born 1920

Gerda Lerner was a writer, educator and activist who founded the field of women's history. Born into a wealthy Jewish family in Austria, she didn't expect to make it out alive after Nazi occupation. After her release, she went to the US where she quickly became involved with the Communist Party. This affiliation hurt her husband's Hollywood career and forced their family to move to NYC...but didn't dampen Gerda's ardor for social justice.

When Gerda introduced women's history into the college curriculum, she met considerable resistance. Despite professors' discouragement, she went on to found the first official program in 1972 at Sarah Lawrence ~ creating an institute that helped lobby for the national recognition that put Women's History Week on the map.

bio bits

her quotes

all quotes by Gerda Lerner (18)

"The past must be retraced in order to survive the present. The pieces must be joined together with patient, often blind fingers out of the memories, the ashes of destruction..."

A Death of One's Own | 1978

"I have tried to look straight at death and to let myself experience it fully. To know it, to feel it. Dying is part of living, part of my life, part of reentry . . . Acceptance of death is the key to life."

A Death of One's Own | 1978

"Acceptance of death is the key to life."

A Death of One's Own | 1978

"Women's history is women's right—an essential, indispensable heritage from which we can draw pride, comfort, courage, and long-range vision."

National Women's History Week Statement by the President | february 1980

"Women's history is the primary tool for women's emancipation."

Ms. Magazine | september 1981

"Everything that explains the world has in fact explained a world that does not exist, a world in which men are at the center of the human enterprise and women are at the margin 'helping' them. Such a world does not exist—never has."

Gerda Lerner on the Future of Our Past | september 1981

"Perhaps the greatest challenge to thinking women is the challenge to move from the desire for safety and approval to the most 'unfeminine' quality of all—that of intellectual arrogance, the supreme hubris which asserts to itself the right to reorder the world. The Hubris of the god makers, the hubris of the male-system builders."

The Creation of the Patriarchy | 1986

"The main thing history can teach us is that human actions have consequences, and that certain choices, once made, cannot be undone."

Why History Matters | 1998

"All human beings are practicing historians."

Why History Matters | may 1998

"I was a full-time mother. I have always felt that feminists have to understand more about that experience. Whenever you want to make any change in the community, from getting a stoplight at a school crossing to putting in a park, the people who make the change are your stay-at-home housewives all over the country, all over the world."

Making History Her Story, Too | july 2002

"Every life has losses. I think I have long taken mine too seriously, with a heaviness inappropriate to actuality."

Fireweed: A Political Autobiography | august 2003

"One cannot survive alone. In order to survive, one must foster courage, accept help and help others."

Gerda Lerner: Life of Learning | 2005

"Emphasis on the 'great man' omits women, minorities, many of the actual agents of social change. In so doing, it gives a partial, often erroneous picture of how social change was actually achieved in the past, and thereby fosters apathy and confusion about how social change can be made in the present."

Living with History/Making Social Change | march 2009

"When I started working on women's history thirty years ago, the field did not exist. It was not recognized. People didn't think women had a history worth knowing."

Thinking Allowed with Jeffrey Mishlove - Gerda Lerner | august 2010

"The only heroine that women of my generation grew up with was Joan of Arc—and we all knew what end she came to."

Thinking Allowed with Jeffrey Mishlove - Gerda Lerner | august 2010

"Men have been given the impression that they're much more important in the world than they actually are—and that's not a good way to become a human being."

Thinking Allowed with Jeffrey Mishlove ~ Gerda Lerner | august 2010

"No one 'gave us' anything. It makes me furious when I hear that they gave us suffrage. Excuse me—it took 72 years of unbroken, grassroots effort to get women's suffrage. It took 113 years to get rid of child labor by law. It took similarly long periods of organized effort to accomplish any advance in social policy."

Gerda Lerner on Why Understanding History is So Important | january 2013

"No one 'gave us' anything. We had to fight every inch of the way for every advance—and against constant resistance."

Gerda Lerner on Why Understanding Our History is So Important | 2013
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curated with care by Kathleen Murray {march 2015}