Historian Gerda Lerner dies

Jan. 3, 2013 at 11:48 PM
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MADISON, Wis., Jan. 3 (UPI) -- Gerda Lerner, who fled Nazi persecution in her native Austria and became a noted authority on U.S. women's history, has died at age 92.

The Wisconsin State Journal reported Lerner died Wednesday night in Madison. The cause of death was not provided.

Lerner was a founding member of the National Organization for Women in the 1960s and established the doctorate program in U.S. women's history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the 1980s.

Born in Austria, she spent her 18th birthday in a Nazi jail in Vienna, the State Journal noted. Non-Jewish cellmates gave her bits of food after rations for Jews were reduced.

"They taught me how to survive," Lerner, who made her way to New York in the late 1930s, told the newspaper in 2001. "Everything I needed to get through the rest of my life I learned in jail in those six weeks."

She earned her doctorate at Columbia University and went on to earn 18 honorary degrees and write 11 books. She was the first woman to receive the Bruce Catton Prize for Lifetime Achievement in Historical Writing from the Society of American Historians.

"She's one of two people from what you might call the eldest generation of this wave of women's history," Linda Gordon, a New York University professor who was a colleague at UW-Madison, told the newspaper. "She had an enormous influence."

Lerner went against the grain, rejecting the counsel of those who told her that focusing on the history of women would be a dead-end career.

"The history of women had been forgotten, oppressed, silenced and marginalized until the last 30 years," she once said. "I'm one of the people that helped bring that history alive, to point out it was valid and important. I couldn't have done that without my long history of resisting conformity."

Her survivors include her sister Nora Kronstein, daughter Stephanie Lerner Lapidus, son Dan and four grandchildren.

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