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April 30: A Pioneer of Women’s History

April 29, 2016

220px-UW-Madison_history_professor_Gerda_Lerner.Gerda Lerner, who in 1963 began teaching a women’s history course (at the New School) that is considered to be the first of its kind in history, was born in Vienna on this date in 1920. Lerner helped develop women’s history curricula and degree programs in the field at Sarah Lawrence, where she taught from 1968 to 1979, and at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she launched the first doctorate program in women’s history. Following the Nazi takeover of Austria, she had been involved with the anti-Nazi resistance and imprisoned for six weeks. In 1939, she managed to emigrate to the U.S., where she worked various jobs while writing fiction and poetry. In the 1940s, she became active in the Communisty Party USA, and in the 1960s she began gaining academic degrees and posts. Among her books are the anthologies Black Women in White America (1972) and The Female Experience (1976), an essay collection, The Majority Finds Its Past (1979), and The Creation of Patriarchy (1986). She was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1998. Lerner died in 2013 at 92.

“The system of patriarchy is a historic construct; it has a beginning; it will have an end. Its time seems to have nearly run its course—it no longer serves the needs of men or women and in its inextricable linkage to militarism, hierarchy, and racism it threatens the very existence of life on earth. What will come after, what kind of structure will be the foundation for alternate forms of social organization we cannot yet know. We are living in an age of unprecedented transformation. We are in the process of becoming.” —Gerda Lerner