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A Shout-Out to Dr. Gerda Lerner

“Women’s history is women’s right – an essential, indispensable heritage from which we can draw pride, comfort, courage, and long-range vision.” So Dr. Gerda Lerner was quoted in the official memorandum from President Jimmy Carter making Women’s History Week (which has later become Women’s History Month) a national event.

Twenty-eight years later, on June 5, 2008, at Harvard University’s commencement, Dr. Gerda Lerner was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Letters. The citation she received reads in part:

“Credited with the development of the curriculum of women’s history at numerous academic institutions, Lerner is widely recognized as having introduced women’s history as a formal academic field. A past president of the Organization of American Historians, she is also well known as an advocate of civil and women’s rights and was a founding member of the National Organization for Women.”

In other words, without Dr. Lerner’s innovation and insistence that Women’s History is a discipline on its own, and her work to help establish the Women’s Movement, the world of feminism as we know would not have come to be.

You can learn more about Dr. Lerner in Jewish Women and the Feminist Revolution. A hearty congratulations to Dr. Lerner, and a warm thank you for all she has done and continues to do to bring women’s history to life and to light.

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2 Comments

I am a Ph.D. student in the department of History at Northeast Normal University, China. IÌ¢‰â‰ã¢m interested in history of American women's history and feminism . My doctoral dissertation will be this and writing about the thought about Dr.Lerner. I sincerely want to keep in contact with you. So I can get much important information for my research.

I had the privilege of meeting Gerda Lerner a few yearsago - she was reading from her memoir, Fireweed, which I highly recommend. Radiating a sense of power and tenacity even in her eighties, she's one of those people who makes you think, "Wow, it's amazing what a person can accomplish in one lifetime." I knew about her academic accomplishments as a pioneer of women's history. What I didn't know is that she hadn't begun her career as an academic until she was in her 40s, by which point she'd already led a very full life! Born in Vienna, she was a radical student activist during the Nazi occupation of Austria and was imprisoned for six weeks, before fleeing for New York in 1939. In the 1950s, she was active in the Congress of American Women, a left-leaning women's group concerned with economic and social issues. She also worked for civil rights for African Americans and in support of the United Nations. During this time, Lerner raised two children and published several short stories and a novel. She's an inspiration to me, and an important reminder that it's always possible to do something new and make a real difference, even if you're not following the traditional path to success.

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How to cite this page

Rabinoff-Goldman, Lily. "A Shout-Out to Dr. Gerda Lerner." 13 June 2008. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on September 22, 2017) <https://jwa.org/blog/gerda-lerner>.

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