The Life Of Gerda Lerner

Friday, 11 January 2013 | buzz

“Having lived through the transition from being an accepted and rather privileged member of society and from one day to the next being a total outcast and victim, I learned something about how society can manipulate people,” Lerner said in 2002. “I applied that to understanding how it was possible to manipulate half the people of the world to accept that they are inferior.”

UW Madison Archive

UW Madison Archive

For much of history, the pronoun used to describe moments in time was always male. It’s strange to think, but until very recently there was not a women’s history. At least not written down. Gerda Lerner, “led the charge, politically and intellectually.” Said Florencia Mallon, UW-Madison History Department Chair and long time friend of Gerda Lerner, in an interview with Jonathan Zarov, Friday, January 11th.

Gerda Lerner set the foundation for women’s history at a time when people in her field were told that Women’s studies, along with African American Studies, were just fads. The academic response to women’s history was a defensive one, claiming that the field already had one history- the history of the human race. She also met an argument against women’s studies as a career path. Many believed that women’s history would never find a place in academia. Yet Gerda Lerner persisted. Gerda described her work as a necessary piece of her activism.

If you would like to learn more about Gerda Lerner, her political autobiography, Fireweed, covers her early life in Vienna, Austria, through her time in Madison.

Gerda Lerner died on Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013. She was 92 years old.

Listen to the interview with Florencia Mallon and Jonathan Zarov here:


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