When Does the Genius do the Chores? Knowledge, Auto/Biography and Gender

Editing a Scholarly Persona in the New Field of Women’s History – Gerda Lerner’s Integrations and Taboos





scholarly persona, gender, domestic work, Women’s History


Gerda Lerner (1920–2013) was one of the most influential figures in the development of women’s and gender history. She knew the power of auto/biography and very consciously controlled her image through autobiographical writing. In this paper I want to analyze how Lerner built her scholarly persona to a large part on her autobiographical practices and how she kept on ‘editing’ this persona during her career and after it ended, aiming to integrate her various positions of exclusion and taboos as well as her diverse pioneering achievements. Looking more closely at three of Lerner’s autobiographical representations and inquiring into the gendered nature of the scholarly persona (with special regard to domestic arrangements), I want to illustrate how she was grappling with the integration of feminist consciousness into her scholarly selfhood in the late 1970s. At the same time, she made sure that her care work for her dying husband would not be visible to the scientific community. Other identities also remained taboo and could only be revealed after her career had ended – these include not only her well-known autobiographical outing as a Communist, but also her twenty-year identification as a housewife, which could only be related after leaving academia.

Author Biography

Katharina Prager, Wienbibliothek im Rathaus

DDr. Katharina Prager, historian and cultural scientist, heads the department for research and participation at the Wienbibliothek im Rathaus. Between 2012 and 2020 she worked as a researcher at the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for the History and Theory of Biography and the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute Digital History. She has published widely on life writing (with a focus on gender and digitization), on Vienna 1900 and on exile history. Among her recent publications is a comprehensive biography of Berthold Viertel.





When Does the Genius do the Chores? Knowledge, Auto/Biography and Gender