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The Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University

Gerda Lerner (1920–2013)

Author of The Creation of Patriarchy

Includes the names: Gerda Lerner, Gretta Lerner, Lerner Gerda edited

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Short biography
Gerda Kronstein was born in Vienna to an affluent Austrian Jewish family. Her father owned a large pharmacy, and her mother, a free spirit at heart, struggled unsuccessfully to reconcile her desire to be an artist with her responsibilities as a wife and mother. This struggle made a marked impression on her daughter. In 1938, after Germany annexed Austria, Gerda went to jail for several weeks for her role in the resistance movement. Her father fled to Liechtenstein, but the Nazis arrested Gerda and her mother to force his return. Five weeks later, after her father paid a major bribe, Gerda and her mother were allowed to leave the country. Gerda made her way to the USA, settling in New York City, where she worked in menial jobs and trained at Sydenham Hospital in Harlem as an X-ray technician. In 1941, she married Carl Lerner, a theater director. The couple moved to Hollywood, where he apprenticed as a film editor. in 1946. Gerda collaborated with poet Eve Merriam on a musical, The Singing of Women. She wrote a novel, No Farewell, which was published in 1955. The Lerners were both Communists and became involved in trade unionism and civil rights. Because of his politics, Gerda's husband found it increasingly hard to find work in Hollywood, so in 1949 the couple returned to New York, where he became a successful film editor, working on movies such as "Twelve Angry Men" and "Requiem for a Heavyweight." In 1964, they collaborated on the film adaptation of the book "Black Like Me." Gerda Lerner returned to school in her 40s, earning a B.A. from the New School for Social Research in 1963, and then an M.A. and Ph.D. from Columbia University. Her doctoral dissertation became her first nonfiction book, The Grimke Sisters from South Carolina: Rebels Against Slavery (1967). In 1966, Dr. Lerner became a founding member of the National Organization for Women. In 1968 she began teaching history at Sarah Lawrence College. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Dr. Lerner published numerous books and articles that helped further the recognition of women's history as a legitimate field of study. At Sarah Lawrence, Dr. Lerner created the first graduate degree program (master's degree) in women’s history in the USA. In 1980, she moved to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she created the nation's first Ph.D. program in women's history. She retired from the University of Wisconsin and was named professor emerita in 1991. The Lerner-Scott Prize, named in honor of her and Anne Firor Scott, is given annually for the best doctoral dissertation on women’s history in the USA.
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