I was stunned to learn of the death of Gerda Lerner, one of the foremost historians of women, and certainly the single greatest trailblazer for field. As the obituary in the NewYork Times rightly claimed
Lerner … helped make the study of women and their lives a legitimate subject for historians
The next stage may be to explore the possibility that what we call women’s history may actually be the study of a separate women’s culture. Such a culture would include not only the separate occupations, status, experiences, and rituals of women but also their consciousness, which internalizes partiarchal assumptions.
we should now be interested in the history of both women and men. We should not be working on the subjected sex any more than a historian of class can focus exclusively on peasants. Our goal is to understand the significance of the sexes, of gender groups in the historical past.”
transpose[d] the support systems and modes of communication of the more traditional female world into new institutional forms. The women of Hull House, Henry Street, and the other settlements created both new forms of the female family and successful reform coalitions.
For Lerner, the political nature of women’s culture depends solely on one’s definition of feminism, and her writing worked to avoid simple divides suggested by the debates around the concept of women’s culture. From her early work, like the documentary collection Black Women in White America (1972) to her two volume history of women, Lerner wrote for a broad audience, but remained central to the evolving field she helped to create. Her contribution to the 2004 roundtable U.S. Women’s History: Past, Present, and Future, she reflected on the days “when Women’s History as an academic field had not yet been established” and mapped the future she saw for historians of women. While we may not all have agreed with her conclusions, she never shied away from making the pointed argument if she saw the need. In a 2002 interview she emphasized that “”I wanted to show people that whatever contributions I could make as a historian and a theoretician of women’s history and women’s studies came out of my practical life experiences.”
Natalie Zemon Davis, Women’s History in Transition: The European Case, Feminist Studies 3 (3/4), Spring/Summer 1976, pp. 83-103
Gerda Lerner Women and History, The creation of patriarchy Oxford University Press, 1986
Volume II the creation of feminist consciousness 1993