Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Alarming changes

After our conversation last night at the Mary Daly Discussion Group, my friend Carolyn sent me this great link to this recent post on the New York Times Green Blog. A new draft report from the National Assessment and Development Advisory Committee (NCADAC). The Green Blog's Justin Gillis reports that the draft seems to be taking a much stronger stand about the seriousness of climate change and the ways that human activity is responsible for bringing climate change about:
If it survives in substantially its current form, the document will be a stark warning to the American people about what has already happened and what is coming.

“Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present,” the draft document says. “Americans are noticing changes all around them.

“Summers are longer and hotter, and periods of extreme heat last longer than any living American has ever experienced. Winters are generally shorter and warmer. Rain comes in heavier downpours, though in many regions there are longer dry spells in between.”

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Gerda Lerner, 1920-2013

I didn't know until I saw this piece by John Nichols at thenation.com that Gerda Lerner died on January 2. Gerda (Kronstein) Lerner's many accomplishments included joining the anti-Nazi resistance in Austria as a teenager, a lifetime of radical activism, and a groundbreaking role in creating the field of women's history. Nichols's post contained a link to Patrick Kiger's moving remembrance of Lerner published on the AARP blog.

Kiger recounts this story of Lerner's extraordinary courage, which seems to have been drawn from Lerner's autobiography, Fireweed:
Born in 1920 in Vienna, she was a 17-year-old high school student when the Nazis seized power in her country. Lerner secretly joined the anti-Hitler resistance, helping to circulate underground protest newspapers. She subsequently was arrested and jailed by authorities, who, fortunately for her, were unaware of the extent of her activism. Though terrified, she summoned up the astonishing bravery to write petitions — on toilet paper, the only paper she had — demanding that she be allowed to take the national exam, which Austrian students were required to undergo to qualify for college. Only after her father, a pharmacist and businessman, agreed to turn over his property to the Nazis was she was finally released (after six weeks in custody). She promptly reported to the hall where the test was being given. As an additional act of defiance, she demanded the right to eat while taking the exam, since she had been given such sparse rations during her imprisonment that she had lost 25 pounds. While munching a cheese roll, she wrote such an excellent essay that she received the highest possible grade.
Forced into exile in the United States to escape the Nazis, Lerner married and raised children. Finally, in her late thirties, she was able to begin taking college courses.

According to Lerner's biography in the Jewish Women's Archives:
Gerda immigrated to New York in 1939, the only member of her family to obtain a visa. Working as a waitress, salesgirl, office clerk, and X-ray technician to support herself while she learned English, she began to write fiction about Nazi brutality and the capacity to resist it. “The Prisoners” was published in 1941 and “The Russian Campaign” in 1943. She married Carl Lerner, a respected film editor, in 1941. They lived in Hollywood for some years before returning to New York. Their daughter, Stephanie, was born in 1945; their son, Daniel, in 1947.

Lerner became politically active in the Congress of American Women, a progressive grassroots women’s group concerned with economic and consumer issues. She also participated in events sponsored by the Emma Lazarus Federation, worked in support of the United Nations, and actively supported civil rights for African Americans. Continuing to write, she collaborated with Eve Merriam on a musical called the Singing of Women, which was produced off-Broadway in 1951. Her novel No Farewell (1955) focused on Vienna on the eve of German occupation. For Carl Lerner’s directorial debut she coauthored the screenplay Black Like Me (1964). She later described her husband’s death in a moving memoir, A Death of One’s Own (1978).

In the late 1950s, Lerner began work on a novel about Sarah and Angelina Grimké, the South Carolina sisters who migrated north, became featured speakers of the American antislavery society, and ignited the explosion of women’s rights within the abolitionist movement. Seeking more information about her subject, she enrolled in courses at the New School for Social Research. There her fascination with the topic prompted her to teach one of the first courses in women’s history. After completing a B.A. in 1963, Lerner went on to complete an M.A. and Ph.D. at Columbia in 1966. Her dissertation was published as The Grimké Sisters from South Carolina: Rebels Against Slavery (1967).
According to Wikipedia:
Lerner was among the first to bring a consciously feminist lens to the study of history, producing influential essays and books. Among her most important works are the documentary anthologies, Black Women in White America (1972) and The Female Experience (1976), the essay collections, The Majority Finds Its Past (1979) and Why History Matters (1997), The Creation of Patriarchy (1986), and The Creation of Feminist Consciousness (1993). She published Fireweed: A Political Autobiography in 2002.
She was also a founder of the National Organization for Women. Among her academic accomplishments were establishing the first graduate program in women's history at Sarah Lawrence College and the first Ph.D. program in women's history at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.