Harriet Fleisher Berger, a retired Drexel political science professor and an avid political supporter, died May 4 at the age of 94 from Parkinson’s disease.
Berger began teaching at Drexel in 1967 as an assistant political science professor and became an associate professor in 1971. She earned full tenure in 1972, becoming the first full-time political scientist to be tenured at Drexel. She continued to teach until she retired in 1988 at the age of 70.
While at Drexel, Berger taught undergraduate students the basics of government and political science in classes like “The Constitution and the Judicial Process” and “Urban Government and Local Government.” She was known for taking students enrolled in her Constitution class to the U.S. Supreme Court every year as a real-world introduction to politics. She had a personal connection with Justice William Brennan, appointed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956..
Berger, a very involved Democrat, was also known for her openness with all political views. She regularly hosted dinner parties at her East Falls home for all students regardless of major or GPA. This allowed students to get to know each other in a way that may not have occurred in a normal college setting.
In 1970, Drexel released Berger from teaching duties to let her work for six months to develop educational opportunities for students in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. When she returned,, she became an adviser for the co-op program.
During Drexel’s 1977 summer semester, Berger was a recipient of the N.E.H. Visiting Fellowship for Louis W. Koenig’s seminar on “Presidential Power and Democratic Constrains” for professors at New York University.
Berger’s involvement with politics and teaching stretched as far back as 1938, when she graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Wellesley College and began working for the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union in support of the New Deal and the workers’ rights movement, where she stayed until the 1960s.
In 1940, Berger was the chief researcher for a paper written by Elden LaMar and published by the Philadelphia Joint Board of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America titled “The Clothing Workers of Philadelphia: History of Their Struggles for Union and Security.” From there, Berger had 13 other papers published, many during her time as a professor at Drexel.
Berger also helped found the East Falls Community Council in 1950. She served on it as a member of the Democratic committee until 1980 in the 23rd Division of the 21st Ward in East Falls.
Berger graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1958 with her Master of Arts in political science and was a part-time teaching assistant to the Constitutional Law course at the University of Pennsylvania until 1967.
Berger broke barriers in 1967 when she earned her doctorate in political science from the University of Pennsylvania, becoming the first woman to earn a doctorate in that field at UPenn. She wrote her dissertation on collective bargaining.
Outside of Philadelphia, Berger was involved in Jamaican politics from 1972 to 1980 as a supporter of Prime Minister Michael Manley. She worked actively as an anti-colonialist and a New Deal democrat.
After her retirement, Berger continued her education at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, where she studied landscape and portrait painting. A huge supporter of the arts, she brought members of the Philadelphia Orchestra into her home during the 2000s to perform a string quartet.
Berger is survived by her sons, Jonathan and Daniel Berger, and two grandchildren.