Gerda Lerner taught at my alma mater, the University of Wisconsin at Madison (UW). She was hired a few years after I left. She helped create its first graduate program in women's history, as she had done when she taught at Sarah Lawrence College.
The memories are of that time, a turbulent time, when the experiences and voices and views of women were just beginning to be heard and taken seriously in the public arena. For me it was a time of change and reflection, a young mother, a historian and social activist, trying to find my place in the world.
It had taken me some 10 years after completing my Master's thesis.
My girls were born in
But his patience and confidence were eventually rewarded. He was the first person I called after I got the PhD. He was thrilled when I told him it was done, that I had a pleasant dissertation meeting back in Madison, and he could call me Dr. Fran Curro Cary.
I had come from an all-women’s college, graduated Phi Beta Kappa, Magna Cum Laude. I just happened to be one of the few women in my
l was taken aback at the Jensen interview. I went in with such excitement, and came out feeling a bit diminished. I brushed it aside. I took graduate school as a logical next step in my education. I had gotten a scholarship to
I remember having a long discussion on American foreign policy with a William Appleman Williams student who took me to interpretations I had never considered. I remember arguing about a recent study of slavery, Stanley Elkins I think it was, with a fellow graduate student at the base of the Abraham Lincoln statue on Bascom Hill; it was -30 degrees, beyond freezing, but that didn't stop us. I did get some frostbite on exposed knees, but so what?
I completed my MA thesis on journalist Walter Lippman and his view of the World Wars (which the department selected for publication, the only thesis selected at the time), and then continued my studies and research toward the PhD degree. When I came home from the hospital after delivering Elissa, I had 80 bluebooks on my desk, waiting to be graded. That was February 1965.
A whole new world opened up, a world where women were an integral part of the American experience and contributed to social change and reform, to equality in education, politics, the workplace, the professions. These were achievements that women fought for inch by inch, against ingrained prejudice and social outrage, against being thought of as "mannish" and worse, during times when public opinion stood soundly against them.
But one thing is certain. We will have a woman president one day. And that woman will stand on the shoulders of the ordinary and extraordinary women who came before her. She will stand on the shoulders of the brave pioneers who fought fearlessly to move America toward it's ideals. Gerda Lerner and the hundreds of women's history scholars who have accompanied and followed her have taught us that. Gerda Lerner embodied our struggles and our dreams.