Social Security Pioneers

Isaac M. Rubinow

profile shot of Rubinow


Isaac M. Rubinow was one of the leading theorists of social insurance and one of its most prolific and influential writers. An M.D., with a Ph.D. in economics from Columbia University, he was an expert in economics and actuarial science and his 1913 book, Social Insurance, was probably the most influential early work on the subject. This book, and two others on the same issues, were to shape the thinking of a generation of social reformers.

Rubinow was a Russian Jew who immigrated to the U.S. in 1893, at the age 18. Trained as a medical doctor, Rubinow became so frustrated with the poverty of many of his patients that he concluded he could do more good for his fellow man by helping to alleviate their economic misery than he would ever be able to do as a doctor. So he went back to school and obtained a Ph.D. in economics and became an early and ardent advocate for health care and social insurance. Rubinow's views influenced Theodore Roosevelt in the drafting of the Progressive Party platform in 1912, which was the first major political party platform to call for social insurance. His 1934 book, The Quest for Security, further established Rubinow as probably the most eminent theorist of social insurance in the first three decades of the 20th century.

Former Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, Wilbur Cohen, would say of Rubinow: "I.M. Rubinow was one of the giants in the field of social insurance in the pioneering days of social reform in the United States. . . In my 35 years of work in social security, I.M. Rubinow has been an inspiration and an example." According to former U.S. Senator Paul Douglas (D-IL), President Roosevelt was much influenced by Rubinow's book and Roosevelt considered Rubinow to be the "greatest single authority upon social security in the United States."

President Roosevelt owned a copy of Rubinow's 1934 book "The Quest for Security" and had been reading in the months surrounding the formation of the Committee on Economic Security (CES) which drafted the Administration's Social Security proposals. When he learned Rubinow was terminally ill, he autographed his copy of Rubinow's book and sent it to him with this inscription on the flyleaf: "For the Author--Dr. I. M. Rubinow. This reversal of the usual process is because of the interest I have had in reading your book." (Signed) Franklin D. Roosevelt.

woman presenting book to Bortz

In 1969, Vera Woods donated her inscribed copy of
Rubinow's 1934 book to the SSA History Archives.
Shown receiving the donation is SSA Historian, Abe Bortz.
SSA History Archives photo.