March 8th ~ International Women’s Day



A modern progressive world needs equality.


From China to Costa Rica, from Mali to Malaysia acclaimed singers and musicians, women and men, have come together to spread a message of unity and solidarity: We are “One Woman”.
Launching on International Women’s Day, 8 March 2013, the song is a rallying cry that inspires listeners to join the drive for women’s rights and gender equality. “One Woman” was written for UN Women, the global champion for women and girls worldwide, to celebrate its mission and work to improve women’s lives around the world.
This year, International Women’s Day focuses on ending violence against women — a gross human rights violation that affects up to 7 in 10 women and a top priority for UN Women. As commemorations are underway in all corners of the globe, “One Woman” reminds us that together, we can overcome violence and discrimination: “We Shall Shine!” Join us to help spread the word and enjoy this musical celebration of women worldwide.
Here is the a video of the song One Woman


History of International Women’s Day 

The first International Women’s Day events were run in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland in 1911 and attended by over one million people. 100 years on, International Women’s Day (IWD) has become a global mainstream phenomena celebrated across many countries and is an official holiday in approximately 25 countries including Afghanistan, Russia, Ukraine, Vietnam and Zambia.


International Women’s Day is a global celebration of the economic, political, and social achievements of women past, present, and future. However, activity has not always been on the increase. Australian entrepreneur and women’s campaigner Glenda Stone, who founded the http://www.internationalwomensday.com website, a global hub of events and information, said:

“A decade ago International Women’s Day was disappearing. Activity in Europe, where International Women’s Day actually began, was very low. Providing a global online platform helped sustain and accelerate momentum for this important day. Holding only a handful of events ten years ago, the United Kingdom has now become the global leader for International Women’s Day activity, followed sharply by Canada, United States and Australia. 2011 will see thousands of events globally for the first time.”

More recently, social networking websites like Twitter, Facebook and Youtube have also helped fuel International Women’s Day activity. Generally the day has moved away from its socialist Suffragette beginnings to become more mainstream in celebrating women’s achievements. Annually thousands of events are held throughout the world to inspire women and celebrate achievements. A global web of rich and diverse local activity connects women from all around the world ranging from political rallies, business conferences, government activities, networking events, local women’s craft markets, theatric performances, fashion parades and more.

Special Notes About International Women’s Day
• International Women’s Day (March 8th) is a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future.

• In some places like China, Russia, Vietnam and Bulgaria, International Women’s Day is a national holiday.


• The first IWD was observed on March 19, 1911 in Germany following a declaration by the Socialist Party of America. The idea of having an international women’s day was first put forward at the turn of the 20th century amid rapid world industrialization and economic expansion that led to protests over working conditions.
How will you celebrate International Women’s Day?

Mojo Monday ~ Designing A Vision of Peace


We talk about wanting peace.  What is peace? How do we achieve it?  Is it possible to obtain world peace?  Can we design a vision of peace? 

Israeli designer Ronny Edri is attempting to do just that.  It began with uploading to Facebook a simple poster of him and his daughter, with the words “Iranians we will never bomb your country.  We love you.”  Here is a video of Ronny Edri sharing about how it all began..




If you have yet to discover and “like” the Israel-Loves-Iran facebook page, please visit. I have been following along with this amazing project since it began.  This is a grassroots peace movement that shows how social media is changing how we can connect and see one another as people, not nationalities that are supposed to be at odds with one another.

This building of relationships and connections is incredibly powerful. When the faceless people of a nation suddenly have names and are sharing that neither wants war or mean each other harm, there is a shift that takes place.  A powerful shift.  Is it strong enough to hold back the tides of a war that political leaders may be manipulating into reality?

Thich Nhat Hanh shares this in his book Being Peace:

“During the war in Vietnam we young Buddhists organized ourselves to help victims of the war rebuild villages that had been destroyed by the bombs.

Many of us died during service, not only because of the bombs and the bullets, but because of the people who suspected us of being on the other side. We were able to understand the suffering of both sides, the communists and the anti-communists. We tried to be open to both, to understand this side and to understand that side, to be one with them. That is why we did not take a side, even though the whole world took sides. We tried to tell people our perception of the situation: that we wanted to stop the fighting, but the bombs were so loud. Sometimes we had to burn ourselves alive to get the message across, but even then the world could not hear us. They thought we were supporting a kind of political act. They didn’t know that it was a purely human action to be heard, to be understood. We wanted reconciliation, we did not want a victory. Working to help people in a circumstance like that is very dangerous, and many of us got killed. The communists killed us because they suspected that we were working with the Americans, and the anti-communists killed us because they thought that we were with the communists. But we did not want to give up and take one side.

The situation of the world is still like this. People completely identify with one side, one ideology. To understand the suffering and the fear of…[another citizen] we have to become one with him or her. To do so is dangerous-we will be suspected by both sides. But if we don’t do it, if we align ourselves with one side or the other, we will lose our chance to work for peace. Reconciliation is to understand both sides, to go to one side and describe the suffering being endured by the other side, and then to go to the other side and describe the suffering being endured by the first side. Doing only that will be a great help for peace.”

So how do we create understanding between people?  How do find common ground?  I think it is helpful as Thich Nhat Hahn recommends, is identifying with not just one side, but with both sides.  I think there can be much enlightenment when we look back and explore the history of a situation, the back story, so to speak.  What is the history between Iran and the United States of America?  Does the past between our two nations have any affect on the current situation?  If you want to learn more keep reading below.

The Iran Agenda:

I still cringe to this day when I recall George W. Bush’s State of the Union Address from January 29, 2002.  This is the speech in which Bush referred to  Iraq, Iran and North Korea as the “Axis of Evil.”  I still want to slap my forehead, shake my head and ask aloud to anyone listening, “How in the world did the President of the United States think it was okay to label three nations as evil, and even worse, do it in public at an event where the world was listening?”  

My own take on those events is that the administration was beating the drums of war and building their case to convince the American people that more wars would likely be necessary to protect their homeland.  The war in Afghanistan had begun on October 7, 2001, less than a month after the events of September 11th.   Then on March 19th, 2003, after many accusations that Iraq was hiding weapons of mass destruction, the United States, accompanied by the United Kingdom, Australia and Poland attacked Iraq.

Even after Bush’s axis of evil pronouncement  in 2002 a number of nations were alarmed at this statement. Mohammed Khatami, who was President of Iran at the time, had made a concerted effort to tone down hostile rhetoric toward the U.S. as part of a more pragmatic foreign policy, but he condemned Bush’s demonizing of Iran as “meddling, warmongering, insulting and a repetition of old propaganda.”

Many Iranians expressed sorrow and support for the United States after 9/11. There were even candlelight vigils held by Iranians.  What was also very fascinating to read in a book by Reese Erlich called The Iran Agenda: The Real Story of U.S. Policy and the Middle East Crisis is how “the Iranian government cooperated with the United States in its efforts to overthrow the Taliban in Afghanistan.  This may come as a surprise to those who want to neatly place all Islamic fundamentalists into one group, but Iran solidly opposed Taliban rule.  The Taliban murdered nine Iranian diplomats in 1998, almost leading the two countries to war.  Iran had supported the Northern Alliance fighting the Taliban.”  Iran was going to assist in the alliance to invade Afghanistan. The US initially praised Iran’s “constructive role” in the meetings.  “In January 2002, Iran pledged $560 million for Afghan reconstruction aid, the largest amount offered from a third world country.”  According to the author Erlich, Iranian officials told him “that they expected the United States to extend the contacts over Afghanistan into a wider dialogue about U.S.-Iranian relations.”  Instead President Bush proceeded to denounce Iran later that same month as part of the “axis of evil” and this effectively shut down relations.


An organization called Just Foreign Policy includes on their web site the following statement: “The Bush Administration has deployed a rhetoric of confrontation against Iran, including the threat of military force without United Nations or even Congressional authorization. Many of the Bush Administration’s claims that Iran is a threat echo claims used to justify the U.S. invasion of Iraq and rest on similarly dubious evidence. Policies have been approved, such as authorizing the killing of Iranian officials in Iraq, that could easily escalate into a broader military confrontation.”  In addition they state “Americans are being told that Iran is on the brink of developing nuclear weapons, supports terrorism, is helping to kill American soldiers in Iraq, and is determined to destroy Israel. Therefore, the reasoning goes, we must prepare to attack Iran.”


Stephen Kinzer, the award winning author and former foreign correspondent for the New York Times rejects this argument. He, along with a diverse group of other experts on Iran, Congressional leaders and military experts have been traveling across the country to present other perspectives and options for a more rational foreign policy towards Iran. You can read more about their ideas at the web site The Folly of Attacking Iran, which is also part of the Just Foreign Policy organization.

My understanding of the history of Iran was greatly illuminated by reading Stephen Kinzer’s gripping book called All The Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror. In great detail the book shows how the United States has played an active role in Iran for decades, often in ways resented by Iranians. The USA organized a coup in 1953 against the popular and democratically elected Prime-Minister Mohammad Mossadegh. Mossadegh had been considered a problem by the British for many years. The British over the years had gained control of various assets of Iran, including their oil. While the British in Iran lived in beautiful homes with manicured lawns and enjoyed swimming pools and such, the Iranians who worked for the oil company lived in squalor. Repeated requests to the British to share the profits more equitably with Iran and to improve conditions and wages for the workers were always met with disdain and no change.


As Iran began to question the British involvement in their county things grew more heated. The British were unwilling to be diplomatic or negotiate. They even tried to convince President Truman to help them overthrow Mossadegh so they could replace him with someone they could control. President Truman wanted no part in their imperialistic desires. The British were almost ready to just attack and take over Iran but world opinion kept them at bay a bit longer. When Truman didn’t run for office again and President Eisenhower was elected the British suspected the USA might be more amenable to involve themselves in Iran. They were correct. Certain members of Eisenhower’s administration were very open to the idea of choreographing regime change. The overthrow of Iran in 1953 is considered to be the very first coup that the American CIA organized.

After the coup, the monarchy of the Shah was reinstated and supported by the United States. There are many who believe that Iran could well have continued on the path of democracy if it wasn’t for the meddling of the USA and Great Britain. The irony is that America is supposed to be the great supporter of democracy and yet it overthrew a democratic prime minister in order to give a monarch full control of the nation.

Years later the people of Iran rose up to remove the Shah, who some say ruled with an iron fist. Under his rule he created a domestic security and intelligence organization called Savak. According to articles in Federation of American Scientists and TIME magazine, SAVAK “tortured and murdered thousands of the Shah’s opponents. It has been described as Iran’s “most hated and feared institution” prior to revolution of 1979, for its association with the foreign CIA intelligence organization, and its torture and execution of regime opponents. It’s “torture methods included electric shock, whipping, beating, inserting broken glass and pouring boiling water into the rectum, tying weights to the testicles, and the extraction of teeth and nails.” After the 1979 revolution, a CIA film was found which had been made for Savak security forces on how to torture women.

In the Bush years there were alarming headlines in the news in which the Bush administration accused Iran of seeking to build nuclear weapons.   A decade later this topic continues to make headlines and is sometimes a topic of debate, as we saw in the sparring between Vice President Biden and Paul Ryan.  Iran has however consistently maintained that they are only seeking nuclear power to improve conditions in their country and they are adamant in insisting that other countries have no right to dictate that they cannot do so. 

Here is a brief introduction to the history of the nuclear program of Iran as taken from Wikipedia.  Iran’s nuclear program was “launched in the 1950’s with the help of the United States as part of the Atoms for Peace program. The participation of the United States and Western European governments in Iran’s nuclear program continued until the 1979 Iranian Revolution that toppled the Shah of Iran. After the 1979 revolution, the clandestine research program was disbanded by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who had serious religious reservations about nuclear weapons, which he considered evil in terms of Muslim jurisprudence. Small scale research restarted during the Iran-Iraq war, and underwent significant expansion after the Ayatollah’s death in 1989. Iran’s nuclear program has included several research sites, two uranium mines, a research reactor, and uranium processing facilities that include three known uranium enrichment plants.

In a January 2012 article in Salon Magazine, Glenn Greenwald,  noted the “killing of at least five Iranian nuclear scientists during 2010 and 2011, by unknown attackers, with no apparent outcry in the Western media.”  When researching about Mossad, the Israeli Intelligence agency, more details were forthcoming about how “Mossad has been accused of assassinating Masoud Alimohammadi, Ardeshir Hosseinpour, Majid Shahriari, Darioush Rezaeinejad and Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan; scientists involved in the Iranian nuclear program.”  Per Wikipedia, Mossad “is also suspected of being behind the attempted assassination of Iranian nuclear scientist Fereydoon Abbasi.  Meir Daganwho served as Director of the Mossad from 2002 until 2009 – while not taking credit for the assassinations, praised them in an interview with a journalist, saying ‘the removal of important brains’ from the Iranian nuclear project had achieved so-called ‘white defections,’ frightening other Iranian nuclear scientists into requesting that they be transferred to civilian projects.”

“In early February 2012, Mossad director Tamir Pardo met with U.S. national security officials in Washington, D.C. to sound them out on possible American reactions in the event Israel attacked Iran over the objections of the United States.”


Author Stephen Kinzer also addresses the nuclear issue in the preface to his book All the Shah’s Men: “The only way Iran can reasonably be expected to curb its nuclear ambitions would be through some kind of ‘grand bargain’ in which its own security concerns would be addressed.  That would probably require a solution that goes beyond Iran’s borders and creates a new security architecture for the Middle East.  It is not reasonable to expect Iran to abandon its nuclear program as long as its main regional enemy, Israel, and its main world enemy, the United States, are nuclear-armed and issuing a stream of barely veiled threats to Iran.”

I think that the Just Foreign Policy organization summed it up well when they stated the following “The recent history of relations between the United States and Iran has been marked by misunderstanding and mistrust shaped by the unjust use of violence and threats of violence. Violent conflict has not served the interests of either country. Military threats deepen hostilities and resentment and future conflict becomes more likely. Serious diplomacy between our two countries is needed.”

I would add to the need for greater diplomacy the following: 

  • The healing of old wounds. 
  • The releasing of the past.  
  • Forgiveness.  
  • Living in the present.  
  • Connecting. 
  • Finding common ground.
  • Choosing Love.
  • Choosing Peace.

I have written before about Iyanla Vanzant’s prescription for working through an issue, which is to Feel,  Deal, and then Heal.  Feel.  Deal. Heal.  Do you think we could get her to do an intervention for some heads of state?  Have her give them some straight talk and get them to play nice with one another and work together to make a peaceful world our reality?  

In the meantime let us join the thousands of people sending in their photos and sentiments of wanting there to be peace, compassion, friendship, love and understanding between us all.  While some may be lost in a world of revenge, greed, fear, anger, hatred and ignorance, those of us who see there is another way will continue to design a vision of peace.

Please visit the Israel-Loves-Iran Facebook page and add your part to this campaign.  There are other pages now too, such as America-Loves-Iran that you can also visit, “like” and share with your family and friends.  It is through such positive sharing and enlightening that we tear down walls and bridge gaps of misunderstanding and fear. We can all be a spokesperson for peace.  There can never be too many.  





If you can take the time, below is an incredibly eye-opening and informative video with Rick Steves who makes traveling documentaries.  In this video he visits Iran and allows us a glimpse into the lives of current day Iranians, while also sharing some of the rich history of this fascinating country.














Mojo Monday – Our Stories

What do we know about the world?  How do we know what we know?  We might respond that we have learned about our world through books and classes we have taken in school.  What it comes down to is that our human world is based on story.   For thousands of years stories were memorized and passed down verbally through the generations.  Once written language came into being stories were recorded in written form.
I have always loved stories and probably because of this I became an avid reader at a very early age.  I also loved learning about the world, different cultures and the history of the people who have inhabited this planet for thousands of years.  My six year old twin daughters just started first grade and we had an option at their school to have them take an early morning enrichment class in which they will learn Spanish and about Latin culture.  One day after picking them up from school they were excited to share with me the new Spanish words they had learned that day.  They asked me “Where do people speak Spanish?” and I explained a bit about Spain and then how the Spaniards had traveled to what is now known as Mexico, and how the language was adopted by this other land.  My daughter Aubrey then asked me from the back seat “Mommy, how do you know all these things?”  It was such a curious question and I responded that I had learned about these things from books and classes and that my love of history led me to take a lot of history classes. 
While I may have a college degree in history I sometimes still wonder “What is history?”  Sure there are some hard facts involved with so-and-so being born on such and such a date, or a war beginning in a particular place on a particular date, but those facts are part of a bigger story, a human story.  While we may think that our history books are based on facts, they are also infused with the perceptions and biases of the historians that wrote them in their current time.  How historians view something in a particular era, century, or even in a particular decade, changes and evolves, because the historians themselves are going to be influenced by their own life story, which has been formed by the time period they grew up, their personal views, opinions, prejudices and personal experiences.   There are also the ones behind the scenes, such as the publisher or the powers behind a publishing house, who may have their own ideas or agendas into what gets published and what doesn’t.  One may try to be impartial and unbiased, but our own stories will and can color how we respond or view things.
One of the papers I wrote for a university history class compiled how the  historical perspectives changed over time regarding Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Dubois and their roles in the civil rights movement.  Both hold a significant place in American history and African American history.  It was fascinating to see how the historical views and opinions regarding these two men shifted and evolved through the years. 
Card from The Voice of Knowledge deck by Don Miguel Ruiz

Where I am leading with this is to a much more personal level.   We all have stories.  Our lives are stories, series of happenings, events, activities, doings, and while some fade into the mists of the past and out of our memories, others stay with us.  Some of them are certainly, and hopefully, positive, and bring forth feelings of nostalgia and can even have the power to conjure up feelings of contentment and happiness even in the present moment.  Yet our human nature also gives us a tendency to remember and hold on to events that were painful, and if we give our stories power and hold to them tightly, these stories can affect us deeply.   We can even give them the power to create very real psychic wounds.  The painful stories, if held onto too tightly, and believed in strongly enough, can unfortunately lead us to negative spaces and dark places. 
Just like any other person walking this earth I have my own collection of stories. Stories about my childhood, my family, events that took place, traditions carried on, my young adulthood, my relationships and on and on and on.  Some of the stories were sweet, others comical, some were painful, and I even allowed a few to take me to dark wounded places.  Some life events came into alignment though that led me to delve deeper into my stories, sometimes so painfully, that I went through what I describe as a dark night of the soul, and yet the healing that took place on the journey has been most remarkable.  These life events include: choosing a life partner, moving, marrying, becoming a mother to twins, struggling in my marriage, shutting down, gaining 100 lbs, retreating from relationships, experiencing shifts in friendships, questioning my life purpose, developing cracks in my rose-colored glasses, entering into therapy, learning to accept, then like and love myself, forgiving both myself and others, finding a tribe and community (Cosmic Cowgirls) that nurtures me, gaining courage, taking chances, entering into marriage counseling and therapy one more time, claiming to be an artist and writer, writing, painting, learning, teaching, loving and grasping the true meaning of grace.
I have been contemplating and wondering about how we hold onto and process our pain and wounds.  What I realize from own experiences it that it took doing a few key things that culminated in me seeing my stories with new eyes.   The first was the talk therapy that helped to purge all the really old stuff that had been crammed into my soul for way too long.  Yet, I know that talk therapy would not have been quite enough to help move me through my process.  What also deserves a great deal of credit for the personal growth and healing that took place is the work I have done with Cosmic Cowgirls.  I entered into the tribe via attending the Bountiful conference in October 2008.  The work that Cosmic Cowgirls is doing is revolutionary.  There is a reason that women from all walks of life, artists, writers, therapists, healers, poets, dancers, singers, spiritual leaders and creatives of all types, are being drawn to the courses and workshops being offered.   While some women may be initially drawn to the painting portion of the classes, or others to the writing part of the classes, it is how everything is blended together spiritually, that leads one through a process unlike any other.  
What is it that Cosmic Cowgirls offers that promotes healing and personal growth? As an example I will share my most recent experience at the Cosmic Cowgirls Feast of Frida Story Weaving workshop.  Our Cosmic Cowgirls always begin with us gathering in circle.  The space is safe and sacred.   During our circle time we share in the Red Thread Ceremony where a long red thread is passed from woman to woman as we share our names and usually some word or sentence that gives insight into where we are at or what we wish to gain from our experience with one another.  The Red Thread Ceremony always concludes with each woman getting to keep a piece of the red thread as it represents how we are all connected to one another. 
In this particular workshop we were focused on artist Frida Kahlo and yet we also took it to a very personal level by reflecting on our own stories.  We created paper altars over the course of the two days and they came into being from prompts, by quiet reflection, journaling, sketching, some one-on-one sharing, and then turning the stories into art with drawings and paintings. 
This particular process had us pick one particular story from our past.  In the first corner of the panel of the altar one was to share a story about something that had happened.  An example given was of a woman who was told her art wasn’t any good while the art instructor tore up her picture.    In this particular version the person was then to depict what she decided about herself based on that one experience or story.  In this particular situation the woman decided or came to believe that she had no artistic abilities.  The next panel or part of the story was to share how this experienced had informed who she was now.  In our example this woman feels sad and feels creatively stuck.  In processing this story she is asked if this story is true.  Does this one experience really mean she is not an artist?  Does the opinion of this art instructor really mean anything?   The woman was then asked to claim a new belief about herself, in essence to create a new story for herself.  In her new story this woman gets to claim herself an artist and free her creative spirit. 
Card from The Voice of Knowledge deck by Don Miguel Ruiz

What I found refreshing for me during this experience is that most of my old stories had lost their charge.  I knew what the old story was and I could write about it and talk about it, but I no longer felt that emotional tug when I thought about it.  It was an aha moment of realizing how far I had come in healing old wounds.  Writer and inspirational speaker Iyanla Vanzant states that “When you can tell the story and it doesn’t bring up any pain and tears, then you are healed.”   I found that when it came to creating my own personal altar I was much more focused on my image that represented me today and on what I was claiming for me now and in the future.  Most importantly I really believed what I was claiming, rather than it being wishful thinking or about where I wanted to get to at some point in the future.
Creating new stories for oneself may take some time.  It may also take time to release old stories.  Some questions to ask yourself as you consider your own stories are “How does this story serve me and my life?”  Is it helpful?  Does it make me feel good or bad about myself?  Is it healing or hurtful?  If it protected me in the past, do I still need protecting now? 
You can also consider viewing your own stories through a more neutral and objective lens.  If you have ever felt that you are not enough.  Take a step back and ask yourself “Is that true?”   
Author Kris King who wrote a beautifully thoughtful book called My Heart Has Wings: 52 Empowering Reflections on Living, Learning, and Loving wrote this about telling stories, “If you want your future to be a repeat of your past, keep telling your story.  If you want your future to be a bold and daring adventure, start dreaming. The choice is yours!” 
At Cosmic Cowgirls we believe that you get to write your story, paint your story, dance your story, dream your story, sing your story, create your story and most certainly, even turn your story into poetry.  

Mojo Monday ~ Gerda Lerner

In 2011 women in the USA may hear of the injustices and lack of rights of women in other countries and wonder how is this possible?  Our younger generations of women residing may take many things for granted that women in this country once had to fight for and in some cases even go to jail over. 

For example in 1769 American colonies based their laws on the English common law, which was summarized in the Blackstone Commentaries. It said, “By marriage, the husband and wife are one person in the law. The very being and legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage, or at least is incorporated into that of her husband under whose wing and protection she performs everything.”  

Once upon a time, women in this country, upon marrying, forfeited all their property to the ownership of their husband.  After the passing of the New York’s Married Women’s Property Act in 1848, which granted married women some control over their property and earnings, other states slowly followed suit.  

Some of these laws and events may seem like ancient history, however if one reads more about the history of women’s rights, it is shocking to learn what laws have have only been passed in recent years that protect women’s rights. I want to encourage every woman in the world to learn about the women in history who have made helped to make our world a better place for women.

This leads me to introduce you to Gerda Lerner, PhD who turned 91 years old on April 30th this year.  Gerda is the founder of women’s studies in the USA.  She was born Gerda Kronstein in Vienna, Austria on April 30, 1920, and was the first child of Ilona and Robert Kronstein, an affluent Jewish couple. Her father was a pharmacist, her mother an artist. 



Here is how Gerda describes some of her early years in her own writing:

“I was born a middle-class Jewish girl in Vienna in 1920.  My family always lived in a nest of security surrounded by the vast insecurity of a truncated former empire, repeatedly threatened by invasion and instability.  To be born and raised Jewish in a country in which Catholicism was the state religion and anti-Semitism was an honored political tradition meant, from early on, to be branded as different.  Jews were set apart, we were not ‘normal.’  Fascists and anti-Semites were organized in political parties and, in the years of my growing up, became more and more powerful.  Finally it was not a question of whether they would come to power, but when.”

“What of the life of the mind?  I received mixed messages in the family.  My father, a pharmacist, exemplified the virtues of scientific inquiry, of respect for verifiable truths and replicable experiments.”

“My mother was a sort of feminist, heavily influenced by Ibsen, Scandinavian novelists, and French avante garde thinkers.  She was a self-defined Bohemian, rebelling against the bourgeois standards of propriety, advocating sexual freedom, and experimenting with all kinds of then novel practices, from vegetarianism to Yoga.  She was unhappy in her marriage and revolted against the traditional roles of housewife and mother.  She fashioned an alternate lifestyle for herself that scandalized her mother-in-law, with whom she lived in a constant state of warfare.  My mother was an artist and wanted to focus on that vocation, something she was not fully able to do until the years of emigration, when she was free of familial responsibilities.  She had a studio in the city, where she kept a kind of salon for young artists and writers.  Despite their marital difficulties, my father helped her artistic development in every way.”

Following the take over of Austria by the Nazis, she joined the anti-Nazi resistance, and spent six weeks, including her eighteenth birthday, in an Austrian jail. Her family was able to escape from Austria and persecution by the Nazis, but while they remained in Europe, Gerda with the help of a young man named Bobby Jensen, immigrated to the United States in 1939.  After working a series of jobs and marrying and divorcing Jensen, she met and married Carl Lerner, a young theater director. Gerda shares this about her life:
“At this time, when I look back on my life and my work, I see patterns and connections that were not so clearly visible at an earlier stage of my life.  The impact of outside political and social events that I experienced in childhood and as a teenager shaped my connection to history:  I was a victim of terror and persecution; my life was deeply affected by historical events.  As a witness to terrible events, I early learned that history matters.  On the other side, a childhood in which artistic creativity and expression were cherished and in which learning was considered not only a practical means of career building, but a means of finding equilibrium and meaning in life well equipped me for survival as a refuge.  The life of learning and thinking would always be connected for me with teaching others and with finding a way of applying what I knew to the problems in society.”

“Growing up under a fascist government as a young girl, I wanted to change the world.  Antifascism was real to me, a ray of hope in a hopeless environment – it meant democracy, free elections, equal rights for al citizens, freedom of thought.  During a short stay in a Nazi jail, from which at the time I had no hope of ever escaping, I learned from my cell mates that political action meant working with others.  Once could not survive alone.”

“Later, in America, as an unskilled immigrant worker, I learned firsthand what it meant to be poor and without a support network.  I had lived my childhood and adolescence in middle-class comfort; now I was on my own in a labor market in which women were restricted to only the most undesirable jobs.  I worked as a domestic, as an office worker, as a salesgirl, and, after a year of training, as a medical technician — always at minimum wages and without job security.  During job searches and on the job I experienced discrimination against women –pervasive, sometimes subtle, often open.  At times it was mixed with other forms of discrimination.  I applied for a job as a switchboard operator at the New York Telephone company.  I never made it past the first interview.  ‘We don’t hire Jewish girls,’ she informed me.  ‘Why?’ ‘Their arms are too short to reach the switches.’ That was a new one…

Gerda and Carl Lerner had two children and remained married until his death in 1976.  It wasn’t until she had raised her children that she decided to go to college.  Here is how she describes the experience:

“In the Fall of ’63 I entered Columbia University.  I was forty-three years old; my daughter was in college and my son was in high-school.  My husband was busy with a successful career as a film-maker and teacher of film.  I had shopped around before selecting a graduate school in order to be allowed to do a biography of the Grimke sisters, the only Southern women to become agents and lecturers of the American Anti-Slavery Society, as my dissertation.  Columbia was the only place where the department chairman was willing to bend the institutional regulations so as to meet my needs.  The topic, on which I had already been working for four years, was approved for my dissertation, even before I had fulfilled my orals requirements.  Due to this flexibility, I was able to earn both the M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in three years from the time I entered, while also teaching part-time at the New School and for the final year at Long Island University in Brooklyn.”

 
“In a way, my three years of graduate study were the happiest years of my life.  It was the first time in my adult life I had time and space for thinking and learning.  Greedy for knowledge, the way only people who have long been denied an education can be, I gave up all recreation, social life, and other interests.  More than anything else I was driven by an urgency to learn what I needed to know in order to carry out a passionate ambition, which by then had take concrete shape in my mind.”

“During the interview at Columbia prior to my admission to the Ph.D. program, I was asked a standard question: Why did I take up the study of history?  Without hesitation, I replied that I wanted to put women into history.  No, I corrected myself, not put them into history, because they are already in it.  I want to complete the work begun by Mary Beard.  This announcement was, not surprisingly, greeted by astonishment.  Just what did I have in mind?  And anyway, what was Women’s History?  The question set me off into a lengthy explanation, on which I have played variations for the past forty years.  I ended in somewhat utopian fashion: ‘I want Women’s History to be legitimate, to be part of every curriculum on every level, and I want people to be able to take Ph.D.s in the subject and not have to say they are doing something else.”


“As if my age and unusual background did not sufficiently mark me as ‘different’ from other students, I set myself further apart with this little speech, as being opinionated and having grandiose ambitions.  But my real difficulty in graduate school was not so much style as substance – I could not accept the content of the curriculum, the worldview I was being taught.”

“In the twenty-five years since I had left school in Vienna, I had been an unskilled and later semi-skilled worker, a housewife, a mother, a community activist.  In all these roles I met an active group of women, who worked quietly and without public recognition, usually without pay and frequently without an awareness of the significance of the work they were doing.  Political organizations were influenced by their work, yet no one would ever know of their existence through the writings of historians or through the media.”

“Now, in one of the best graduate schools in the country I was presented with a history of the past in which women did not seem to exist, except for a few rulers or some who created disturbances.  What I was learning in graduate school did not so much leave out continents and their people, as had my Viennese education, as it left out half the human race, women.”

“I found it impossible to accept such a version of the past as truth.  I questioned it in seminars and in private discussions with faculty, and I was quickly made the target of ridicule by my teachers and classmates.  Had I been a young woman just out of college, I probably could not have withstood this social pressure.  Still, after a while, I made a place for myself and even won the respect of some of the faculty for my specialized knowledge.  I learned sometimes from my professors, often against them, and much by trail and error, but always I tested what I was learning against what I already knew form living.  What I brought as a person to history was inseparable from my intellectual approach to the subject; I never accepted the need for a separation of theory and practice.  My passionate commitment to Women’s History was grounded in my life.”

Lastly here are some of Gerda’s thoughts on the importance of recognizing women in history:

“In U.S. historiography, as in American popular culture, historians have tended to over-emphasize the role of the individual in history.  Great men are identified as founders and leaders; they become the virtual representatives of the movement: William Lloyd Garrison for abolition, Eugene Debs for the socialist movement, Martin Luther King Jr. for the civil rights movement.  In fact, no mass movement of any significance is carried forward by and dependent upon on leader, or one symbol.  There are always leaders of subgroups, of local and regional organizations, competing leaders representing differing viewpoints, an, of course, the ground troops of anonymous activists.  And, as can be shown in each of the above cases, emphasis on the ‘great man’ omits women, minorities, many of the actual agents of social change.  In so doing it gives a partial, an erroneous picture of how social change was actually achieved in the past and thereby fosters apathy and confusion about how social change can be made in the present.”

“When I undertook to study the past of women I did not know that I would have to learn more than several advanced academic degrees could encompass.  I would have to learn to think in opposition; to free myself from patriarchal thought and constrains; to learn to withstand ridicule, contempt, and obstinate resistance.”

Dr. Gerda Lerner on her 90th Birthday (April 2010)
Gerda Lerner has published a significant number of books.  Her first book was written in 1955.  The most recent publication was released in 2003. Her writings have continually recognized the importance of women in history. In 1981 Dr. Lerner became the first woman in fifty years to be elected president of the Organization of American Historians. Gerda Lerner has created a lasting legacy. We must be the ones to ensure that a women such as Dr. Gerda Lerner is not forgotten and that her name and contributions are recorded in history books of the future.

How do you think we can ensure that more people learn about women like Gerda Lerner?  

What are your thoughts about Gerda Lerner’s life?

Did it surprise or shock you that Gerda Lerner met with resistance to developing women’s studies and women’s history courses at the university level?

Some of Gerda Lerner’s Professional Accomplishments:

Musical

  • Singing of Women (1951, with Eve Merriam)

Screenplays

  • Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom (1957)
  • Black Like Me (1964)
  • Home for Easter (n.d.)

Books

  • No Farewell (1955) an autobiographical novel
  • The Grimké Sisters from South Carolina: Rebels against Authority (1967)
  • The Woman in American History [ed.] (1971)
  • Black Women in White America: A Documentary History (1972)
  • The Female Experience: An American Documentary (1976)
  • A Death of One’s Own (1978/2006)
  • The Majority Finds Its Past: Placing Women in History (1979)
  • Teaching Women’s History (1981)
  • Women’s Diaries of the Westward Journey (1982)
  • The Creation of Patriarchy (1986)
  • Why History Matters (1997)
  • The Creation of Feminist Consciousness (1993)
  • Scholarship in Women’s History Rediscovered & New (1994)
  • Fireweed: A Political Autobiography (2003)










Here is a video of Gerda Lerner, PhD being interviewed: