Wonderful Women of Norwood: Gertrude Tanneyhill Cuthbert
Contributed by Norwood Historical Society members Karen DeNapoli, Laurie Kearney, Linda Rau
The Norwood Historical Society is proud to present another member of the amazing Tanneyhill family as a Wonderful Woman of Norwood.
Gertrude Tanneyhill was born in Boston on April 4,1918 to Adelaide (Grandison) and Alfred Tanneyhill. She was the youngest of four children and the only sister of Ann Tanneyhill (see our February article on her). Gertrude was educated in Norwood and graduated from Norwood High School in 1935. Gertrude’s maternal grandfather believed in being a very politically-minded minority. The families’ ties with the Black communities in Boston and Cambridge were kept alive by her mother, who grew up in Cambridge. The children would ride the trains to the William Trotter meetings, dance lessons, and other activities. Her perspective on race was formed by her early experiences as a minority living in a white neighborhood yet being reminded of her race at social events. She was known to not discriminate, only care about people.
She applied to a nursing program at Simmons College, but she would not be allowed to do her hospital training there. She would have to go to Freedman’s Hospital in Washington DC or Homer G. Phillips in St. Louis. These were both Black hospitals. She switched her academic plans to Social Work. While a student at Simmons, Gertrude was initiated into Gamma Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated. (The Sorority was founded at Howard University in 1911.) In 1939, she graduated from Simmons College with a degree in Social Work and began work at the State of New York Training School for girls. After a year, she began pursuing a Master’s Degree at the University of Pittsburgh. This is where she met Charles Cuthbert, who was working at the juvenile court there. Her future husband remembers her “as very young and very brash. She was not afraid of new ventures, not afraid to make friends or give an opinion.” Charles and Gertrude married in 1964, after being friends for 25 years. Charles was 61 years old and a a parole supervisor for the state in Pittsburgh.
She earned her Master’s Degree in social work at the University of Pittsburgh in 1940 and worked with the Urban League for 20 years. She pushed to employ Black women in the defense industry by first screening candidates and then training them for the jobs. Gertrude moved to the Brooklyn Urban League and combined the New York City and the Brooklyn branches into the Greater New York Metropolitan Urban League.
In 1953, she returned to Norwood and reconnected with her older brother before he died. She worked on an assembly line for Laminated Plastics for one year. During the years 1956-1965, she served as a Trustee of the Morrill Memorial Library.
In 1954, she accepted a position as parole agent for the Massachusetts Division of Youth Services. When she resigned in 1963, she was supervisor of girls’ parole. Her reputation was that of a no-nonsense but compassionate person. In 1972 she was appointed to the Massachusetts State Parole Board.
In 1964, she joined ABCD (Action for Boston Community Development, an anti-poverty agency), planning services for juvenile delinquents and began work on what eventually became the Roxbury Multi-Service Center where she became the first director in 1965. As director she was spoken of with respect and awe. A colleague remembers Gertrude as “secure in her ability to find a niche for contributions and then do it”. Mrs. Melnea Cass, a member of ABCD and the Multi-Service Center Board, called “her steel will aggressive and persevering. Her strength is the high respect she has earned from all people”.
The Cuthberts retired to Mashpee where they lived next door to Gertrude’s sister Anna and her brother William.
She passed on March 18, 1995.