Harriet Fleisher Berger, 94, of East Falls, a Drexel University professor from 1967 to 1988 whose life was shaped by progressive causes, died of Parkinson's disease on Friday, May 4, at her home.
Mrs. Berger was the former wife of David Berger, city solicitor from 1956 to 1963 in the Democratic administration of Mayor Richardson Dilworth, which ended in 1962. Mr. Berger's later career focused on class-action lawsuits involving the likes of the Three Mile Island and Exxon Valdez disasters.
A son, Jonathan, wrote in an appreciation of Mrs. Berger that "she worked tirelessly throughout her life in support of politically and socially progressive policies for workers' rights, occupational health and safety, environmental protection, public education, civil rights, rights for women and universal access to health care."
She also made extraordinary efforts as a mother.
"I was a Peace Corps volunteer," Jonathan Berger said in an interview of his time in what is now Burkina Faso in the 1960s, "and she and my father came to visit me.
"They came out to my village — no paved roads, no electricity, no running water, no nothing. We went out to some of the villages where I was digging wells.
"I can't imagine anyone would do something" like that visit, "but that's what my mother was like."
Born in Philadelphia, Mrs. Berger graduated from Cheltenham High School in 1934 and earned a bachelor's at Wellesley College in 1938.
"After college and in support of the workers' rights movement and the New Deal," Jonathan Berger said, "she worked for the International Ladies' Garment Workers Union," in Philadelphia, beginning in the 1930s and continuing into the 1960s.
She was the chief researcher, he said, for The Clothing Workers of Philadelphia: History of Their Struggles for Union and Security by Elden LaMar, published in 1940 by the Philadelphia Joint Board of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America.
And, he said, she helped open the first medical clinic for union workers in Philadelphia.
"She was a forceful advocate of a mixed economic system of free enterprise and national government intervention to maintain economic stability and to ensure a vibrant and growing middle class," he wrote, "as well as a strong, independent legal system to assure the rights of all citizens."
When her husband served as a Navy officer in the South Pacific during World War II, she joined the Sierra Club while living in California. She was a lifelong member, and "passed down the ideals of land stewardship and conservation" to her sons, whose careers are involved with such matters.
In 1950, the Bergers moved to East Falls, where she helped found the East Falls Community Council and became a Democratic committeewoman in the 23d Division of the 21st Ward, a job she held through the 1980s.
She earned a doctorate in political science at the University of Pennsylvania in 1967 — her thesis was on collective bargaining — and later that year began her teaching career as an assistant professor of history and politics at Drexel, from which she retired as full professor in 1988 at age 70.
Each year, Mrs. Berger took her undergraduate class to the U.S. Supreme Court as part of a course she taught about the court. "Many of her students went into the legal profession as a result of their experiences in her course," her son said, among them women whom she mentored.
In 1980, he said, "she won a multiyear fellowship for summer study at Princeton University," on constitutional law.,
After she retired, Mrs. Berger studied landscape and portrait painting at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and every other springtime into the 2000s brought Philadelphia Orchestra members to her home for a string quartet performance.
Besides her son, Mrs. Berger is survived by her son Daniel and two grandchildren. Her former husband, David, died in 2007.
A memorial service was set for 1 p.m. Saturday, May 19, at the Berger home, 4101 Timber Lane, East Falls.