necessary to remove many of these people from the Nazis’ power. This was expensive and incredibly complicated work, with Gertrude bitterly resisting having to send money directly into Nazi pockets as the price of freedom.

When Gertrude Weil was nearly eighty years old she was still writing letters to her congressmen. Some of the many organizations she had served in over the years were Hadassah, the women’s Zionist organization for the establishment of a national Jewish homeland in Palestine; Goldsboro Women’s Club (president twice); Bureau of Social Service; Federation of Women’s Clubs; Association of Jewish Youth; the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association; and the Society for the Preservation of Antiquities. Praised for her “brave heart, generous spirit, and high responsibility,” Gertrude Weil remained an active, stimulating woman until her death, never losing her fighting spirit for causes she supported.

Salisbury Bread Riot 

--by Beth Crist

After North Carolina seceded from the Union on May 20, 1861, thousands of boys and men from the state left their families and farms to join the Confederate army. The war would cause great hardships not only for these fighting men but also for the wives, mothers, and children left at home. Most soldiers in North Carolina came from nonslaveholding families. When they left for the war, their wives became the sole providers for their families and caretakers of their farms. Women plowed, planted, and harvested crops, slaughtered livestock, and cured meat, all the while maintaining households and raising children. Husbands regularly wrote home advising when and what to plant, the best time for harvest, and prices to ask for surplus goods. But a soldier’s low pay, only $11 a month, provided little of what was needed at home.

Other factors contributed to hardships on the home front. By 1863, most North Carolinians began to feel the effects of the Union blockade, which prevented food and goods from entering the port at Wilmington. Confederate agents went to farms across the state, taking crops and meat for the army’s use. The Union army raided farms and houses, stealing crops and goods and killing livestock.

With increasing shortages and the growing worthlessness of Confederate currency, inflation and speculation added to the problems in North Carolina and throughout the Confederacy. Some merchants hoarded supplies for their own use, and almost all charged exorbitant prices. Women and children could make do without many goods and were proud of their sacrifices for the war effort, but they could not do without increasingly expensive food staples.

(From William K. Boyd, “Fiscal and Economic Conditions in North Carolina during the War,”North Carolina Booklet [1915].)

By 1863, malnourishment had become a reality for many. Women wrote letters to Governor Zebulon Vance, urging him to provide relief or send their sons and husbands home. Some wrote to their sons and husbands, begging them to desert the Confederate army and return home.

Salisbury, in Rowan County, typified socially, economically, and politically North Carolina’s backcountry during the Civil War. Almost six hundred men from Rowan County enlisted in the Confederate army in the spring of 1861, and over five hundred joined in mid-1862. Anticipating hardships because of the absence of men, the county commissioners in May 1861 voted $50,000 for the “relief of soldiers wives.” The following year the county began distributing salt, a commodity in very short supply. Some of the funds, however, were used for “arming and equipping of soldiers,” and many families never received funds or salt.

On March 18, 1863, a group of Salisbury women, desperate to feed themselves and their families, went beyond writing letters and stormed the stores of merchants who the women believed were engaged in speculation. They offered the merchants government prices, about one-half the market value, for flour and other commodities. When the merchants refused, the women, wielding hatchets, broke down a shop door and threatened other storekeepers who offered resistance. They collected thirteen barrels of flour and one of molasses, two sacks of salt, and $20 in cash. The group then moved on to the North Carolina Railroad Depot. The Carolina Watchman, Salisbury’s newspaper, gave the following account of the scene:

"Salisbury has witnessed to-day one of the gayest and liveliest scenes of the age. About 12 o’clock, a rumor was afloat, that the wives of several soldiers now in the war, intended to make a dash on some flour and other necessaries of life, belonging to certain gentlemen, who the ladies termed “speculators.” They alleged they were entirely out of provisions, and unable to give the enormous prices now asked, but were willing to give Government prices. Accordingly, about 2 O’clock they met, some 50 or 75 in number, with axes and hatchets, and proceeded to the depot of the North Carolina Central Road, to impress some there, but were very politely met by the agent, Mr. — “What on earth is the matter?” The excited women said they were in search of “flour” which they had learned had been stored there by a certain speculator....

Finally...they returned to the depot...and again demanded the agent that they be allowed to go in. He still refused, but finally agreed to let two go in and examine the flour, and see if his statement was not correct. A restlessness pervaded the whole body, and but a few moments elapsed before a female voice was heard saying: “Let’s go in.” The agent remarked:?“ is useless to attempt it, unless you go in over my dead body.” A rush was made, and in they went, and the last I saw of the agent, he was sitting on a log blowing like a March wind. They took ten barrels, and rolled them out and were setting on them, when I left, waiting for a wagon to haul them away."

None of the women was arrested. They divided their spoils and composed a letter to Governor Vance explaining their actions:

"Laboring under all these difficulties Sir we as we have told you...were from Stern necessity compelled to go in serch of food to sustain life and some forty or more respectable but poor women started out backed by many citizens to get food....we as much as any one deplore the necessity of such proceeding and do humbly pray you in behalf of our helpless children to so fix the prices of bread and meat that we can by our own labor gain an honest portion of that which sustains life?

...we ask not for charity we only as[k] for fair and reasonable prices for provisions and leather for Sir many of us have been shoeless this whole winter except the cloth shoes we can make for conclusion Sir we humbly beg you after carefully and prayerfully considering our letter to let us hear from you? you can address Mary C Moore Salisbury NC."

The riot did have a positive, if small, impact on Rowan County citizens. The county slightly increased the allotment of cash and salt to the needy and improved distribution. The people in Salisbury and all of North Carolina, however, continued to endure great shortages and exorbitant prices of food and goods throughout the Civil War.

To learn more about the Salisbury bread riot, go to

Session 4 | Home