Gerda Lerner

As the creator of some of the earliest courses in women’s studies and the chair of the conference that sparked what became National Women’s History Month, Gerda Lerner made contributions beyond measure to the field of women’s studies. A Holocaust survivor and the only one of her family to find refuge in America, Lerner took odd jobs to put herself through school, earning a PhD from Columbia. She founded the first graduate program in women’s history at Sarah Lawrence College, where she chaired the watershed 1979 summer institute that lobbied to establish a national women’s history week, which later became Women’s History Month. In both her novels and her scholarly writing, such as her anthology Black Women in White America and her article “The Lady and the Mill Girl,” Lerner focused on the intersections of gender, class, and race. Her study of the history of women’s subjugation, The Creation of Patriarchy, won the American Historical Association prize for best book in women’s history for 1986. From 1980 onward, Lerner taught at the University of Wisconsin, where she created their PhD program in women’s studies.


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Women's history pioneer Gerda Lerner (1920 – 2013) in 1981.

Photo: Martha Nelson. University of Wisconsin-Madison Archives.

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How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Gerda Lerner." (Viewed on May 13, 2021) <>.


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