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Women'S Studies

Gerda Lerner

Gerda Lerner could be called "the mother of us all," that phrase used by Gertrude Stein in her opera about Susan B. Anthony. An American historian by training, Gerda Lerner's biography exhibits the uniqueness of her life and work. Born and educated through secondary school in Austria, she came to the United States as a part of the Jewish exodus after the 1938 Anschluss that brought Nazi power to Austria, first as a part of a nearly phony marriage that enabled her to gain a visa. As a young wife and mother in Los Angeles and then in New York through the war years and the early days of the Cold War, Lerner organized for such groups as the Congress of American Women. Her (second) husband, Carl Lerner, was a screenwriter, editor, and filmmaker. Both were involved in various leftist activities for years. After the war she began writing fiction and taking courses at the New School for Social Research in New York in 1948. Gerda Lerner quickly earned first her B.A. at the New School and then her M.A. and Ph.D. at Columbia University, using her biography of the Grimké sisters of South Carolina as her Ph.D. dissertation. As a "returning student" in the years before that was a recognized category, Lerner had to persuade the authorities at Columbia to let her study women's history, not an acceptable field in the early 1960s. Beginning the women's studies program at Sarah Lawrence College (and one of the first graduate programs in women's history), Lerner proceeded to teach, write, and lecture around the country, penning several classic volumes in women's studies: Black Women in White America (1972), The Majority Finds Its Past (1979), and her two-volume magnum opus, The Creation of Patriarchy (1986) and The Creation of Feminist Consciousness (1993). In 1982, after the death of her husband, she moved to the University of Wisconsin to found the Ph.D. program in women's history. Her autobiography of her early years, Fireweed: A Political Autobiography, was published in 2002.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Well-being to Jan Ɓukasiewicz BiographyWomen'S Studies - Definitions, Origins, Growth And Institutionalization, Research And Publication, Theories And Assumptions, Gerda Lerner