Theresa Serber Malkiel Home

153 McLean Avenue, Yonkers

Theresa Serber Malkiel, circa 1910. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

In early 1909, a Yonkers resident by the name of Theresa Serber Malkiel proposed what she called National Women’s Day. On February 23rd of that year, women across New York  commemorated the day, demanding women’s suffrage and other rights. Two years later the event had spread globally, with women in Europe following Malkiel’s lead. In 1911, over one million people–in Austria, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland–celebrated the first International Women’s Day.

How Malkiel’s call for a holiday in support of women’s rights spread as far and as quickly as it did was in large part a function of the times – an era of strong women’s organizations, many of them leftist in their politics, struggling against patriarchal oppression. It was also a manifestation of who Theresa Serber Malkiel was and the political work that she did.

Born in Russia in 1874, she and her family immigrated to the United States in 1871, settling in New York City. Almost immediately, the 17-year-old got a job in a garment factory. Within three years, she helped to found the Infant Cloak Makers’ Union. By 1896, she was a delegate for the union as a member of the Socialist Labor Party at the first conference of the Socialist Trades and Labor Alliance. 

In 1899, she split from the SLP and became an official member of the Socialist Party of America (SPA). She also got married that year, to a prominent New York lawyer named Leon Malkiel, and soon the couple moved to Yonkers. They had one daughter, Henrietta, and Theresa ended her days as a factory worker to become a full-time mother. 

But marriage and motherhood did not end Malkiel’s political activism. She continued to be a voice in the SPA who advocated for women’s rights and the recruitment of women to the Party. According to Malkiel, socialism could not succeed without the full participation of women.

In her new home city, Malkiel helped to found the Women’s Progressive Society of Yonkers, which then became Branch One of the Socialist Women’s Society of Greater New York. Inside the SPA, she became a part of a New York-based daily socialist newspaper, The New York Call, which featured a “Woman’s Department” in every issue. She also became the president of the SPA’s Women’s Committee, making her the first woman to rise from the rank of factory worker to that of Party leadership.

1990 edition of The Diary of a Shirtwaist Striker.

In 1910 (or a little thereafter), it appears that Makiel and her family moved from Yonkers to Manhattan. That same year, she published a novel titled The Diary of a Shirtwaist Maker, a book which encapsulates her passion for women’s and worker’s rights, while emphasizing her Jewish and immigrant identities. Following the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911, the book became a valuable tool for garment  workers in their fight for reforms.

As the socialist movement lost steam in the United States following the First World War, so did many of Malkiel’s endeavors. Her last major effort as an official socialist was to run for New York State Assembly on the SPA ticket in 1920, but she lost the race. For the remainder of her life, Malkiel focused her efforts on adult education, founding the Brooklyn Adult Student’s Association and running classes and summer camps largely for working-class immigrant women. 

Though Women’s Day celebrations died down in the late 1910s in the United States, communist countries celebrated the holiday for an extended period following the Russian Revolution. Decades later in the 1960s, “second-wave” feminists in the United State, Europe, and elsewhere re-discovered the holiday. And, in 1975, the United Nations began officially celebrating what is now called International Women’s Day.

Though few if any connected the holiday to Malkiel, her efforts to gain opportunity and recognition for women live on in this worldwide celebration. International Women’s Day is observed annually on March 8th.

Theresa Serber Malkiel died on November 17, 1949. The small apartment building where she lived for about a decade when was doing some of her most important political work still stands on McLean Avenue.

153 McLean Avenue (center building), January 2022. Image captured via screen shot from Google Maps.

Getting there:

From the Ludlow (Metro North) train station, a 1.1-mile (22-minute) walk. Various Bee-Line bus routes from downtown Yonkers also pass by the building.

To learn more: 

Gillian Brockell, “The forgotten woman behind International Women’s Day.” The Washington Post, March 12, 2022.

Peter Kvidera. “Rewriting the Ghetto: Cultural Production in the Labor Narratives of Rose Schneiderman and Theresa Malkiel.” American Quarterly, Vol. 57, No. 4, 2005: 1131–1154.

Theresa Serber Malkiel. The Diary of a Shirtwaist Maker, Ithaca, New York: ILR Press, 1990 (1910).

Sally M. Miller, “From Sweatshop Worker to Labor Leader: Theresa Malkiel, a Case Study,” American Jewish History, Vol. 68, No. 2, 1978: 189–205.

“Mrs. L.A. Malkiel, Aided Adult Study: Retired Writer, a Founder of Old New York Call, Dies – Helped Education Group,” The New York Times, November 18, 1949.

Emily Taitz, “Theresa Serber Malkiel,” Shalvi/Hyman Encyclopedia of Jewish Women (Jewish Women’s Archive), December 31, 1999.

Louisa Baldwin, History, Class of 2025.

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