Womens History Week: Gerda Lerner

Bonjour Tout le Mode!!!

As you all know March has many features, this week is nationally known as Women’s History Week. In honour of this week I chose to introduce you all to a woman I call the Mother of Women’s History, Dr. Gerda Lerner.

  Image Born Gerda Kronstein, her native homeland was Vienna, Austria. That is where she and her siblings received their education. Her family was well off, something like the USA middle-class {or what’s left of it, ha!} Her father a pharmacist and businessman, they lived decent until the German government took over and forced them to give the Nazis their home in 1938. Gerda, her mother and sisters lived in conditions that compromised their lives, facing near death. Fortunately for the Kronstein family they were able leave that place and in 1939 they migrated to New York. Happy to not be under the dictator’s rule, Gerda worked numerous odd jobs like; waitress, x-ray technician, sales lady and etc, as she learned English. As a form of healing and moving past the horror she left in Europe, Gerda wrote fiction stories about the Nazis brutality and the strength to overcome the pain. In 1941, ‘The Prisoners’ was published also in that she married a well respect movie editor named, Carl Lerner. Two years later her second book was published, ‘The Russian Campaign’ . Followed behind that accomplishment was the births of her two children, Stephanie and Daniel.

During those blissful months of motherhood, Gerda’s passion for the equalization of women, and those concerned minorities, rights grew deeper. It was around this time Lerner was involved in a variety of organizations: Congress of American Women, this was a grassroots group who was politically active in addressing economic and consumer issues; was a supporter of the Emma Lazarus Federation, United Nations and even a civil rights group for African Americans. She continued to write, research and teach the on topics that would empower all women and encourage them to be aware, educated, independent and pro-active. Her fervor for such topics showed her open-mindedness which brought on the off-Broadway musical she did with Eve Merriam, Singing Women, (1951) Followed that was her novel, ‘No Farewell’ (1955), she co-authored a screenplay with her husband, ‘Black Like Me’ (1964), and a heart-felt memoir, ‘A Death of One’s Own’ (1978).

In midst those eras is the bulk if the powerhouse of Dr. Gerda Lerner, in the late 1950s, when she started research for her novel of the two abolitionist sisters, Sarah & Angelina Grimké, in this search she enrolled into New School for Social Research were she taught a course of on women’s history, the first that school had, and were received her Bachelors degree (1963). Under the ether, Greda went on to get her M.A (1965) & Ph. D at Columbia (1966), her published dissertation: The Grimké Sisters from South Carolina: Rebels Against Slavery (1967).  A year later, upon receiving her doctorate, Dr. Gerda Lerner went on to the Sarah Lawrence College, were she became director of the women’s history degree program. Her presence and passion brought the establishment of women’s history month there as well as the recognition of black women’s history. In 1972, Dr. Lerner was apart of developing their first Master’s degree program in women’s history. In addition to that Dr. Lerner produced an anthology documentary focusing on the importance of black women’s history as it was weaved in with the history of all women, Black Women in White America, in the same year, shedding light on truth that hidden, lost or buried all equaled to being unknown, after that came a The Female Experience (1976).  Her chronology dating the life-cycles of women in history, was a pathway to her participation in the 1979 Women’s History Institute ,15-day conference that was held at Sarah Lawrence College during that summer. That was a strong arm in getting Women’s History Month observed and celebrated today.

In 1980, Gerda left Sarah Lawrence College, after 12 years, relocated and started  a Ph. D program on women’s history at the University of Wisconsin. A year later, Dr. G. Lerner was honoured the seat of President of the Organization of American Historians, she was the first woman to be in such a position since 1946! Only a year as the educator director, she left the organization in 1982, with no hard feelings over her departure, the Gerda Lerner-Ann Scott Prize was created for the best women’s history dissertation, in her honour. The American Historical Association’s Joan Kelly Prize was awarded to Dr. Lerner, in recognition of her work on women’s oppression.  In 1995, Lerner was awarded the Kaethe Leichter Prize, this is an honour that recognizes the “exiled Jewish intellectuals who have built lifetimes of distinguished achievement” (jwa.org, 2009), given to her by the Austrian Ministry of Women’s Affairs. In the same year, she was given the one of the highest honours in the whole Austrian country, the Austrian Cross of Honor for Science and Art.

Dr. Gerda Lerner wrote and published more books and articles: The Majority Finds Its Past (1979), The Creation of Patriarchy (1986), The Creation of Feminist Consciousness (1993), Why History Matters: Life and Thought & the sequel to her dissertation, The Feminist Thought of Sarah Grimké (1997) and her last known published piece, Fireweed: A Political Autobiography (2002). Dr. Gerda Lerner joined her late husband on the 2nd of January 2013. Truly a resilient women who was powerful, influential and staple in paving the way for equal rights for all women and those society regarded as minorities. Every human being has a right to live as the next human being, that was a mantra that she recited in many ways yet message remained the same. Respect each other, love who are and where your history came from.

  “Our  ideas about what is possible for the future are formed out of our knowledge of  what was possible in the past.” – Dr. Gerda Lerner

 Au Revoir!!!






women’s various walks of struggle to triu~mph


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s