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Malkiel, Theresa Serber


MALKIEL, THERESA SERBER (1874–1949), U.S. labor and women's rights activist and socialist. Malkiel was born in Bar, Russia, in what is today western Ukraine. The daughter of a well-to-do Jewish family that immigrated to New York City in 1891, she was well educated and literate in German and Russian. Supporting herself with work in the garment industry, she was a member of the Russian Workingmen's Club and later a founder of the Infant Cloakmakers Union, serving as its president. She was active in various labor organizations in New York in the 1890s, including the Socialist Labor Party (slp) and its Socialist Trade and Labor Alliance. In 1901, tired of the factionalism of the slp, she joined the Socialist Party of America, which became her activist home for the next two decades.

Theresa married fellow socialist (and lawyer) Leon Malkiel in 1900; their daughter was born in 1903. Theresa Malkiel gave up wage work after the family moved to Yonkers, north of New York City, but remained committed to working women and socialist politics. She took a particularly active role as an advocate for women within the Socialist Party and in 1909 was elected to the Women's National Committee (wnc), the body that oversaw the Women's Department within the party. On the wnc, she became an advocate for the establishment of International Women's Day as an annual holiday to commemorate women and promote female suffrage. With her husband, she was a founder of the socialist newspaper the New York Call.

Malkiel also became a member of the Women's Trade Union League, a strong advocate of female suffrage, and an indefatigable campaigner for women's rights, within the Socialist Party and in the wider society. She was a strong supporter of the great Shirtwaist Strike in New York City in 1909–10, gave speeches at several major rallies, reported on the strike in the New York Call, and wrote a fictional account that appeared shortly after the strike's conclusion, The Diary of a Shirtwaist Striker (1910). In 1914 Malkiel led the Socialist Suffrage Campaign in New York, organizing meetings, writing pamphlets, and publishing a regular column in the Jewish Daily Forward. Two years later, Malkiel joined a national suffrage tour sponsored by the Socialist Party. The success of female suffrage with the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment led Malkiel to run an unsuccessful campaign for the New York State Assembly as a Socialist candidate. For the remainder of her life she was active in adult education, founding the Brooklyn Adult Students Association. In 1932 she organized a summer camp for the education and naturalization of immigrant women at which she worked until her death.


F. Basch, Introduction to The Diary of a Shirtwaist Striker (1990); S.M. Miller, "From Sweatshop Worker to Labor Leader: Theresa Malkiel, a Case Study," in: American Jewish History, 68 (1977), 189–205; E. Taitz, "Malkiel, Theresa Serber," in: P.E. Hyman and D. Dash Moore (eds.), Jewish Women in America, 2 (1997), 885–86.

[Thomas Dublin (2nd ed.)]

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