New Delhi: International Women’s Day is celebrated in most parts of the world but do you know the woman who started it all. Theresa Serber Malkiel was not just the first person to recommend observing a ‘National Women’s Day’ in the US, she also took vital steps in helping women gain the right to vote in the early 1900s.
Malkiel headed the Socialist Party’s National Women’s Committee and fought for women’s right in the party. The Socialist Party of America organised the inaugural “National Women’s Day” in New York in 1909. Afterwards, she suggested observing Women’s Day — a concept that was picked up by many across Europe.
Malkiel was born on May 1, 1874 in a small town called Bar in the Polish part of the Russian Empire. Raised in a middle-class Jewish family, she endured institutionalised restrictions on religions during the latter part of the 1800s. Following which, she immigrated to the US in 1891 and became a garment worker.
Key role in suffrage movement
Malkiel stressed on the mobilisation of immigrant working women, while insisting on equality and basic rights. Towards the latter part of her life, Malkiel lent a powerful voice to the movement for women’s suffrage.
Historian Sally M Miller, in her detailed research on Malkiel, said, “From Sweatshop Worker to Labor Leader: Theresa Malkiel, a Case Study,” published notes that during the 1890s, New York saw the growth of many self-help groups to meet the needs of Jewish immigrants.
“This comprehensive institutionalised network was geared to the needs of the families of the ghetto and those of employable men. However, institutions to meet the needs of single working women hardly existed,” Miller wrote.