Women's History Month Spotlight: Gerda Lerner

Published: Mar. 15, 2016 at 1:29 PM CDT|Updated: Mar. 16, 2016 at 8:00 AM CDT
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(KFVS) - March is Women's History Month, and in the spotlight for March 16, 2016 is Gerda Lerner (1920-2013) a historian known as one of the founders of the field of women's history.

Born Gerda Hedwig Kronstein was born in Vienna, Austria in 1920, the child of an affluent Jewish couple. In 1938, she spent six weeks, including her 18th birthday in an Austrian jail for being involved in the anti-Nazi resistance.

Kronstein immigrated the  U.S. in 1939. She married Carl Lerner, a theater director and member of the Communist Party USA (CPUSA).

During the McCarthy period, Carl was blacklisted and unable to find work in California. According to the National Women's History Museum, the Lerner family moved to New York where Gerda began her career as an academic, historian, and activist. By the early 1960s, the couple had distanced themselves from the Communist Party and joined the struggle for civil rights.

While still and undergraduate at the New School for Social Research, Lerner taught "Great Women in American History," in 1963, now considered to be the first regular college course on women's history offered anywhere.

Lerner played a critical role in developing women's history curricula and degree programs at Long Island University, Sarah Lawrence College. And at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she launched the first women's history Ph.D. program. Lerner helped set up similar programs at universities across the U.S.

In 1966 Lerner joined fellow activists Betty Friedan, Pauli Murray, Aileen Hernandez, and others in founding the National Organization for Women (NOW).

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