Pioneer of Appalachian Advocacy
Louise Spiegel’s advocacy for Urban Appalachians goes back to the early 1950s. This was several years before our first indigenous leader, Ernie Myatt, migrated to Cincinnati. When Ernie and his followers began to organize in Over-the-Rhine, she joined our efforts and added her knowledge and Jewish chutzpah to our efforts. Just two weeks ago, we hung a photograph of Louise and other founders on “the Founders’ Wall” in our library at Community Matters in Lower Price Hill. Local historian, Dr. Thomas Wagner, also a founder, characterized her role in this anecdote: One fond memory was in the early days (1970s) of UAC and there would be seemingly endless discussion (argument) among folks and Louise would end it by saying “time to fish or cut bait!”
Concern for the Marginalized
In their division of labor, Louise looked after UAC (now UACC) and her husband Art played a similar role with the Cincinnati Human Relations Commission. They shared a concern for the Black community, especially for the equal opportunity in housing, education, and opportunities for youth.
Renewing the Civic Sector
In the last thirty years of her life, Louise’s theme for her advocacy and organizing was the civic sector. She felt public policy was dominated by corporate interests while the civic sector was dormant. Her concern turned into action. She teamed up with the consulting firm Applied Information Resources (Air, Inc.) to found organizations such as. One was Citizens for Civic Renewal (CCR). She was a “network weaver.” She used her kitchen table or living room to bring together diverse gatherings of activists to introduce them and their ideas to each other. This was another way of organizing and building the civic sector. She specialized in bringing in the unheard voices. Another was a coalition to promote regional cooperation.
Mentor of Change Agents
One of Louise’s other mentees, Jeffrey Stec, consultant, and director of CCR, writes:
“I first met Louise to ask her about making an estate gift to the United Way. HA! I quickly learned of her disdain for those in power who give money to the poor so that “Y’all will just behave” – and thereby got my first lesson in the importance of building our civic sector if we wanted any real change. Louise was a genteel Appalachian matriarch with a fiery spirit for social justice. I’ll never forget the big Urbanist meeting when, in the middle of discussing the redevelopment of Over-the-Rhine, Louise stood up and asked, “How will you care for the youth of this neighborhood, the generations of families who’ve called this their home?” My Urbanist co-host tried to shush her, but she would be heard! Ever humble, she repeatedly refused to be interviewed by me for a career retrospective, but into her 80s she continued to gather diverse people for lunch on Egbert to talk about how we could move power “from the suites to the streets.” I was blessed that she considered me a friend and colleague in social justice.”
Louise claimed to be culture free. No way Louise! The chutzpah was partly Jewish and partly a sense of entitlement from being upper class. As a child, young Alice Roosevelt came to your house and invited you to her party. You used this cultural background to urge marginalized people to be bolder in demanding their rights, to help them claim a place in the sun.
She was culture-free in that she was equally comfortable in Clifton or Lower Price Hill, equally comfortable working with women or men or any gender.
Queen of the Feisties
She was a leader and builder of the Woman’s City Club and the club’s “Feist Tea” award event was modeled after her achievements. Men and women who have exhibited “feistiness” in their advocacy for justice and civic improvement are honored. I was the first man to receive this award and my husband is the first male president.
Generosity, Hospitality, Network Weaving
Louise was a philanthropist and as such gave generous support to groups like UACC and WCC. Hospitality was one of her many great gifts. She may have hosted thousands of teas, dinners, and salons over her long life. She used this generosity to build community. She loved the people she shared her life with. When I was in the hospital the nurse blocked her entry because she was not a family member. Louise said, “I am Louise Spiegel” and walked into my room to visit. After I had recovered somewhat, she showed up at our house with Graeter’s ice cream. It is appropriate that Louise was a recipient of the Urban Appalachian Council’s Kinship Award. We had made her family!
An Enduring Legacy
One of Louise’s lasting contributions was helping to organize what would become the Urban Appalachian Council’s Research Committee in 1972. It was then part of the Cincinnati Human Relations Commission’s Appalachian Committee and is now part of UACC. Because of the work of this committee, urban Appalachians are probably Cincinnati’s best documented ethnic group. We have over 2,000 items in our library and many more in our archives at Berea College.
UACC core member Dr. Deborah Zorn sums up our thoughts.
“She was quite a force and will be missed by many!”
Prepared by Michael Maloney with help from other Core leaders of the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition (Maureen Sullivan, Debbie Zorn, Nancy Laird, Pauletta Hansel, Sherry Cook Stanforth, Jeffrey Dey) and members (Thomas Wagner and Jeffrey Stec).
 Mike’s Note: Louise was not Appalachian, but it is interesting that Jeffrey thought she was.