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00:00:00 - Session One Introduction 00:00:22 - Desire to build a Women's History Program

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Partial Transcript: You came to the university from Sarah Lawrence...

Segment Synopsis: GL spent twelve years at Sarah Lawrence College, where she had created a women’s history program. She explains that she desired to train a group of graduate students and realized that a move to a major university would be necessary. She intended to establish a women’s history doctorate program and discusses the reasons behind her decision. It was necessary to prove that women’s history deserved more thorough training than existed at the time. GL set out to create a model program.

Keywords: Graduate training; Sarah Lawrence; Women's History

00:08:01 - Looking for a New University

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Partial Transcript: At that time already I was a passionate hiker and backpacker. And I was very attracted to Arizona for that reason. An I was very attracted to Oregon for that reason.

Segment Synopsis: GL negotiated with three universities and explains how she came to accept the offer from UW-Madison. She discusses her hesitation about coming to Madison. GL explains why she harbored such reluctance about coming to UW. GL lists her publications and awards at the time of her arrival at UW. Robinson-Edwards Chair. Lerner’s anger at receiving a solicitation for the position.

Keywords: Diane Lindstrom; Robinson-Edwards Chair; University of Arizona; University of Oregon

00:14:20 - Choosing UW-Madison

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Partial Transcript: And then the chairman of the department, who has since left, called me up...

Segment Synopsis: GL was interviewed at the AHA and expressed her intention to establish a model women’s history program. She reasoned that UW was an ideal place to get started, and was convinced by the UW representatives that they were also committed to the founding of such a program.

Keywords: AHA; Al Bogue; Merle Curti; Women's history program

00:17:30 - Setting up the Women's History Program

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Partial Transcript: So apparently I convinced them...

Segment Synopsis: GL notes how she wanted a strong and serious program; one that would admit only extremely qualified students. She explains the design of the program, the admissions procedure the team developed and the course work which would be required. GL intentionally made the program a demanding one. Description of requirements.

Keywords: American History; Graduate Requirements; Stanley Payne; Women's History

00:23:46 - First Cohort in Women's History

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Partial Transcript: And it turned out that we attracted the best students...

Segment Synopsis: Eight applicants were admitted the first year of the Women's History program. GL made certain demands on staffing, requiring an agreement from UW for a half-time faculty member in both American and European women’s history. The European position was never filled, despite being a condition of Lerner’s contract.

Keywords: Faculty specialties; Graduate admissions; Graduate students

00:28:39 - The Robinson-Edwards Professorship

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Segment Synopsis: GL explains the foundation of the Robinson-Edwards chair. Florence Robinson was a graduate of UW in the early 1920s with a doctorate in American history. As a woman, she was unable to find a job. A friend, Martha Edwards, was in a similar position. Robinson eventually found a position in the home economics program at Beloit College, where her duties included making tea and serving cookies at meetings. In her will, she left $50,000 to UW, stipulating that the money should be used to hire a woman professor in American history who should not be required to do any duties not expected from her male colleagues. UW went to court to attempt a change in the will, which would allow the hiring of a male professor. This was not allowed. GL was finally hired to fill the chair. Through mismanagement the funds of the Robinson-Edwards endowment had not grown to a substantial amount.

Keywords: David Cronon; Endowed Chair; Florence Robinson; Martha Edwards

00:34:34 - Funding Women's History

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Partial Transcript: I did some further research on that...

Segment Synopsis: GL went to see Chancellor Irving Shain in 1982 and reported to him on the status of her program. GL said that she wanted research money and funding to support her students as well as additional faculty to assist her with graduate students. Shain found and awarded money to GL. She was awarded a fellowship by WARF, which enabled her to write. Publicity for the program. GL secured a Knapp fellowship grant for her students in 1983. GL estimates that she supported one to four graduate students each year on projects which she initiated and for which she did unpaid work. GL explains how she supported her graduate students with various grants, assistant positions and fellowships.

Keywords: Graduate funding; Irving Shain; WARF

00:44:31 - Fighting for New Faculty

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Partial Transcript: Now I had to fight in the department. And wait. And be voted down...

Segment Synopsis: The history department was not cooperative in supporting GL with funding or with additional faculty members. Linda Gordon was eventually hired by the history department. The position in European women’s history was never filled due to departmental politics and not because of a lack of qualified candidates, according to GL. She comments on the involvement of Steve Stern and Florencia Mallon in the women’s history program.

Keywords: European history; Florencia Mallon; Jeanne Boydston; Judith Leavitt; Linda Gordon; Steve Stern

00:51:26 - Reflecting on the State of the Women's History Program

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Partial Transcript: So we're back to square one...

Segment Synopsis: GL explains that she was extremely overloaded and the women’s history program was understaffed. When GL received the WARF fellowship, the history department was obligated, by the terms of the award, to hire another faculty member. This was done with reluctance. The history department changed its position by the time of GL’s retirement and eventually supported the program in women’s history. The program was recognized as one of the most important aspects of the history department. The model designed by GL for graduate work in women’s history came to be imitated across the country. GL was invited as a consultant to several places: Princeton, Claremont College, Harvard, and many others. GL relates how she convinced the Letters and Science chairpersons at Princeton that women’s history deserved an academic program.

Keywords: Consulting; Masters Program; Princeton University; Program-building

01:00:57 - The Field of Women's History

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Partial Transcript: Was it harder at first, when you came to Wisconsin, trying to explain something that wasn't out there?

Segment Synopsis: GL relates a conversation she had with the president of Princeton University, convincing him that a women’s history program was worthwhile. GL explains her position about women’s history; it is the most important intellectual revolution of the twentieth century. Women’s studies was not GL’s field of focus, though she does support it and has assisted its establishment as a valid area of study.

Keywords: Outreach programs; Women's history; Women's studies

01:06:07 - "Women Organizing Women"

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Partial Transcript: So I had this dream thing in mind when I talked to the Rockefeller foundation people...

Segment Synopsis: While at Sarah Lawrence College, GL established an outreach program, initially directed at older female students entering college after a prolonged absence in order to have a family. In 1969-70, GL taught a course called “Women Organizing Women,” funded in part by her Rockefeller Foundation grant. Objections to the name of the course. She describes this course and other new courses she designed while at Sarah Lawrence College. A result of one of the course projects was the establishment of National Women’s History Week, declared by President Jimmy Carter.

Keywords: National Women’s History Week; Rockefeller Foundation; Sarah Lawrence; Women's organization

01:15:47 - Impact on UW Graduate Training

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Partial Transcript: A few of the organizational innovations that I introduced...

Segment Synopsis: The impact of the women’s history program on the history department at UW was substantial. The students were dedicated and active, and would bring women’s history into the various courses with which they assisted. GL is proud of the accomplishments made, but does not believe there has been an intellectual conversion of her male colleagues at UW.GL explains some of the requirements and organizational aspects of the women’s history program which were adopted by the history department. Collective governance and annual retreat. One of the most important aspects of the women’s history program was the community created. Openness among students and faculty enabled problems to be dealt with effectively. Students also became very close and developed friendships.

Keywords: Collective governance; Community; Masters Thesis; Mentoring

01:18:59 - Building a Community

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Partial Transcript: And so we created a community of the graduate program

Segment Synopsis: One of the most important aspects of the women’s history program was the community created. Openness among students and faculty enabled problems to be dealt with effectively. Students also became very close and developed friendships. Initiatives led by students themselves. Student government in the women’s history program worked in a positive way.

Keywords: Community; LGBT history; Search committees; Women's History Month

01:23:05 - Impact of Women's History Program on Graduate Students

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Partial Transcript: Well what happened then was really ironic...

Segment Synopsis: GL explains that she not only taught an academic subject, but that she believed it was also necessary to affect behavior and action. She discusses the women’s history community and the involvement of men in the program particularly with job preparation.

Keywords: Job market; Women's history program

01:29:59 - Job Placements

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Partial Transcript: And perhaps with the jobs too, the job placement has been pretty good.

Segment Synopsis: The job placement of women’s history program students has been “sensational.” GL summarizes some successes of her students. A student who was also a nun. The program described as a “transformative” experience.

Keywords: Job market; Nun; Tenure-track

01:37:02 - Future of Women's History

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Partial Transcript: Well you were the first generation of women's studies proponents...

Segment Synopsis: The success of the women’s history program at UW has proven that this is a valid area of specialization and a part of the study of history.

Keywords: Generations; Women's history

01:42:42 - Session Two Introduction 01:42:52 - Impact of Student Support

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Partial Transcript: There were a few things we talked about after the session last time that I thought we would wrap up today.

Segment Synopsis: GL discusses student support in the history department. When she arrived at UW, no fellowship existed which was specifically for a graduate student in history, only university-wide fellowships were available. According to GL, history department faculty did not consider themselves responsible for the financial support of their students. GL supported her students with project assistant positions, projects funded from outside grants, and with teaching assistant positions in women’s studies.

Keywords: College of Letters & Science; Fellowships; Ford Foundation; Grants; Project Assistants; Teaching Assistants

01:51:23 - Gerda Lerner Fellowship

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Partial Transcript: Well Ken Sachs, and by that time I had endowed a fellowship...

Segment Synopsis: The apathy of professors regarding the livelihood of their students is outrageous. GL explains that she became a fund-raiser when she learned that one of her best students was working as a full-time night manager at McDonalds. Kenneth Sachs became chair of the Department of History, and followed GL’s example in supporting students. He did fundraising for the department and encouraged faculty members to endow fellowships.

Keywords: Donation; Fellowships; Kenneth Sachs; WARF

02:00:34 - Changing State of the Job Market

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Partial Transcript: But I'm saying that right now this minute, I'm a member of the AHA committee...

Segment Synopsis: GL discusses the difficulty of finding full-time employment in academia. As a member of the AHA Committee on Part-time Faculty, she says that it is the responsibility of academic faculty to remedy this disgraceful situation. Universities have become big corporations and are replacing tenured faculty with temporary employees. The number of tenured faculty positions in academia are decreasing.

Keywords: AHA; Academia; Adjuncts; Job market

02:05:21 - Origins of Lerner's Oral History Project

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Partial Transcript: We have talked about the grants, the fellowship -- Did you want to say anything more about the Oral history project?

Segment Synopsis: The oral history project organized by GL was outside of her research area, she explains. Her interest in oral history stems from her work as a community activist before she became a historian. She emphasizes the importance of having experience in the world in order to be able to ask the right questions when conducting research.

Keywords: Activism; Oral History; Women

02:08:59 - Graduate Studies at Columbia

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Partial Transcript: So when I came to Columbia as a graduate student at the age of 43...

Segment Synopsis: Her professors at Columbia ignored any aspect of women’s history. GL knew that women’s history mattered, even before it was an accepted field of study. At the time GL was doing graduate work there were four people in the United States publishing work on the women’s suffrage movement. It was not a field of study.

Keywords: Activism; Columbia University; Women's History

02:12:10 - Reinterpreting the Women's Movement

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Partial Transcript: And if you looked at the books that had been written in the monographs and the articles on the nineteenth century suffrage movement...

Segment Synopsis: One of GL’s graduate students at UW (Nancy Isenberg) had worked on a dissertation about the Seneca Falls convention in 1848. The student found that there were major misconceptions about the convention. One misinterpretation about women’s history reported by traditional historians is that the women’s movement was on hiatus from 1920 to the 1960s. GL did not believe there was a break in the women’s movement, and always made a point of showing the continuity in the movement. A former student of GL did research on the effects of suffrage in elections in Connecticut between 1920 and 1926. Women were active and organizing, but not embraced by their parties or by the political system. GL oversaw another dissertation on women’s political involvement in Milwaukee between 1945 and 1960.

Keywords: Antebellum period; Nancy Isenberg; Seneca Falls; Women's Movement

02:19:39 - Meeting Kay Clarenbach & Rethinking the Modern Women's Movement

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Partial Transcript: This is the background to the fact that I met Kay Clarenbach here...

Segment Synopsis: GL met Kay Clarenbach at UW and arranged for a student to be employed in taking her complete oral history. Kay was representative of a Midwestern group of women. She had been active without stop in women’s activities since her college days. She had served as the chairperson of the National Commission on the Status of Women. At the founding convention of NOW sixty-five percent of the women came from the Midwest. Kay Clarenbach became the national organizer of NOW and brought the entire network of Midwestern women’s organizations into the women’s movement. The majority of women in the women’s movement were not, as assumed by traditional historians, young radicals, but middle-aged mothers who had been active in women’s activities long before the foundation of NOW.

Keywords: Kay Clarenbach; National Commission of the Status of Women; Oral history; Women's movement

02:24:22 - Oral History of Women's Movement

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Partial Transcript: So we made a list, Kay and I, largely Kay Clarenbach made the list...

Segment Synopsis: As the project was such a large one, GL pursued a NEH grant. She had great difficulty in getting a grant, and explains the process she went through. Her proposal was turned down by the NEH. GL applied for a number of small grants. New NEH Director “hated [GL’s] guts,” but GL did not think that would matter. The proposal was turned down. The project was completed on a shoestring budget as a result.GL explains the oral history project. Twenty-two women were interviewed, and a profile emerged which supported GL’s thesis that the women’s movement was a continual, not intermittent, movement in the Midwest. A video about the oral history project was made, and GL aided in grant writing to fund its production. Dean Certain granted the remainder of the money needed to finish the film.

Keywords: Lynne Cheney; Midwestern history; Modern Women's Movement; NEH

02:36:38 - Support from Administration

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Partial Transcript: You wanted to mention something about the Deans? Yeah, the Deans and the administration have always been very supportive of me...

Segment Synopsis: GL mentions that the deans and administration at UW have always been very supportive. She served on the outreach committee, the long-range planning committee and on various departmental committees.

Keywords: Administraton; Committee work; Dean's Office

02:38:46 - The Madison Committee

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Partial Transcript: You also worked on the Madison Committee...

Segment Synopsis: The Madison Plan was a student-run committee on race; GL volunteered to serve as a faculty representative. The students on the committee were very eager to change the university culture regarding race, but did not have much organizing or bargaining experience. GL explains some of the demands presented by the committee and explains why these were difficult for UW to fulfill. Students chaired the committee and held the majority vote. GL attempted to guide the students toward reasonable expectations and demands. GL discusses the change in race relations on campus once Donna Shalala became chancellor.

Keywords: Donna Shalala; Faculty of color; Race; The Madison Commitee

02:49:55 - Beginning of Lerner's Teaching Career

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Partial Transcript: Let's talk about your teaching career...

Segment Synopsis: GL began her teaching career at Long Island University-Brooklyn while she was a graduate student at Columbia University. It was a challenging place to teach, as the classes were large, the teaching burden was heavy and the students were difficult. Student’s self-contempt and contempt for the faculty. GL attempted to instill confidence in her students on the first day. GL relates a confrontation which took place with a student who ignored her rule against eating and drinking in class.

Keywords: Brooklyn; Long Island University; Survey courses; Teaching

02:56:22 - First Position at Sarah Lawrence College

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Partial Transcript: I escaped from that for Sarah Lawrence.

Segment Synopsis: In 1972 at Sarah Lawrence College, GL set up a women’s studies program and a master’s program in women’s history, the first such programs in the country. She met with some opposition from faculty and administration. GL and her women’s history colleagues at Sarah Lawrence College were interested in creating a women’s history community; she explains the problems they encountered. They were interested in “feminist teaching,” which involved working in groups, the opposite of the individual instruction practiced at Sarah Lawrence College. GL discusses the involvement of Joan Kelly Gadol in the women’s studies and history programs at Sarah Lawrence.

Keywords: Liberal arts; Sarah Lawrence; Seminars

03:05:09 - "Women, Myth and Reality"

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Partial Transcript: We were all trained in our field, most of us...

Segment Synopsis: GL explains that women’s studies has to be interdisciplinary. She created a way of working within the Sarah Lawrence system to team-teach an interdisciplinary course in women’s studies. It was to be a collaboration between four faculty members and their seminars of twenty students each: Joan Kelly Gadol for Renaissance history, GL for American history, Eva Berliner Kollisch for literature and Sherry Ortner for anthropology. The course was titled “Women, Myth and Reality.” It was an overwhelming success and attracted over twenty faculty from the entire New York area. Half of a class period was devoted to lecture and half to discussion. The last four weeks were devoted to student presentations of research projects. The course resulted in three path-breaking monographs which defined scholarship in the field of women’s studies. The format of the seminar became the subject of teaching workshops given by the AHA. It became a model for feminist academic collaboration. GL began to break down the Sarah Lawrence individualism by restricting research topics in her seminars to six or seven topics for twenty students, which resulted in collaboration between students. One of the most important principles is the presentation of research; student work should be shared with the entire class. She used this method in her teaching at UW.

Keywords: Pedagogy; Sarah Lawrence; Teaching load; Women's studies

03:10:24 - Working with Students

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Partial Transcript: After that, to break down the Sarah Lawrence individualism, by restricting the students...

Segment Synopsis: GL began to break down the Sarah Lawrence individualism by restricting research topics in her seminars to six or seven topics for twenty students, which resulted in collaboration between students. One of the most important principles is the presentation of research; student work should be shared with the entire class. She used this method in her teaching at UW. GL arranged for students in her classes to have partners with which to collaborate and cooperate. Learning is not an individual matter, but occurs when there is dialogue and interaction with others. Emphasis is on the final product, rather than competition between students. Students feel more comfortable participating in discussion once they have made some contact with their partners in class.

Keywords: Pedagogy; Sarah Lawrence; Undergraduate reseaerch

03:16:14 - Mentoring Women

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Partial Transcript: One of the methods I used in the teaching always...

Segment Synopsis: In teaching women’s history, GL always encouraged women to speak confidently and to participate. This is an effort to reverse social and structural discrimination which have been internalized by women. One useful exercise is to make women aware that their own life experience has value and is a valid tool to use in thinking about history. GL gave assignments based on the personal experience of her students at the beginning of a women’s history class. She relates the story of one of her students at Sarah Lawrence College who initially refused to do an assignment based on the personal experience of her family. The student eventually earned a doctorate in history from Yale University.

Keywords: African-American history; Mentoring; Self-confidence; Sexism; Women's history

03:25:09 - Lerner's Activities Since Retiring

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Partial Transcript: Let's just talk briefly about your retirement. It doesn't sound like much of a retirement...

Segment Synopsis: Since retiring from UW in 1991, GL continues to teach, write and conduct research. She has published three books and just finished a fourth. She is now a well-known historian in the German-speaking world and has received various honors in Austria. As a departure from her previous research, GL has been teaching some courses on Jewish history and focusing on her experience as a Jewish exile and refugee.

Keywords: Germany; Historian; Jewish History; Judaism

03:30:11 - Exploring New Interests

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Partial Transcript: Coming out of a course that I developed at UW, that was a lecture course...

Segment Synopsis: GL discusses a new course she created and her interest in the history of the creation of deviant out-groups. GL discusses deviant out-groups and the conditions of their existence, namely as a necessary enemy of hierarchic structures which require an enemy in order to exist. GL’s analysis is that the target group is completely irrelevant. A workshop on multiculturalism has been developed by GL. It is her contention that hierarchic structures cannot be fought individually, as this only creates other marginalized and victimized groups. She has given nine workshops all over the world since 1994. GL was invited to participate in the revision of the Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences by writing an essay on the intersection of race, class, ethnicity and gender.

Keywords: Jewish history; Multiculturalism; Out-groups; Undergraduate teaching

03:39:00 - Future Projects

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Partial Transcript: One final question, what's next?

Segment Synopsis: GL discusses a possible future project, but has decided to give herself some space in retirement to explore various areas of interest.

Keywords: Fiction; Writing

03:41:53 - End of Interview