Monday, February 11, 2008

Gerda Lerner
Gerda Lerner is a historian, author and teacher. She was born Gerda Kronstein in Vienna, Austria on April 30, 1920, the first child of Ilona and Robert Kronstein, an affluent Jewish couple. Her father was a pharmacist, her mother an artist. Following the Anschluss, Gerda joined the anti-Nazi resistance, and spent six weeks, including her eighteenth birthday, in an Austrian jail. Her family was able to escape from Austria and persecution by the Nazis; Gerda, with the help of a young socialist lover, Bobby Jensen, immigrated to the United States in 1939.
After working a series of jobs and marrying and divorcing Jensen, Gerda met and married Carl Lerner, a young theatre director who was active with the Communist Party USA (CPUSA). The Lerners subsequently moved to Los Angeles, where Carl went to work in the film industry and went on to become a successful filmmaker. The Lerners would remain together until Carl's death in 1976.
Lerner became increasingly involved in progressive causes and joined the CPUSA in 1946, though she did not publicly acknowledge her membership until 1982. Both she and Carl remained active in the party during the repressive years of the McCarthy era. Lerner was a highly influential recruit to the Congress of American Women, a women's group concerned with economic and social issues.
Lerner began her higher education while in her 40s, when her own children were in college, earning an A.B. from the New School for Social Research in 1963 and an M.A. and Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1965 and 1966. Lerner taught what is considered to be the first woman's history course at the New School for Social Research in 1963. She wrote the screenplay for Carl Lerner's film Black Like Me in 1966.
Lerner is one of the founders of the field of women's history and African-American history. She was a founding member of the National Organization for Women and is a former president of the Organization of American Historians. Lerner has played a key role in the development of women's history curricula at Long Island University (1965-1967), at Sarah Lawrence College from 1968 to 1979 (where she established the nation's first Women's History graduate program), at Columbia University (where she was a co-founder of the Seminar on Women), and since 1980 as Robinson Edwards Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. She is a professor emerita of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a visiting scholar at Duke University.

Further reading


No Farewell (1955) an autobiographical novel
The Grimké Sisters from South Carolina: Rebels against Authority (1967)
The Woman in American History [ed.] (1971)
Black Women in White America: A Documentary History (1972)
The Female Experience: An American Documentary (1976)
A Death of One's Own (1978/2006)
The Majority Finds Its Past: Placing Women in History (1979)
Teaching Women's History (1981)
Women's Diaries of the Westward Journey (1982)
The Creation of Patriarchy (1986)
Why History Matters (1997)
The Rise of Feminist Consciousness (1993)
Scholarship in Women's History Rediscovered & New (1994)
Fireweed: A Political Autobiography (2003)

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