Johanna Ortner was born and raised in Scheibbs, Austria. She began her undergraduate studies at the University of Vienna and completed her B.A. in African American Studies at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Ortner earned her M.A. and Ph.D. in Afro-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Her research centers on 19th century African American history, particularly the political and intellectual history of Black women. She teaches HIST and WGSS courses at the UConn Stamford.