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Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

GERFEN, ELIZABETH H.

GERFEN, ELIZABETH H.

GERFEN, ELIZABETH H. (1901-14 June 1984), nicknamed Tante Litz, chaired the foreign language department at LAUREL SCHOOL (1940s-71) and was known as "La Grande Dame de E. 115th Street" for her activism on behalf of UNIVERSITY CIRCLE residents. Gerfen was born in Gibsonburg, OH to immigrants from Alsace, France, who originally spelled their name Gerven. She graduated from the Western College for Women at Oxford, OH, and also studied at the Sorbonne, Paris, France. While teaching French and Spanish at Laurel School (1939-71), Gerfen designed the school's first language lab (1950s), pioneering that concept in the area. In 1987, the school named its new language lab for Gerfen. She led popular tours to Europe and served on the boards of La Maison Francaise and Le Cercle des Conferences Francaises. After retiring in 1971, Gerfen worked on her Memoires while living in Aix-en-Provence, France for a year. She also served as substitute teacher and did translations, being fluent in German as well as French.

A single woman, Gerfen lived on E. 115th Street in University Circle from 1939 until her death. In the 1970s and 1980s, she fought the development of UNIVERSITY HOSPITALS and other institutions which encroached on her home (an historic landmark) and other residential properties. Gerfen was a founder of the University Circle Tenants' Union (1972). As an appointee to the board of UNIVERSITY CIRCLE, INC., Gerfen complained about neglected housing stock and lack of attention to tenants' concerns.