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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 498: T-492

Papers of Gerda Lerner, 1924-2006


Papers of historian and feminist Gerda Lerner reflecting her professional career, writings, and lectures.


  • Creation: 1924-2006


Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions:

Access. With the exception of folders #4.25, 6.2, 7.6, 7.7, 45.7-45.8, 45.10-45.12 which are closed until January 1, 2027, and 45.9 which is closed until January 1, 2032, the collection is open to research. An appointment is necessary to use any audiovisual material.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright is held by the President and Fellows of Harvard College for the Schlesinger Library except that during the donor's lifetime the Schlesinger Library will not authorize publication of extensive quotations from the papers without her prior written permission; brief quotations (250 words or fewer in any one work) may be made with the permission of the director of the Schlesinger Library. Within four years after the donor's death, her literary executors may select from the collection any material they deem appropriate for publication, and may copyright any resulting published work; the original documents will remain the property of the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Copyright in other papers and recordings in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.

Copying. Researchers may obtain photocopies of unrestricted files in accordance with the library's usual procedures.


18.77 linear feet ((45 file boxes) plus 1 folio+ folder, 7 photograph folders, 9 audiotapes, electronic records)

Series I, Biographical and Personal, 1928-2006 (#1.1-2.8, 29.11-30.17, T-492.1 - T-492.9, E.1), includes biographical surveys, education and employment information, clippings, interviews, etc. Materials relating to Lerner's enrollment at the New School for Social Research, Columbia University, include applications, admittance letters, transcripts, tuition bills, and correspondence. Her profession career is represented by reports regarding Lerner's scholarly activities as a faculty member of the University of Wisconsin; Guggenheim and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences fellowship application materials; correspondence between Lerner and post-secondary institutions offering honorary degrees, regarding travel logistics and compensation; and correspondence between Lerner and organizations offering awards. Also included are correspondence about and recordings and transcripts of radio, television, magazine, and book interviews, including an Associated Press radio program also featuring Caroline Bird, Shirley Chisholm, Betty Friedan, Pauline Bart, and Diane Schulder, in which Lerner presents her views of women's indoctrination into gender roles; an MCI audiocassette program in which Lerner discusses teaching women's history to women students at Sarah Lawrence College; a Voice of America radio interview focused on the release of Lerner's book The Majority Finds Its Past, including Lerner's explanation of the methodologies of women's history, as well as its impact on women; and an interview with the Voices of Feminism Oral History Project at Smith College, including Lerner's view on women's skilled grassroots organization, especially the Congress of American Women. A web site honoring Lerner's legacy is being captured periodically as part of Harvard University Library's Web Archive Collection service (WAX).

Lerner's mother, Ilona "Ili" Kronstein, was an artist who died of multiple sclerosis on April 22, 1948. Her artwork, which was never displayed during her lifetime, was newly discovered in the late 1990s and exhibited in Vienna at The Jewish Museum and other museums. Lerner worked with exhibition organizers to provide biographical information about her mother and also spoke about her mother at several related events. Lerner's involvement with the retrospective are represented through correspondence, biographies, an essay, and a speech, some in German.

Series II, Correspondence, 1962-2006 (#2.9-5.5, 31.1-32.3, 45.7-45.12), contains correspondence between Lerner and fellow faculty members, colleagues in the field of history, students, and publishers. Exchanges with students and colleagues frequently contain support for and criticisms of correspondents' work; discussions of projects in the field of women's history undertaken by Lerner and others; and news of tenure opportunities, or lack thereof, in the field of women's history. Among the exchanges are letters containing Carl Degler's advice to Lerner as she prepared her manuscript for The Grimké Sisters from South Carolina: Rebels against Authority, a discussion between Lerner and Nancy Cott on "long history," and Lerner's response to Marcia Quiros's questions about her early academic development and the evolution of her historical philosophy throughout her career. Other correspondence contains discussions of planned lectures and travels, mentoring young scholars, serving as an editor for Schocken Books, and helping with outside projects such as finding a publisher for Eve Merriam's posthumous book Embracing the Dark.

Series III, Professional Activities, 1941-2006 (#5.6-7.23, 32.4-37.7), includes correspondence, printed material, reports, syllabi, etc. It is divided into three subseries.

Subseries A, Political and community activities, 1941-1998 (#5.6-5.17, 32.4-32.13), includes correspondence, printed material, etc., concerning Lerner's involvement political movements and civic organizations including the Civil Rights Movement, anti-nuclear weapons campaigns, the United Nations Workshop, and the Parent Teacher Association at her children's schools. Files also document Lerner's involvement in Associated Authors, a group of writers who published their work cooperatively without censorship. Included in the correspondence with Associated Authors is information relating to the publication Lerner's novel, No Farewell, which was published through Associated Authors. Files are arranged alphabetically.

Subseries B, Professional activities, 1966-2004 (#5.18-7.23, 32.14-33.16), includes correspondence, reports, mailing lists, etc., relating to Lerner's involvement in professional organizations, advisory boards, and grant projects, as well as her role as a consultant. Files relating to the Organization of American Historians and the American Historical Association include correspondence, reports, and forms relating to Lerner's committee work and presidential campaigns, as well as organization projects relating to the advancement of women historians. Other correspondence documents Lerner's work as a member of the board of The Journal of Women's History, advisory positions she held with Schocken Books and Carlson Publishing, Inc., and her work as a consultant for radio projects and a television mini-series on female sexual desire. Files are arranged alphabetically.

Subseries C, Teaching, 1968-2006 (#33.17-37.7), includes correspondence, syllabi, notes, student lists, etc., relating to courses Lerner taught at Columbia University, Duke University, Sarah Lawrence College, and the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Also included are administrative files relating to grants and the summer seminars for high school teachers at Sarah Lawrence College. The majority of Lerner's files relating to her teaching at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, are located in the University of Wisconsin University Archives. Files are arranged alphabetically.

Series IV, Conferences and Lectures, 1963-2005 (#8.1-14.28, 37.8-38.17, F+D.1), includes correspondence, session proposals, papers, press releases, clippings, etc., relating to speeches and lectures given by Lerner. Correspondence includes exchanges between Lerner and conference and lecture organizers concerning honorariums and travel logistics, and between Lerner and fellow conference session participants concerning papers to be presented. Notes and correspondence from a Rockefeller Foundation meeting with several women's historians on suggestions for the future of the profession document Lerner's belief that there was an urgent need for graduate and undergraduate courses and programs in women's history, as well as a need to support new scholars after graduate school through fellowships and summer institutes. Files are arranged in chronological order.

Series V, Writings, 1944-2006 (#15.1-23.9, 38.18-39.15), contains drafts, published articles and reviews, correspondence, notes, etc. It is divided into four subseries.

Subseries A, Reviews, 1964-1999 (#15.1-15.9, 38.18-38.19), includes draft and published book reviews, correspondence, etc. Correspondences include requests from Lerner to write reviews for various journals, requests from journals for Lerner to write reviews, and requests from journals for Lerner to act as a referee, as well as Lerner's comments and suggestions for publication.

Subseries B, Articles, 1963-2004 (#15.10-17.21, 38.20-39.15), includes notes, drafts and final versions of articles by Lerner, correspondence about articles, etc. Correspondence includes editor and referee comments on Lerner's work, acceptance and rejection letters from journals, and permissions agreements for the articles to be reprinted. Correspondence also documents Lerner's work with the Skirball Institution, a think tank on defining American values and developing guidelines on how to teach them.

Subseries C, Books, 1944-2001 (#18.1-23.4), includes drafts of Lerner's books, handwritten notes, and correspondence, etc. Correspondence between Lerner and publishers documents the publication process from the proposal to publication of the manuscript and includes outlines, discussions of the cover matter, and contract and fee information. Correspondence between Lerner and her publishing attorney contains discussions on contracts, manuscripts sent to publishers, and the management of issues between Lerner and publishers. Other correspondence includes reviewer responses, letters concerning publicity events such as book signings and readings, reviews, and readers' responses to Lerner's books.

Subseries D, Miscellaneous correspondence and writings, 1951-2006 (#23.5-23.9, 39.16-40.1), contains correspondence with literary agents concerning contracts and royalties, and manuscripts of screenplays written by Lerner with her husband, Carl Lerner, and with Eve Merriam.

Series VI, Grants and Fellowships, 1977-1996 (#23.10-24.14), includes "Documenting the Midwestern Origins of the Twentieth Century Women's Movement," an oral history and archival project, 1988-1993, directed by Lerner; an associated conference, "Bridges that Carry Us Over," 1992; and a documentary, 1996. Also other fellowship proposals.

Series VII, Research Materials, 1924, 1962-2006 (#24.15-26.35, 40.2-45.6), includes bibliographies, notes, transcribed and photocopied primary source material for The Creation of Patriarchy, Lerner's works on the Grimké sisters, as well as Lerner's teaching, lectures, and other writings. It is divided into two subseries.

Subseries A, Creation of Patriarchy, 1962-1994, undated (#24.15-27.2), contains Lerner's notes and source material created during the writing of Lerner's book, The Creation of Patriarchy, which was published in 1986.

Subseries B, Grimké sisters, 1974-1993, undated (#27.3-29.10), contains Lerner's notes and copies of primary and secondary source material used in Lerner's writings and lectures on the Grimké sisters, Sarah Moore Grimké (1792–1873) and Angelina Emily Grimké (1805–1879). Most of the copies of primary source materials are from the Library of Congress and the William L. Clements Library at the University of Michigan.

Subseries C, General, 1924, 1962-2006 (#40.2-45.6), includes Lerner's notes, articles, clippings, etc., which she used in her teaching, writing, and lectures. Files are arranged alphabetically.

Series VIII, Photographs, 1948-1992 (#PD.1-PD.7), contains images of Lerner at academic events including commencements, faculty gatherings, and conferences. Files are arranged with photographs removed from other folders first, followed by other photographs arranged in alphabetical order by event or topic.


Gerda Lerner, historian, educator, and author, was born in Vienna, Austria, on April 30, 1920, the daughter of Robert Kronstein and Ilona (Neumann) Kronstein. She escaped to the United States in 1939 where she married first, Bernard Jensen and second, the filmmaker Carl Lerner in 1941. They had two children, Stephanie and Daniel.

Lerner worked first as a translator and writer. She wrote a semi-autobiographical novel, No Farewell (1955), describing life in Austria from 1934 to 1938, before and during the Anschluss. She also wrote film scripts, "Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom" (1957), Black Like Me (1964), and Home for Easter (n.d.). In 1959, she resumed her education which had been interrupted by war and exile, and received her A.B. from the New School for Social Research (1963) and M.A. and Ph.D. from Columbia University (1965 and 1966). In the course of her studies she decided to become a historian.

Lerner lectured on women's history at the New School in 1963. She was assistant, then associate, professor at Long Island University (1965-1967). She was professor at Sarah Lawrence College from 1968 to 1979. She was also a member of the Seminar on American Civilization at Columbia University and a co-founder of the Seminar on Women. In 1980 she was appointed Robinson-Edwards Professor of History and Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) Senior Distinguished Research Professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, with the mandate to found the university's Ph.D. program in women's history. She became emerita in 1990.

One of the earliest proponents of women's history as a field of study, Lerner has made lasting contributions to the development of the discipline by her distinguished research and writing, by developing curricular material in women's history, by preservation and publicizing of women's history sources, and by upgrading the status of women in the historical profession.

Her research has explored abolitionism, slavery, African American women's history, and 19th century women's history. Later she wrote on the history of patriarchy going back to the second millennium B.C. and worked on medieval European women's history. Her writings include The Grimké Sisters from South Carolina: Rebels against Authority (1967), The Woman in American History (1971), Black Women in White America: A Documentary History (1972), The Female Experience: An American Documentary (1976), The Majority Finds Its Past: Placing Women in History (1979), and Women's Diaries of the Westward Journey (1982). The Creation of Patriarchy (1986) and The Rise of Feminist Consciousness (1993), the first two volumes of Women and History, broke new ground in gender studies. Her teaching and lecturing at colleges and universities, in the U.S. and abroad, her leadership of the American Council on Education Conference on Graduate Training in Women's History (1989), and her pamphlet, Teaching Women's History (1981) have helped to shape women's history courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Like her role model Mary Beard, Lerner has also been instrumental in preserving and improving access to women's history sources. She served on the committee that launched Women's History Sources, edited by Andrea Hinding, and served on its advisory board. She also served on the advisory board of Notable American Women, and launched and directed the FIPSE project on Black Women's History, co-sponsored by the Organization of American Historians and the Association for Black Historians She organized an oral history project at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to interview and document the Midwestern founders of the modern feminist movement. She led efforts to establish National Women's History Week and to publicize and promote programs on women's history in the media, and served on editorial boards of women's history journals and the Schocken Books project to publish source books on the women's movement. She has also consulted and advised on many other women's history projects.

Finally, as a feminist historian and founding member of the National Organization for Women, she has been a model for women historians and a dynamic leader in the effort to raise the status of women in the profession. She was a founder of the Coordinating Committee on Women in the Historical Profession, president of the Organization of American Historians (1981-1982), member of the American Historical Association and the Radical Historians' Caucus, and active in the Berkshire Conference on the History of Women since 1973.

Lerner described her husband's death movingly in A Death of One's Own (1978). Other autobiographical writing includes Why History Matters (1997) which weaves together her life, her profession, and her philosophy of history, and Fireweed: a Political Autobiography (2002) which covers her first 40 years, as a survivor in fascist Austria, an immigrant to the United States, a mother and community activist, and a socialist with a husband working in the film industry during the McCarthy era.

Lerner died January 2, 2013, in Madison, Wisconsin.


This collection follows the original order of Lerner's files and is arranged in the following eight series:

  1. I. Biographical and Personal, 1928-2006 (#1.1-2.8, 29.11-30.17, T-492.1 - T-492.9, E.1)
  2. II. Correspondence, 1962-2006 (#2.9-5.5, 31.1-32.3, 45.7-45.12)
  3. III. Professional Activities, 1941-2006 (#5.6-7.23, 32.4-37.7)
  4. IV. Conferences and Lectures, 1963-2005 (#8.1-14.28, 37.8-38.17, F+D.1)
  5. V. Writings, 1944-2006 (#15.1-23.9, 38.18-39.15)
  6. VI. Grants and Fellowships, 1977-1996 (#23.10-24.14)
  7. VII. Research Materials, 1924, 1962-2006 (#24.15-26.35, 40.2-45.6)
  8. VIII. Photographs, 1948-1992 (#PD.1-PD.7)

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 97-M163, 99-M138, 2002-M11, 2002-M103, 2003-M145, 2004-M65, 2005-M54, 2005-M86, 2007-M38, 2007-M73

These addenda to the papers of Gerda Lerner were given to the Schlesinger Library by Gerda Lerner between December 1997 and May 2007.

Related Materials

There is related material at the Schlesinger Library; see Gerda Lerner papers, 1955-1995 (75-37--96-M8; T-238), and Gerda Lerner Additional Papers, 1916-2013 (MC 769).


Donors: Gerda Lerner

Accession number: 2005-M86

Processed by: Johanna Carll

The following items have been transferred to the Schlesinger Library books and printed materials collection:

  1. Lerner, Gerda. Zukunft braucht Vergangenheit: Warum Geschichte uns angeht (German translation of Why History Matters), 2002
  2. Schwarzer, Alice (HRSG.). Man Wird Nicht Als Frau Geboren, includes "Warum uns Geschichte angeht" by Gerda Lerner, 2000.

Processing Information

Processed: April 2003

By: Jane Knowles and Patrick Otton

Additional materials processed: September 2013

By: Johanna Carll

Materials received by the Schlesinger Library after July 2002 were added to the collection in September 2013 and are represented in #29.11-45.6. When the finding aid was updated, the title of Series III, Subseries A, was changed from "Early activities" to "Political and community activities"; the title of Series IV, Subseries D, was changed from "Miscellaneous correspondence" to "Miscellaneous correspondence and writings"; Subseries C, Teaching, was added to Series III; and Series VIII, Photographs, was added. In addition, materials in folders previously numbered 25.4-26.35 were rehoused and renumbered as folders 26.1-29.10; the original folder numbers are listed at the end of the folder titles. Files remain in the same order. Folders added in September 2013 are listed in intellectual, not sequential order.

Additional description added: December 2013

By: Jamie Jesanis

Lerner, Gerda, 1920-2013. Papers of Gerda Lerner, 1924-2006: A Finding Aid
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute Repository

The preeminent research library on the history of women in the United States, the Schlesinger Library documents women's lives from the past and present for the future. In addition to its traditional strengths in the history of feminisms, women’s health, and women’s activism, the Schlesinger collections document the intersectional workings of race and ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and class in American history.

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