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White Jewish Feminist Herstorian and Philosopher, Gerda Lerner (1920 - 2013) has died at the age of 92

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This blog exists to challenge white heterosexual male supremacy as an institutionalized ideology and a systematized set of practices which are misogynistic, heterosexist, racist, genocidal, and ecocidal.

Professor Gerda Lerner, in a handout from the University of Wisconsin, Madison

University of Wisconson, Madison [this photo and caption's source is here]

The Creation of Patriarchy, by Gerda Lerner is probably one earliest feminist books I owned. It helped me understand patriarchy as a force born of human history, not God, not Nature. What I appreciated about Gerda Lerner was her courage in creating and promoting new academic disciplines which have served so many women across race, ethnicity, region, language, and era.

From *here* (Feminist Philosophers blog):

Historian, feminist, and author of The Creation of Patriarchy Gerda Lerner died Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013, in Madison, Wisconsin.  She was 92.

Most American scholars reading this post do not remember a time when
women’s history was not at least a possible area of study.  This is
thanks in part to Lerner’s efforts, as she contributed to the creation
of the first graduate program in women’s history in the USA.  Before I
read feminist philosophy, I read Creation of Patriarchy. Yet despite the tremendous impression that work made on me, I’m disposed to quote the passage from her more enjoyable read, Fireweed: A Political Autobiography, cited by the NYT
in the obituary linked above: “My perfectionism, insistence on
anti-fascist commitment in word and deed, and general ‘heaviness’ as a
person set me apart from others.”

She certainly was a distinctive presence.

From *here* (Wisconsin State Journal):

Long before Gerda Lerner helped redefine the study of history
to give women a more prominent place in it and before she established
the doctorate program in U.S. women’s history at UW-Madison in the
1980s, she had to live through one of history’s worst horrors and —
barely — survive it.

Lerner (then Kronstein), who died Wednesday
night in Madison at age 92, spent her 18th birthday in a Nazi jail in
Vienna expecting death and being fed food scraps by two gentile
cellmates after authorities cut rations to Jews.

“They taught me
how to survive,” Lerner told the State Journal in 2001. “Everything I
needed to get through the rest of my life I learned in jail in those six

Lerner, UW-Madison professor emerita of women’s studies,
was able to escape alone to New York in the late 1930s. Decades later
she started an academic career as a historian of women who led a
movement almost from its infancy, eventually writing 11 books, earning
18 honorary degrees and in 2002 becoming the first woman recipient of
the prestigious Bruce Catton Prize for Lifetime Achievement in
Historical Writing from the Society of American Historians.

one of two people from what you might call the eldest generation of
this wave of women’s history,” said Linda Gordon, a New York University
professor who taught women’s history at UW-Madison with Lerner in the
1980s and 1990s. “She had an enormous influence.”

While earning an
undergraduate degree in the early 1960s at the New School and her
doctorate at Columbia University in 1966 at age 46, Lerner grew
frustrated by the portrayal of history as told by textbooks and

“The teachers told me about a world in which
ostensibly one-half the human race is doing everything significant and
the other half doesn’t exist,” she told the Chicago Tribune in 1993.

became her life’s work to balance out the story. She founded the
women’s studies program at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, N.Y.,
which included the first graduate program in women’s history in the
country. In 1980, after the death of her husband, Carl, a theater
director, she moved to UW-Madison to establish a Ph.D. program in
women’s history.

Although women could get a Ph.D. in women’s
history at that time, their programs of study were not orderly and
structured. Lerner wanted to create a degree that was rich in depth —
the sort of program a Ph.D. candidate in American studies or another
area would follow — but that included extra work in women’s history.

sequence and staffing were her goals, and she chose UW-Madison because
it already had a high-ranking, high-status history department from which
Lerner created a model that would eventually be imitated elsewhere.

her career — Lerner retired from UW-Madison in 1991 — she maintained a
vigorous schedule as a historian and writer, earning respect early as
the editor of “Black Women in White America” in 1972, one of the first
books to document the important struggles and contributions of
African-American women in American history.

“What was unique is
that she understood women are not all alike, that race and class make a
very, very big difference in their lives and you can’t generalize about
all women,” Gordon said.

Later contributions included her
two-volume magnum opus, “The Creation of Patriarchy” in 1986 and “The
Creation of Feminist Consciousness” in 1993.

“Fireweed,” a memoir
covering Lerner’s years before she started on her academic path, came
out in 2002 and was later adapted into a play by Heather McDonald.

established and funded a fellowship at UW-Madison that goes annually to
a first- or second-year graduate student in women’s history with a
preference given to non-traditional students such as older women. When
she earned her doctorate at Columbia at age 46, she was told her age and
preference for studying women’s history would doom her career.

fact that I could not take that advice was a very important thing,” she
told the State Journal in 2002. “The history of women had been
forgotten, oppressed, silenced and marginalized until the last 30 years.
I’m one of the people that helped bring that history alive, to point
out it was valid and important. I couldn’t have done that without my
long history of resisting conformity.”

In August 2011, UW-Madison named the third floor of the newly renamed Vel Phillips Hall (formerly Friedrick Hall) after Lerner.

include sister Nora Kronstein, daughter Stephanie Lerner Lapidus, son
Dan and four grandchildren. Services will be private.

— State Journal reporter George Hesselberg contributed to this report.

“An activist and writer at the blog, A Radical Profeminist”.


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