Gerda Lerner

gerda lerner


Gerda Lerner was the single most influential figure in the development of women’s and gender history since the 1960s.  Over 50 years, a field that encompassed a handful of brave and potentially marginal historians became one with thousands; and expanded from Lerner’s development of an MA program at Sarah Lawrence College to the presence of women’s-history faculty in the great majority of US colleges and universities.

In her first job, at Sarah Lawrence College, she quickly recognized that merely teaching women’s history would not be enough to build respect for the field, and she strategized to build women’s history programs with high visibility.  Doing this often meant fighting major battles with administrators and faculty members; the battles both rested on and built her toughness and, at times, overbearingness.  She began teaching at Sarah Lawrence College in 1968 and worked to establish, with Joan Kelly, an MA program there, which still continues.   Twelve years later she won a professorship at the University of Wisconsin, over significant opposition, where she built the country’s first PhD program in women’s history.  She loved her Madison community and spent her last years there.  She lectured widely on the importance of women’s history, often in an inspirational rather than an academic vein, understanding this work as political organizing.

Lerner was already a feminist by the 1940s, but in the following decades her political and intellectual orientation grew and changed.  Like many of her generation and political background, she was at first uneasy about some of the sexual issues raised by the women’s liberation movement; like Betty Friedan, she worried lest the movement’s provocative style and the coming-out of lesbians stigmatize the cause of women’s equality and women’s history in particular.  That changed radically in her master project of the 1980s, published in the two volumes Creation of Patriarchy and Creation of Feminist Consciousness (1986 and 1993).   Behind this book lay a new conviction that patriarchy was the first and ultimate source of all oppression.

Lerner wrote many books and articles in her life some of  which included:

In Praise of Aging (2004)

Living With History/Making A Social Change (2009)

Fireweed: A Political Autobiography (2003)

The Majority Finds Its Past (2005)

The Grimke Sisters from South Carolina (2004)

Why History Matters (1997)

The Creation of Patriarchy (1987)

Black Women in White America (1972)

For more information you can visit:


Mary Wollstonecraft


Philosopher, Scholar, Women’s Rights Activist, Educator, Journalist (1759–1797)

The Anglo-Irish feminist, intellectual and writer, Mary Wollstonecraft, was born in London, the second of six children.At the age of nineteen Mary went out to earn her own livelihood. In 1783, she helped her sister Eliza escape a miserable marriage by hiding her from a brutal husband until a legal separation was arranged. The two sisters established a school at Newington Green, an experience from which Mary drew to write Thoughts on the Education of Daughters: With Reflections on Female Conduct, in the More Important Duties of Life (1787). Mary became the governess in the family of Lord Kingsborough, living most of the time in Ireland. Upon her dismissal in 1787, she settled in George Street, London, determined to take up a literary career.

In 1792, she published her Vindication on the Rights of Woman, an important work which, advocating equality of the sexes, and the main doctrines of the later women’s movement, made her both famous and infamous in her own time. She ridiculed prevailing notions about women as helpless, charming adornments in the household. Society had bred “gentle domestic brutes.” “Educated in slavish dependence and enervated by luxury and sloth,” women were too often nauseatingly sentimental and foolish. A confined existence also produced the sheer frustration that transformed these angels of the household into tyrants over child and servant. Education held the key to achieving a sense of self-respect and anew self-image that would enable women to put their capacities to good use.

In Maria, or the Wrongs of Woman, published unfinished in Paris in 1798, Mary asserted that women had strong sexual desires and that it was degrading and immoral to pretend otherwise. This work alone sufficed to damn Mary in the eyes of critics throughout the following century.

In 1792 she set out for Paris. There, as a witness of Robespierre’s Reign of Terror, she collected materials for An Historical and Moral View of the Origins and Progress of the French Revolution: and the effect it has Produced in Europe (vol I, 1794), a book which was sharply critical of the violence evident even in the early stages of the French Revolution.

At the home of some English friends in Paris  Mary met Captain Gilbert Imlay, an American timber-merchant, the author of The Western Territory of North America (1792). She agreed to become his common law wife and at Le Havre in May 1794, she bore him a daughter, Fanny. In November 1795, after a four months’ visit to Scandinavia as his “wife,” she tried to drown herself from Putney Bridge, Imlay having deserted her.

Mary eventually recovered her courage and went to live with William Godwin in Somers-town with whom she had first met at the home of Joseph Johnson in 1791. Although both Godwin and Mary abhorred marriage as a form of tyranny, they eventually married due to Mary’s pregnancy (March 1797). In August, a daughter Mary (who later became Shelley’s wife), was born and on September 10 the mother died. Her daughter would grow up to be a writer most famous for Frankenstein.

For more information on Mary Wollstonecraft please visit the sites listed below.


Women’s History Month


Tomorrow is March 1st, which means women’s history month. As a feminist historian I love researching women’s history especially those untold stories waiting to be discovered. Through March I will be highlighting each day a person or persons of significance in women’s history. I hope you enjoy learning more about women’s history and if you have any questions on the topic each day please send me your questions and I will be glad to answer them.

Daily History of Women

1872 – Woman’s Suffrage Convention held at Merchantile Liberty Hall

1873 – Susan B Anthony fined $100 for voting for President

1928 – Amelia Earhart becomes 1st female to fly across Atlantic Ocean

1983 – Sally Ride becomes the first U.S. woman astronaut in space



“A woman is like a tea bag – you can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.”

Eleanor Roosevelt