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Gerda Lerner, Pioneering Professor of Women’s History, Dies

Gerda Lerner, a former professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who played a pioneering role in the study of women’s history, has died at age 92, a university official said on Thursday.

Lerner, who lived in Madison, Wisconsin, died on Wednesday evening, said Susan Zaeske, associate dean for advancement, arts and humanities at the College of Letters and Science at the university. The cause of death was not disclosed.

Lerner wrote several books in the field of women’s history, including her 1986 work “The Creation of Patriarchy” and her 1994 volume “The Creation of Feminist Consciousness.”

After obtaining her doctorate at New York’s Columbia University in 1966, Lerner went on to found the women’s studies program at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York, which in 1972 became the first to offer a graduate degree in women’s history.

Born Gerda Kronstein to a Jewish family in Vienna, Austria, in 1920, she fled her homeland to escape the Nazis in the late 1930s.

Lerner told the Wisconsin Academy Review in a 2002 article that her life experience and the hardships she faced had prepared her to explore uncharted fields in history.

“When I was faced with noticing that half the population has no history, and I was told that that’s normal, I was able to resist the pressure,” Lerner told the publication.

After arriving in the United States from Europe, she married filmmaker Carl Lerner and collaborated with him in writing the 1964 civil rights-era film “Black Like Me,” based on the 1961 best-selling book by John Howard Griffin.

Carl Lerner died in 1973, and Gerda Lerner moved in 1980 to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she established a doctorate program in women’s history.

Lerner was a founding member of the National Organization for Women and had a role in creating Women’s History Month, according to a biography posted online by the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She retired from the university in 1991. (Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Steve Gorman and Peter Cooney)

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