MacLEAN: So just hearing you talk about this - you know, Sojourner Truth, the Lowell Mill Girls - what do you think of this idea that seems to be out there among many young women historians, now among graduate students, that women's history ignored race and class in the early years and didn't even pick up these issues until the 80s and 90s?...Is that the way you remember it?
LERNER: No, they're wrong. They're wrong. They're wrong. [Emphatic]. You can say that only if you ignore the women of the left. But the women of the left were very important. I mean all you have to do is open Eleanor Flexner's book. It paid a lot of attention to black women. And everything I wrote in that period had black women in it. And there were others, you know. I mean it just wasn't true.
MacLEAN: Did you know Eleanor Flexner?
LERNER: Yeah, I knew Eleanor Flexner.
MacLEAN: In the early years, you know, before she published Century of Struggle?
LERNER: No. No, I knew her through that book. I contacted her when I came to Smith to do my research. And she was living there.
MacLEAN: We read that in your women's history class in my first year at graduate school here. It's a great book. I mean, it's still a good read today….
LERNER: Yeah, it was. It was very important. And so I looked her up and then we had contact, quite intimate contact, for a number of years. But she was a very difficult person. And again, if you silence the witnesses and you silence the people who did what you say nobody did, then of course you end up with a distorted picture. But it's just not true.
MacLEAN: But somehow there's this notion that people marched in step, in cohorts, where everybody thought the same way, and there weren't arguments about these things, which [is] ridiculous.
LERNER: Ridiculous. I mean Eleanor -
MacLEAN: There is a letter from you to Betty Friedan in her papers …saying, Very nice book you wrote but where are the trade union women and black women?
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