The Summer Institute for Leaders of Women’s Organizations, held in 1979, was co-sponsored by Sarah Lawrence College, the Women’s Action Alliance (an umbrella organization of 100 women’s organizations), and the Smithsonian Institution. The goal of the Institute was to take women of high achievement and varying educational levels, heterogeneous as to race, ethnicity, class, and culture, and to offer them an educational experience that would lead to changes in perceptions, attitudes, and values. During the Institute, we created a feminist community free of competition, status-consciousness, private ambition, and prejudice. The Institute encouraged the sharing of experiences, group process, an atmosphere in which disagreement could be taken for granted, worked through, and resolved.
Gerda Lerner was a pioneer in the field of women’s history. She was born in Vienna, Austria in 1920. As a teenager, she experienced the Nazi’s rise to power and became involved in the underground resistance movement. She was imprisoned and then, with her family, forced into exile. In 1939, she alone was able to find refuge in America, where she became a political activist. Lerner received a Ph.D. in history from Columbia University in 1966 and soon after began teaching at Long Island University in Brooklyn and then Sarah Lawrence College. She founded the first graduate program in women’s history at Sarah Lawrence and created the Ph.D. program in women’s history at the University of Wisconsin. Lerner helped establish National Women’s History Month, and wrote several novels and groundbreaking scholarly books, including: The Grimke Sisters from South Carolina: Rebels Against Slavery; Black Women in White America: A Documentary History, and The Majority Finds its Past. Gerda Lerner passed away on January 2, 2013.
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Gerda Lerner with landmark sign designating Sarah Lawrence College the home of the first graduate program in women’s history.
Credit: Courtesy of Gerda Lerner.