Dagmar Horna Perman, 52, a scholar, social activist and mother, died of cancer in Jerusalem last Friday. Mrs. Perman, an associate professor of history at Georgetown University, had a career that joined the historian's passion for careful research of the past with the concerned citizen's bold involvement in the immediate social issues of the present.
Mrs. Perman earned national attention in the early 1970s when she helped organize a group of southeastern Pennsylvania citizens in a legal fight against Charnita Inc., a land development company then thriving in that area. Mrs. Perman, along with her husband, Dr. Gerald Perman, Washington psychiatrist, owned property near the Charnita operation.
The group contended that Charnita was heedless of local and national laws involving fair trade practices and land development. The president of Charnita charged that "I'm being harassed by half a dozen nuts." But the madness of Mrs. Perman was to believe that the law of the land could be used to salvage respect for the land.
By the time Mrs. Perman was finished with Charnita, the Federal Trade Commission had ordered it to offer refunds to hundreds of customers and the Department of Housing and Urban Development ordered an indefinite ban on the sales of lots. The operation eventually went bankrupt.
One of the ironies throughout the Charnita struggle was that some of her opponents characterized Mrs. Perman as "a Commie." Actually, Mrs. Perman had fled her native Czechoslovakia in 1948 at the onset of the communist takeover there. She was on board the last plane to leave the country before the borders were closed. After settling in the United States in late 1948, she won a grant from the Federation of Women's Clubs of Kansas that enabled her to pursue a master's degree at the University of Kansas that enabled her to pursue a master's degree at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. She later went to the University of California at Berkeley for her doctorate.
Mrs. Perman's interest in scholarship came from her father, a professor of constitutional law in Prague. She was the author of "The Shaping of the Czechoslovakian State," a book that is now the standard text on the subject. From 1953 to 1956, she played a crucial role in microfilming and classifying captured German war documents, an effort of lasting use to American and international scholars.
In Washington in the early 1960s, Mrs. Perman became involved in the housing problems of the central city. She wrote what became known as "The Gerard Street Report," a document written for All Souls Unitarian Church that became a powerful produ for those believed the poor deserved something better than wornout housing.
Mrs. Perman, who took up her professional career after her children reached their early teens, was regarded at Georgetown as a spirited teacher whose enthusiasm for her subject was infectious.
In addition to her husband, she is survived by a son, Richard Alan, and a daughter, Linda Ann, of the home in Chevy Chase; her mother, Vera Hornova, of Czechoslovakia, and a brother, Otakar Horna, of Bethesda.