Wednesday 9 May 2018


TOYBE SEGAL (b. ca. 1860)
            She was born in a town in Grodno district, Russian Poland.  In her youth, she moved with her parents to Vilna where her father, a follower of the Jewish Enlightenment who knew some Russian, was the house administrator for the Vilna magnate Rozenson.  She received a traditional Jewish education, learned Hebrew, and even published an article in Hamagid (The preacher) or Hamelits (The advocate).  She was among the enlightened young women in town and would have taken part in the first Jewish labor circles in Vilna.  In the early 1880s she was studying midwifery in St. Petersburg, before marrying an engineer, and after her husband’s death, she opened in Vilna a tailor’s workshop along cooperative foundations.  At the end of 1880s, together with her parents, she made her way to the United States.  According to Kalmen Marmor, in early September 1889 she advertised in the New York Yiddish press: “Dr. Ms. Segal, an excellent midwife, who studied to become a doctor in St. Petersburg where she practiced for four years, has settled in New York and treats women’s illnesses and dental diseases.”  At the same time, she began—in Folks-advokat (People’s advocate) (October 1889)—to published articles (later, feature pieces and sketches as well) by “Dr. Ms. Segal.”  In an article entitled “Gedanken fir nyu york” (Thought for New York) in this same newspaper, she suggested a series of proposals to improve and beautify Jewish life in New York, and on the need to construct a sick house for the impoverished Jewish masses on the East Side.  In another article—“Dover bito” (A stitch in time), also in Folks-advokat—she proposed that meetings and speeches be held in “pure Yiddish zhargon,” so that something “moral and secular” be made known for the immense mass of “deluded Jewish children.”  The Jewish masses in New York, she claimed, should also have free schools for children, children’s homes, and many other things, and “then everyone will be happy and I along with them all, Dr. Segal.”  In another article in Idisher herald (Jewish herald) (1890), entitled “A loshn oder a shprakh?” (A tongue or a language?), she fought hard for Yiddish and for a literature in Yiddish.  Using the name Dr. Tanya Segal, she also wrote for the socialist Arbayter tsaytung (Workers’ newspaper) and Abend blat (Evening newspaper), in the early 1890s, articles about her decade of practice as a doctor.  She was also active in the Jewish literary association in New York, founded in October 1889.  She authored the novel Oylem hamayse oder golditske unzere libe malvete (The world of deed or Golditske our beloved moneylender), 2 parts (Warsaw, 1883), which was republished several times under the title Di sheyne nayterin (The lovely dressmaker) (Vilna: Y. Fuks, 1894, 1903), 208 pp.  As Zalmen Reyzen puts it in his Leksikon:

The author demonstrates her talent as a writer in describing the representatives of the old Jewish generation, but as she tries to depict her positive heroes, “the educated” and those enveloped in the “working class,” she loses the language, becomes clumsy, unnatural, naïve, and resigned.  The novel does have cultural historical value, as one of the first fictional attempts in Yiddish literature to reflect the new progressive and social orientations in Jewish society.  In particular, the author openly opposed luxury and idleness on the part of Jewish women and gives us as a model an intelligent, refined, sedate, and very respectable main heroine, Maria, with her love for order, for purity, and for labor.  This Maria, the beautiful dressmaker, organizes a tailoring workshop, in which all the women workers have equal rights, an equal portion of the profits, and a joint treasury, and they run a collective economy, studying together and also working fewer hours.  “No one had any worries in Maria’s store.  No one needed any excessive goodness.  Everyone truly cared for herself without hindering another, and everyone lived happily and in peace.  Each person independent, not dependent on another.”  In this utopian ideal of the lovely dressmaker, there is apparently the influence of the then well-known Russian novel by Nikolay Chernyshevsky, Chto delat’? (What is to be done?).  The social tendencies of Segal’s book add to it a special interest for the first Jewish labor circles in which the novel was widely read.

Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 2; A. Litvak, Yidishe literatur (Yiddish literature), part 1 (Kiev, 1928); Kalmen Marmor, “Der onhoyb fun yidisher literatur in amerike” (The beginning of Yiddish literature in America), in 10 yoriker yubiley fun internatsyonaln arbeter ordn (Tenth anniversary of the International Workers Order) (New York, 1940); Marmor, in Morgn-frayhayt (New York) (December 17, 1944); Shmuel Niger, Dertseyler un romanistn (Story-tellers and novelists) (New York, 1946), p. 132; Y. Shatski, “Kultur-geshikhte fun der haskole bay yidn in der lite” (Cultural history of the Jewish Enlightenment in Lithuania), in Lite (Lithuania), vol. 1 (New York, 1951), p. 755.
Benyomen Elis

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