Stephanie Lerner recalled one particular hike with her mother about 30 years ago on a steamy California day. Stephanie Lerner brought a light day-pack, but Gerda Lerner toted a hefty 50-pound sack because she wanted to train for future hikes.
"I was much younger and very in shape. But at a certain point I said I couldn't do it anymore," Stephanie Lerner said. "She just went on ahead. That was her joy, her determination."
Gerda Lerner wrote several textbooks on women's history, including "The Creation of Patriarchy" and "The Creation of Feminist Consciousness." She also edited "Black Women in White America," one of the first books to document the struggles and contributions of black women in American history.
She married Carl Lerner, a respected film editor, in 1941. They lived in Hollywood for a few years before returning to New York.
The couple was involved in activism that ranged from attempting to unionize the film industry to working in the civil rights movement.
When asked how she developed such a strong sense of justice and fairness, she told the Wisconsin Academy Review that the feeling started in childhood. She recalled watching her mother drop items on the floor and walk away, leaving servants to clean up her mess.
"I wanted the world to be a just and fair place, and it obviously wasn't — and that disturbed me right from the beginning," she said.
She became determined to fight for equality, and she encouraged others to take up their own fights against inequality. She said people who want to change the world don't need to be part of a large organized group — they just have to find a cause they believe in and never stop fighting for it.
She credited that philosophy for helping her remain happy despite the horrors she lived through as a young woman.
"I am happy because I found the balance between adjusting, or surviving what I was put through, and acting for what I believed in," she said in 2002. "That's the key."
Associated Press researcher Barbara Sambriski in New York contributed to this report.
Dinesh Ramde can be reached at dramde(at)ap.org.