With suffragist spirit and comedic skill, Bessie Thomashefsky adapted great American and British plays for Yiddish-speaking audiences, from Uncle Tom’s Cabin to Oscar Wilde. Thomashefsky immigrated to Baltimore in 1883 and began working in a sweatshop at age twelve. But at fourteen, she saw young Boris Thomashefsky performing in a Yiddish play, joined the company a few years later, and married Boris in 1891. At Boris’s People’s Theater in New York, Bessie Thomashefsky performed Yiddish adaptations of plays by Chekov, Wilde, and Shakespeare, as well as modern Yiddish creations, creating the role of Beynishl in Zolatarevsky’s The Yeshiva Boy. She performed a Yiddish version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 1901. She played a number of strong women, including the leads in Minke, the Housemaid (where a servant-turned-lady rejects the Pygmalion who transforms her) and Jennie Runs for Mayor. Although she separated from Boris in 1911, she ran the People’s Theater from 1915–1919 and renamed it for herself. In 1915 she also published a memoir as told to A. Tennenholz, My Life’s History: The Joys and Tribulations of a Yiddish Star Actress. She retired in 1930 and moved to California.
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. "Bessie Thomashefsky." (Viewed on March 20, 2018) <https://jwa.org/people/thomashefsky-bessie>.