Women of Valor


Early Years

Anna Sokolow, 1910 - 2000

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Sokolow speaking about her childhood in New York

Anna Sokolow was born on February 9, 1910, in Hartford, CT, to Sarah (Kagan) and Samuel Sokolow. Recent immigrants from Pinsk, the Sokolows had difficulty adjusting to life in America. As Anna later recalled, "In the European Jewish tradition, the man was really the scholar, and the woman he married and her family took care of him and their children. When they came here, a lot of them had to change.... They learned to cope with the system and realized that they had to earn a living. Well, my father was totally bewildered by it.... Eventually my mother, with her great energy, stepped in and took over."

In the early 1910s, the Sokolows, now with four children, moved to New York City. Sarah found work in the garment industry, but Samuel soon became ill with Parkinson's disease, and Sarah had to place him in a charity hospital. She also put her youngest daughter, Gertie, in a Jewish orphanage for several years; her son, Isidore, dropped out of school to contribute to the family income.

Despite the hardships, Sarah retained her strong will and high spirits. Attracted to the Socialist Party and trade unions by their acceptance of women as valued participants, she attended political meetings, joined the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, and took part in union solidarity marches, sometimes bringing her daughters.

Anna inherited her mother's comfort with unconventionality and her commitment to social and economic activism. She also soaked up the vibrant Jewish culture that surrounded her. Sarah regularly took her children to Workman's Circle dances and the Yiddish theater, in addition to keeping a kosher kitchen, observing Jewish holidays, and lighting Shabbat candles every Friday night. The Lower East Side environment proved a significant influence on Sokolow's later work.

  1. Quotation beginning "In the European Jewish tradition?" cited in Larry Warren, Anna Sokolow: The Rebellious Spirit (Amsterdam: Harwood Academic Publishers, 1998), 2.
  2. Remaining information from Warren, 2-6, and Interview with Anna Sokolow by Barbara Newman, December 1974-May 1975, for Oral History Project of the Jerome Robbins Dance Division, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Women of Valor - Anna Sokolow - Early Years." (Viewed on April 17, 2014) <http://jwa.org/womenofvalor/sokolow/early-years>.