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Lerner, Gerda, 1920-2013. Papers of Gerda Lerner, 1950-1995: A Finding Aid

Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University


Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University

© President and Fellows of Harvard College

Descriptive Summary

Call No.: 75-37--96-M8
Repository: Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University
Creator: Gerda Lerner, 1920-2013
Title: Papers of Gerda Lerner, 1950-1995
Date(s): 1950-1995
Quantity: 7 linear feet (7 cartons) plus 1 folio+ folder, 2 audiotapes, and 64 slides)
Language of materials: Materials in English.
Abstract: Correspondence, interviews, writings, etc., of Gerda Lerner, historian and author.

Immediate Source of Acquisition:

Accession numbers: 75-37, 77-M98, 77-M216, 80-M71, 81-M195, 84-M94, 84-M138, 86-M4, 87-M73, 90-M99, 90-M155, 93-M198, 96-M8
These papers were given to the Schlesinger Library by Gerda Lerner between February 1975 and January 1996.

Processing Information:

Preliminary finding aid: June 1997
By: Jane S. Knowles


Access. Collection is open for research with the exception of files on the search for the executive secretary of the Organization of American Historians (#80-81), which are closed until January 1, 2020. An appointment is necessary to use any audiovisual material.

Conditions Governing Use:

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Gerda Lerner contained in this collection is held by the President and Fellows of Harvard College for the Schlesinger Library. Within four years after Gerda Lerner's death, her literary executors may select from the collection any material they deem appropriate for publication, and may copyright any resulting published work; the original documents will remain the property of the Schlesinger Library. Copyright in other papers and recordings in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.
Copying. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.

Related Materials

There is related material at the Schlesinger Library; see Gerda Lerner Papers, 1924-2006 (MC 498; T-492), and Gerda Lerner Additional Papers, 1916-2013 (MC 769).


Gerda Lerner, historian, educator, and author, was born in Vienna, Austria, on April 30, 1920, the daughter of Robert Kronstein and Ilona (Neumann) Kronstein. She escaped to the United States in 1939 and married the filmmaker Carl Lerner in 1941. They had two children, Stephanie and Daniel.
Lerner worked first as a translator and writer. Her semi-autobiographical novel, No Farewell (1955), described life in Austria in 1934-1938, before and during the Anschluss. She also wrote filmscripts, "Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom" (1957), Black Like Me (1964), and Home for Easter (n.d.) In 1959, she resumed her education which had been interrupted by war and exile, and received her A.B. from the New School for Social Research (1963) and M.A. and Ph.D from Columbia University (1965 and 1966). In the course of her studies she decided to become a historian.
Lerner lectured on women's history at the New School in 1963. She was assistant, then associate, professor at Long Island University (1965-1967). She was a member of the faculty of Sarah Lawrence College from 1968 to 1979. She was also a member of the Seminar on American Civilization at Columbia University and a co-founder of the Seminar on Women. In 1980 she was appointed Robinson Edwards Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, with the mandate to found the university's Ph.D. program in women's history. She became professor emerita in 1990.
One of the earliest proponents of women's history as a field of study, Lerner has made lasting contributions to the development of the discipline in four areas: by her distinguished research and writing, by developing curricular material in women's history, by preserving and publicizing women's history sources, and by upgrading the status of women in the historical profession.
Her research has explored abolitionism, slavery, African American women's history, and 19th-century women's history. In her later work she researched the history of patriarchy going back to the second millennium B.C. and worked on medieval European women's history. Her writings include: The Grimké Sisters from South Carolina: Rebels against Authority (1967), The Woman in American History (1971), Black Women in White America: A Documentary History (1972), The Female Experience: An American Documentary (1976), The Majority Finds Its Past: Placing Women in History (1979), and Women's Diaries of the Westward Journey (1982). The Creation of Patriarchy (1986) and The Rise of Feminist Consciousness (1993), the first two volumes of Women and History, broke new ground in gender studies. Her teaching and lecturing at colleges and universities, in the U.S. and abroad, her leadership of the American Council on Education Conference on Graduate Training in Women's History (1989), and her book, Teaching Women's History (1981) have helped to shape women's history courses at the undergraduate and graduate level. Like her role model Mary Beard, Lerner has also been instrumental in preserving and improving access to women's history sources. She served on the committee that launched Andrea Hinding's Women's History Sources, and served on its advisory board. She also served on the advisory board of Notable American Women, and launched and directed the FIPSE project on Black Women History, co-sponsored by the Organization of American Historians and the Association of Black Women Historians. She organized an oral history project at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to interview and document the midwestern founders of the modern feminist movement. Lerner led efforts to establish National Women's History Week and to publicize and promote programs on women's history in the media, and she served on editorial boards of women's history journals and the Schocken Books project to publish source books on the women's movement. She has also consulted and advised on many other women's history projects.
Finally, as a feminist historian and founding member of the National Organization for Women, Lerner has been a model for women historians and a dynamic leader in the effort to raise the status of women in the profession. She was a founder of the Coordinating Committee on Women in the Historical Profession, president of the Organization of American Historians (1981-1982), member of the American Historical Association and the Radical Historians' Caucus and was active in the Berkshire Conference on the History of Women since 1973.
Lerner described her husband's death (1973) movingly in A Death of One's Own (1978). Her autobiography, Why History Matters (1997), weaves together her life, her profession, and her philosophy of history. For further biographical information and a full bibliography through 1995, see U.S. History as Women's History (#11v).


The collection is arranged in the following six series:


Series I, Biography (#1-28), includes resumes, interviews, biographies, and bibliography of Gerda Lerner's writings (see especially #11v). It also contains information about her career and grant applications.
Series II, Correspondence (#29-56), consists mainly of professional correspondence with other historians as well as invitations to lecture, serve on boards, and advise on projects.
Series III, Professional associations (#57-152). Minutes, correspondence, committee materials, and grant proposals of the Organization of American Historians document Lerner's leadership role as a member and as president (1980-1981). Records of the Radical Historians' Caucus (#61) and the Coordinating Committee on Women in the Historical Profession (#63-64) of the American Historical Association and other professional associations document her efforts to improve the status of women in her profession.
Series IV, Advisory and editorial boards, and other consulting (#153-191), contains correspondence documenting Lerner's service on the editorial boards of Signs, Clio, Schocken Books, Women's History Sources, and Notable American Women. Also included is correspondence about her advisory role on women's history film and TV documentaries; on national projects such as the American Revolution Bicentennial Commission, Franklin Mint, National Women's History Week, and many others.
Series V, Conferences (#192-207), includes papers, commentary, and arrangements for history and education conferences including the Berkshire Conference on the History of Women, 1969-1981.
Series VI, Writings (#208-260), consists of typescripts of Lerner's historical writings and some research material. Also included are materials relating to Lerner's filmscripts, fiction, and political and autobiographical writings.



Container List

Additional Index Terms

African American women--History
Berkshire Conference on the History of Women
College teachers--United States--Biography
Jewish women
Manuscripts for publication
Women historians--United States
Women--Social conditions
Women--United States--History
Women's studies
American Historical Association
Association of Black Women Historians (U.S.)
Beard, Mary Ritter, 1876-1958
Bethune, Mary McLeod, 1875-1955
Buhle, Mari Jo, 1943-
Columbia University
Coordinating Committee on Women in the Historical Profession
Flexner, Eleanor, 1908-1995
Friedan, Betty
Grimké, Angelina Emily, 1805-1879
Grimké, Sarah Moore, 1792-1873
Hamer, Fannie Lou
Hine, Darlene Clark
Hoff, Joan, 1937-
Holden, Miriam Young
James, Janet Wilson, 1918-1987
King, Martin Luther, Jr., 1929-1968
Kirkendall, Richard Stewart, 1928-
Long Island University
Lucy Stone League
Murray, Pauli, 1910-1985
National Women's History Week Project
New School for Social Research (New York, N.Y.)
O'Neill, William L.
Organization of American Historians
Randolph, A. Philip (Asa Philip), 1889-1979
Rose, Willie Lee, 1927-
Schocken Books
Solomon, Barbara Miller
Stimpson, Catharine R., 1936-
Wilkins, Roy, 1901-1981