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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 769: T-493: CD-79: Vt-265: DVD-100

Additional papers of Gerda Lerner, 1916-2020 (inclusive), 1963-2013 (bulk)


Papers of historian, professor, and author, Gerda Lerner.


  • Creation: 1916-2020
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1963-2013


Language of Materials

Most materials in English; some correspondence, diaries, and audiocassettes in German.

Access Restrictions:

Access. #36.4 is closed until January 1, 2026. #64.3 is closed until January 1, 2045. #64.15 is closed until January 1, 2042. Access to #65.5 requires written permission from Stephanie Lerner Lapidus. With the exception of #5.12 and 6.15-7.2, which are unrestricted, researchers must sign a permission form to use the collection until January 1, 2070. An appointment is necessary to use any audiovisual material.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Gerda Lerner contained in this collection is held by Stephanie Lerner Lapidus until January 1, 2070, or until her death, whichever occurs first. Lapidus retains the right to transfer copyright to an individual to be named by her, who will hold and exercise the rights of copyright until Lapidus' death or until January 1, 2070, whichever occurs first. Copyright will be transferred to the President and Fellows of Harvard College for the Schlesinger Library upon Lapidus' death or on January 1, 2070, whichever occurs first. Copyright in other papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.

Copying. Copying in any form and dissemination in any form of material from Gerda Lerner's handwritten journals (#7.3-7.8, 7.12-7.14, 62.7-62.10) requires the written permission of Stephanie Lerner Lapidus or her designee until the time that all copyright rights have been transferred to the Schlesinger Library. Researchers who wish to copy non-paper material (film, video, audio, photographs, etc.) to which Lapidus owns copyright must seek permission from Lapidus or her designee for as long as Lapidus or her designee retains copyright, after which time copying of all types of material will be unrestricted. No material of any kind may be reproduced for film, media, Internet or any other commercial, for-profit use without the permission of the donor or her designee for as long as Lapidus or her designee retains copyright. With the exception Lerner's journals and non-paper materials described above, papers may be copied for private use in accordance with the library's usual procedures.


27.35 linear feet ((62 file boxes, 3 card boxes) plus 1 folio folder, 3 folio+ folders, 1 oversize folder, 14 photograph folders, 42 audiotapes, 7 videotapes, 10 CDs, 3 DVDs, electronic records)

The papers of Gerda Lerner contain correspondence, journals, notes, speeches, drafts, electronic records, audiotapes, and videotapes documenting Lerner's personal life as well as her work as a professor, author, and historian. Folder titles were created by Lerner; additional information in square brackets was provided by the archivist. The arrangement was created by the archivist.

Series I, BIOGRAPHICAL AND PERSONAL, 1921-2020 (#1.1-11.12, 59CB.1, 58.9-58.10, 62.1-63.8, F+D.1, E.1-E.6), includes journals, correspondence, address books and lists, calendars, etc., relating to Lerner's immigration to the United States, her education, and her personal life. Calendars record both personal and professional engagements and addresses include personal and professional contacts. Journals contain accounts of Lerner's daily activities and people, including new acquaintances, colleagues, and friends she encountered. Journals also contain examinations of her feelings about events and people, including her likes and dislikes, her initial impressions, and in depth examinations of why she felt as she did. Her analyses include accounts of incidents she heard about and past events she experienced that influenced her feelings. Journals, along with travel files, also contain detailed accounts of trips Lerner took, frequently as a member of organized hiking expeditions through organizations such as the Sierra Club. A web site honoring Lerner's legacy is being captured periodically as part of Schlesinger Library’s web archiving program. Files are arranged with biographical materials first, followed by the remaining files in alphabetical order.

Series II, CORRESPONDENCE, 1938-2020 (#11.13-27.23, 63.9-64.7), contains letters from Lerner's family, friends, students, and colleagues, as well as copies of some of Lerner's replies. Files are arranged alphabetically, then chronologically.

Family correspondence includes exchanges between Lerner and her parents, Robert and Ili Kronstein; her sister, Nora Kronstein-Rosen; her husband, Carl Lerner; her children, Stephanie and Daniel; and her grandchildren. Also included are a small number of letters from Lerner's first husband, Bobby Jensen, and Lerner's family in Europe; most of which are written in German. Correspondence between Lerner and Nora Kronstein-Rosen, written in English and German, includes reminiscences about their childhood; discussions of their feelings toward their parents, particularly their mother; analyses of their personalities and how various character traits impacted their relationship; and details of Nora's life in Israel and her work as an artist. Lerner's correspondence with Carl Lerner consists mainly of letters they exchanged in 1948 and 1949, when Lerner traveled to Europe to attend the Women's International Democratic Federation Second International Congress of Women. Gerda and Carl both write of their affection for each other, their daily activities, and their thoughts on world events. Letters also express frustration with mail delivery, which was slow and frequently resulted in their letters being delivered in a different sequence than they were sent in. Additionally, Gerda's letters contain news of family and friends she visited; accounts of living conditions in Europe; and accounts of Stephanie and Dan Lerner's development, including comparisons between the children and Gerda's opinions on their rates of development.

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. Many of Lerner's colleagues were also her friends and in addition to discussions of professional topics, letters contain news of shared friends as well as each other's families. Of particular note are letters Lerner exchanged with Virginia Brodine, a union organizer and member of the Communist Party. Exchanges between Lerner and Brodine contain long-running philosophical debates in which Brodine defended her support of communism against Lerner's criticisms of communism from a feminist perspective. Brodine's letters also detail her somewhat unique living situation in which she and her husband lived in two-family housing with an African-American couple for almost fifty years, moving multiple times and encountering racism in their real estate purchases.

Following Carl Lerner's death from brain cancer in 1973, Lerner engaged in several long-term romantic relationships. Her correspondence with friends often includes reports on whether or not she was satisfied with her relationships and the difficulty of being a widow, both in terms of the emotional toll of losing her life partner and in finding men she wished to date. Correspondence with lovers, particularly Morton Garchik, discuss the emotional needs of both parties, and often include lists of actions they need to do in order to please each other and make the relationship succeed.

Series III, PROFESSIONAL ACTIVITIES, 1963-2012 (#28.1-37.2, 64.8-64.10, F+D.1-F+D.2, OD.1), includes correspondence, notes, syllabi, papers Lerner presented at conferences, etc., documenting Lerner's work as a professor and her contributions to the historical profession. Files document Lerner's teaching and administrative roles at Columbia University, Duke University, Sarah Lawrence College, and the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Also included are administrative files relating to her work with the Seminar on Women at Columbia University and the Sarah Lawrence Summer Institute on the Integration of Women's History into the High School Curriculum. In her later years, Lerner taught workshops on multiculturalism and on aging to interested parties in the Oakwood retirement center, where she lived. Files relating to these seminars includes readings, outlines, notes, etc. Files are arranged alphabetically.

Series IV, WRITINGS, 1939-2019 (#37.3-45.10, 64.11-65.10, F+D.3v), drafts, royalty statements, correspondence with publishers, reviews, publicity materials, etc., relating to Lerner's fiction, poetry, and historical writings. Much of Lerner's work from the 1930s to the 1960s consists of short stories and poetry, much of which was unpublished. Items that were published were often written under pseudonyms including Margrit Reiner, Margarete Rainer, and Gerda Jensen. Files concerning Lerner's historical books are mostly related to business aspects of publishing, particularly with advertising and re-issuing publications. Also included are files relating to copyright in Lerner's published works. Files are arranged alphabetically.

Series V, RESEARCH MATERIALS, 1940-2007 (#45.11-58.8, 60CB.1-61CB.1), includes notes, transcribed and photocopied primary source material, articles, clippings, etc., which Lerner used in her teaching, writing, and lectures. Folder dates reflect when the files were created, not the dates of source materials, some of which date to the mid-1800s and earlier. Some files appear to have been started as part of Lerner's work on specific books, but were maintained past publication of the works and were likely used in other projects. Files are arranged alphabetically.

Series VI, PHOTOGRAPHS, 1916-ca.2012 (#PD.1-PD.14, E.7-E.8), contains portraits and snapshots of Lerner, her family, and friends. Photographs document Lerner's youth in pre-war Austria and her family life. Other photographs document Lerner's participation in a variety of historical conferences. Photographs were identified by Lerner and her daughter, Stephanie Lerner Lapidus. Files are arranged in an order reflective of the arrangement in previous series.

Series VII, AUDIO-VISUAL MATERIALS, 1946-2013 (#T-493.1 - T-493.42, CD-79.1 - CD-79.10, Vt-265.1 -Vt-265.7, DVD-100.1 -DVD-100.3), contains audio and video recordings of Lerner interviews, conference presentations, readings, and other events in which Lerner participated. Interviews include discussions of Lerner's books, the state of women's history programs, the need for women to know their history, and the influence of women's history on political movements. Also included are a small number of home movies and an audio recording of Lerner's memorial service. Most of the photographs in this collection are or will be digitized and available online. Files are arranged by format, then chronologically.


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 immigrated 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 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), helped to shape women's history courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Like her role model Mary Beard, Lerner was also 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 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 served as 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.


The collection is arranged in seven series:

  1. Series I. Biographical and Personal, 1921-2020 (#1.1-11.12, 59CB.1, 58.9-58.10, 62.1-63.8, F+D.1, E.1-E.6)
  2. Series II. Correspondence, 1938-2020 (#11.13-27.23, 63.9-64.7)
  3. Series III. Professional Activities, 1963-2012 (#28.1-37.2, 64.8-64.10, F+D.1-F+D.2, OD.1)
  4. Series IV. Writings, 1939-2019 (#37.3-45.10, 64.11-65.10, F+D.3v)
  5. Series V. Research Materials, 1940-2007 (#45.11-58.8, 60CB.1-61CB.1)
  6. Series VI. Photographs, 1916-ca.2012 (#PD.1-PD.14, E.7-E.8)
  7. Series VII. Audio-visual Materials, 1946-2013 (#T-493.1 - T-493.42, CD-79.1 - CD-79.10, Vt-265.1 -Vt-265.7, DVD-100.1 -DVD-100.3)

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 2008-M14, 2009-M14, 2013-M57, 2013-M118, 2013-M202, 2022-M79, 2022-M117, 2022-M137

These papers of Gerda Lerner were given to the Schlesinger Library by Gerda Lerner in January 2008 and January 2009, and by her daughter, Stephanie Lerner Lapidus, in 2013 and 2022. A CD recording of Lerner's memorial service in Madison, Wisconsin, was given to the Schlesinger Library by Florencia Mallon in November 2013.

Related Material:

There is related material at the Schlesinger Library; see Gerda Lerner papers, 1955-1995 (75-37--96-M8; T-238), and Papers of Gerda Lerner, 1924-2006 (MC 498; T-492).


Donors: Gerda Lerner, Stephanie Lerner Lapidus, Florencia Mallon

Accession number: 2008-M14, 2009-M14, 2013-M57, 2013-M118, 2013-M202

Processed by: Johanna Carll

The following item has been removed to the Schlesinger Library Women's sheet music collection (B/W8728sh):

  1. Saved, words and music by Charlotte Hawkins Brown, 1927

The following items have been removed to the Schlesinger Library Women's newsletter and periodical collection (Pr-4):

  1. Forum: the Newsletter of the National Forum for Women, Woodstock, Illinois, Summer 1985?
  2. Forum: the Newsletter of the National Forum for Women, Woodstock, Illinois, Fall 1985
  3. Forum: the Newsletter of the National Forum for Women, Woodstock, Illinois, Winter 1985

The following item has been transferred to the Schlesinger Library books and printed materials collection:

  1. The Creation of Patriarchy, by Gerda Lerner, Arabic translation by Osama Esber, 2013.

Processing Information

Processed: December 2013

By: Johanna Carll

Additional material added: June 2023

By Johanna Carll

Additional material received in 2022 (accession numbers 2022-M79, 2022-M117, 2022-M137) were added to the collection in June 2023. These materials are housed in #58.9-58.10, 62.1-65.10, PD.13-PD.14. All other files remain in the same order. Folders are listed in intellectual, not numerical, order.

The Schlesinger Library attempts to provide a basic level of preservation and access for all collections, and does more extensive processing of higher priority collections as time and resources permit.  Finding aids may be updated periodically to account for new acquisitions to the collection and/or revisions in arrangement and description.

Lerner, Gerda, 1920-2013. Additional papers of Gerda Lerner, 1916-2020 (inclusive), 1963-2013 (bulk): A Finding Aid
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
Language of description
Processing of this collection was made possible in part by a gift from Gerda Lerner.

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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