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Malkiel, Theresa S(erber)

MALKIEL, Theresa S(erber)

Born 1 May 1874, Bar, Russia; died 17 November 1949, New York, New York

Married Leon A. Malkiel, 1900

Teresa S. Malkiel emigrated to the U.S. with her family in 1891. Her political activity began when she became a member of the Russian Workingmen's Club. In 1892 she helped organize the Woman's Infant Cloak Maker's Union, was elected its first president, and served as its delegate to the Knights of Labor. In 1893 she joined the Socialist Labor Party and was a delegate to the first convention of the Socialist Trade and Labor Alliance in New York City. Malkiel split from the Socialist Labor Party in 1899 and joined the Socialist Party, in which she continued to be active for many years. Her interest in the relationship between feminism and socialism became central to her political work in 1907 when she helped organize the Women's Progressive Society of Yonkers, New York. When a vacancy occurred in the National Woman's Committee, she was elected a member by the national committee of the Socialist Party.

In addition to extensive labor union organizing throughout the northeast and Midwest, Malkiel was an ardent champion of "women's issues." She wrote of the coming "free woman," whose goals could be realized only within the framework of a socialist future. Similarly, she disagreed with party members who claimed that feminism detracted from the class struggle; to Malkiel, the woman question was an important key to the emancipation of all humanity. Throughout her career, Malkiel wrote extensively in such party-affiliated journals as Socialist Woman, Progressive Woman, and Coming Nation and such periodicals as New York Call, the Chicago Daily Socialist, and Daily Forward (New York). She also edited a woman's column in the Jewish Daily News (New York).

Both Woman of Yesterday and Today (1915) and Woman and Freedom (1915) vigorously argue the implicit relationship and politically necessary connection between feminist and socialist goals. Both works establish the historical connections between the women's rights movement and the entrance of women into the wage-earning labor force. In Woman of Yesterday and Today, Malkiel writes a brief history of the changing economic status of American women since the revolutionary war, focusing on how working conditions and experiences create a new self-definition for women and a concomitant desire for expanded rights. In Woman and Freedom, Malkiel links this new consciousness with the history of political advancement of all working people. She also underscores the double oppression of the working woman: "Under the present system the working man has only one master—his employer, the working woman must bow to the will of husband as well." Both pamphlets stress the importance of a direct and personal involvement in political activity on the part of American women: "She who would be free must herself strike the blow."

In Diary of a Shirtwaist Striker (1910), a fictionalized account of the New York shirtwaist maker's strike, Malkiel dramatizes both the obstacles faced and the triumphs attained through direct and personal political activism. Written from the point of view of a native-born American woman who works not for survival but for extra money, the novel depicts the heroine's conversion, first to the immediate goals of the strike and eventually to the wider goals of the Socialist Party. It provides an excellent introduction to many of the problems that were central to the unionization of women during the early years of the 20th century: the tensions between native and immigrant workers, the hostility of male trade unions, the class bias of the Women's Trade Union League, and the questions about "woman's place" raised by parents and lovers when their daughters and fiancées were on picket lines. Malkiel's main focus is on the self-respect, comradeship, and capabilities that develop among young women as a result of their strike experiences. Her heroine becomes a vividly portrayed mouthpiece for Malkiel's vision of the woman of the future, a woman for whom the goals of feminism and socialism have become inseparable.

The resurgence of attention paid to the connection between issues of sex and class has generated a new interest in Malkiel's writings. Her tireless investigation of the relationship between a woman's personal and political self-definition will strike many readers as surprisingly modern. Diary of a Shirtwaist Striker should prove of invaluable interest to any reader interested in questions about the relationship between social movements and literary representation.

Bibliography:

Blake, F., The Strike in the American Novel (1972). Buhle, M. J., "Feminism and Socialism in the United States, 1820-1920" (dissertation, 1974). Dancis, B., "Socialism and Women in the United States, 1900-1917," in Socialist Revolution (1976). Hill, V., "Strategy and Breadth: The Socialist-Feminist in American Fiction" (dissertation, 1979). Maglin, N., "Rebel Women Writers, 1894-1925" (dissertation, 1975).

Reference works:

Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States (1995).

Other references:

Progressive Woman (May 1909).

—VICKI LYNN HILL

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