In Memoriam: Gerda Hedwig Kronstein Lerner, 1920-2013

University of Wisconsin-Madison handout photo of Gerda LernerGerda Lerner, a pioneering scholar in the field of women’s history, died on January 2 in Madison, Wisconsin. She was 92 years old.

A native of Vienna, Austria, her family escaped the Nazis and Gerda eventually made her way to New York. There, she married Carl Lerner, a theater director and member of the Communist Party. The couple moved to California where Carl Lerner began work in the film industry. His political affiliation made it difficult for him to find work and the couple returned to New York in 1949.

In New York, Gerda Lerner began a career as a writer and published a novel entitled No Farewell. In conducting research for a historical novel, she became interested in history and began graduate studies at the New School for Social Research. After completing her undergraduate work, she enrolled in the graduate history program at Columbia University and earned a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in history in only three years. Her dissertation was published as a book, The Grimke Sisters From South Carolina: Rebels Against Slavery.

Dr. Lerner than joined the faculty at Sarah Lawrence College and established the first graduate program in women’s history in the United States. During her tenure there she published The Woman in American History, Black Women in White America: A Documentary History, and The Female Experience: An American Documentary.

In 1980, Dr Lerner, then a widow, joined the faculty at the University of Wisconsin at Madison where she established a doctoral program in women’s history. A year later, she became the first woman in half a century to be elected president of the Organization of American Historians. She retired from teaching in 1991 but continued to write, including authoring the books, The Creation of Feminist Consciousness: From the Middle Ages to 1870 and Why History Matters: Life and Thought. Her final book of autobiographical essays, Living With History/Making Social Change, was published in 2009.

Filed Under: In Memoriam


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