Her full name is Sabiha Nazmi Zekeriya Sertel. She also used Sabiha Zekeriya. She was born in Salonika in 1895. She started elementary school in 1902. She completed her secondary and high school education at Terakki Mektebi in Salonika and she continued at Fransız Mektebi for a while. She went on her education at a reading group she formed with her friends, called Tefeyyüz Cemiyeti, which means a group for advancement. Her article “Osmanlı Cemiyetinde Kadın” was awarded the Best Article of the Year. She enrolled as a voluntary nurse at Hilal-i Ahmer Hastanesi in 1912. She immigrated to Istanbul from Salonika with her family in 1913. In 1915, she got married to Mehmet Zekeriya Sertel, who was a journalist. At the marriage ceremony, her witness was Talat Paşa, the prime minister at the time. Mehmet Zekeriya Sertel’s witness was Tevfik Rüştü (Aras) who was the Minister of Foreign Affairs during Atatürk’s period. Her daughter Sevim was born in 1917. Her husband was arrested in 1919.
She took over “Büyük Mecmua,” which was published in 17 volumes from 6 March 1919 to 25 December 1919. In her article “Sabiha Sertel’de Kadın Sorunu ve İdeolojik Duruş,” Burcu Ertuna Biçer underlines that the effects of the first wave of feminism that advocates legal equality for women can be seen in Sertel’s articles on the problems of women. In her memoir, Roman Gibi, Sertel expressed her opinions on Büyük Mecmua as follows:
"Instead of despairing and spreading the poison around, or circulating that there is no hope for the future of the people, we need to pull together and struggle to make people advance along the lines of culture and become a true nation."
Among the voluntary writers of the journal, there were people such as Ömer Seyfettin, Ali Canip, Falih Rıfkı, Yusuf Ziya, Orhan Seyfi, Faruk Nafiz, Köprülüzade Fuat, Mehmet Emin Yurdakul, İsmail Hakkı, Tekin Alp and Yaşar Nuri.
After the journal was closed down, she went to the USA with her husband and her children to continue her education with the help of a scholarship mediated by Halide Edip. After receiving language education at Bernard College between 1919 and 1923, she trained at the New York School of Social Work. At this institution, she studied some works of Morgan and Le Play at her sociology courses and read Friedrich Engels's “The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State” and August Babel’s “Woman and Socialism,” which she would translate later. With her education there, she became interested in the socialist ideology. In 1922, her second daughter Yıldız was born. She came back to Turkey with her family on July 1923 and settled in Ankara. With the support of the Çocuk Esirgeme Kurumu (Institution for the Protection of Children), she set to work on a "social research" but the project did not take off. She went to Istanbul after the proclamation of the Republic.
She began to publish the journal Resimli Ay with her husband in 1924. In Resimli Ay and Resimli Perşembe, she wrote some articles relating to male-female relationships under the name “Cici Anne.” Biçer notes that Sertel only wrote on the male-female relationships under that name, she signed her political pieces with her real name. In these articles, the writer comments on male-female relationships in response to the letters sent by the readers. She appears not to be willing to be revealed as Cici Anne, because while "Cici Anne" is interested in the problems of women dealing with being woman, "Sabiha Sertel" is interested in left-wing politics, in other words, she is interested in "more serious" issues.
Due to her article published in the newspaper, Cumhuriyet, she was tried for “criticism of the regime and causing unrest between the classes.” Her husband was arrested and was taken to Ankara in 1925. He was sentenced to three years to confinement in a fortress. After the journal Resimli Ay was closed down, Sertel began to publish Sevimli Ay. Resimli Ay began to be re-published in 1926. As declared in the journal itself, its second stage was a term showing “the birth of a new literature.” Nazım Hikmet started to work at Resimli Ay. Through her relationship with Nazım, Sertel grew interested in socialism. Whilst issues of women continued to be one of the main themes of the journal, news or articles on topics such as nursing, health and Hollywood stars also appeared in the journal. Biçer relates this to the image of the modern woman that was supported in the period and underlines that the reforms of the early Republican period, which aimed at proving the modernity of the new nation state by means of the modernity in the appearance of the women, had shaped this tendency.
She was a candidate at the municipality elections of Istanbul in 1930. She was tried for her article “Savulun Geliyorum.” Resimli Ay was closed down in 1931. In the same year, Sertel founded the Son Posta newspaper and she was tried again for her article “Şekerci Hayri Bey İntikar Yaptı!,” in which she claimed that the sugar refinery owner, Hayri İpar was deriving improper personal benefits. She was arrested and was sent to the Sultanahmet Prison. She was in prison for three years until the amnesty, which was granted at the anniversary of the proclamation of the Republic on 29 October 1933. At that period she began to work on the Hayat Ansiklopedisi, which was published by Zekeriya Sertel and Yunus Nadi. She translated Karl Kautsky’s "The Class Struggle," Adoratski’s "Dialectic Materialism," Lenin’s "Socialism and War" and August Babel’s "Woman and Socialism" into Turkish. During the same period, she founded a crèche in Kadıköy.
She began to work at the newspaper Tan in 1934. Taking “the annual top 100” in the USA as an example, she published “Tan Cep Kitapları.” Different from her articles on women’s rights in Büyük Mecmua, she published articles on anti-imperialism and anti-fascism in Tan. In her memoir Roman Gibi, she says that she found the chance to get involved in politics through those articles. In 1936, she wrote a novel Çitra Roy ile Babası, which is about the debates between the Indian idealist philosopher Roy and his materialist daughter during the period of the fight against English imperialism in India. Later on, she set about publishing the journal Projektör, the first and last volumes of which came out in March 1936. Biçer emphasizes that the subtitle of the journal, “there is no national literature, but class literature,” reflects its political tendency.
She went to France and to the USA in 1937. She sent some interviews and articles from these countries to Tan. She published articles in the communist newspaper, Voix Européenne. In 1940, she contributed to the preparations of children’s books such as “Efe Ali”, “Hayvanlar Meclisi”, “İnci Gerdanlık”, “Küçük Kahraman”, “Mavi Boncuk”, “Sihirbazın Kızı”, “Şehit Çocuk”, “Tıngır Mıngır Ben Geldim” and “Vatan Uğruna,” published by Yeni Mecmua Çocuk Neşriyatı. In the same year, she was tried for her articles on Tevfik Fikret for insulting the Yeni Sabah newspaper and the owner of Sebil-ü Reşat journal, Eşref Edip Hodja.
She was prevented from writing in Tan in 1941 by the government. Then, again in 1942, she was on trial because of her article on anti-racism and she was again prevented from writing in Tan. During 1941-1942, she wrote İkinci Dünya Harbi Tarihi. In 1942, she was prevented from writing this time by the General Directorate of Press and Information. During this period, she translated Lenin’s "Imperialism is the Highest Stage of Capitalism" and Stalin’s "Problems of Leninism" into Turkish. She published the journal "Görüşler" in 1945. The printing press of Tan was vandalised as a result of a provocation on 4 December 1945. Sabiha Sertel and her husband were arrested.
Because of the increasing political repression, she left Turkey in 1950. She initially lived in Paris, then in Rome and then again in Paris. In August 1952, she went to Budapest with her husband and began to work at the Budapest Radio. In 1953, she became the chief of the Turkish section at the radio. She was also responsible for TKP (Turkish Communist Party) Budapest. She went to Prague with her husband and daughter in 1956. She moved to Leipzig to work at Bizim Radio. She attended the conference of the TKP MK International Bureau in 1962. She went to the USSR in 1963. On 4 June 1965, she sent her report from Moscow on the developments and disagreements of the TKP Leipzig group. Between 1963 and 1968, she wrote her memoirs İlericilik-Gericilik Kavgasında Tevfik Fikret, Nazım Hikmet’ten ve Sabahattin Ali’den Anılar and Roman Gibi.
After having lived in Paris, Budapest and Moscow, she settled in Baku until her death on 2 September 1968.