Isaac Max Rubinow

From Citizendium
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This article is developing and not approved.
Main Article
Related Articles  [?]
Bibliography  [?]
External Links  [?]
Citable Version  [?]
This editable Main Article is under development and subject to a disclaimer.

Isaac Max Rubinow (1875–1936) was an advocate of national health and social insurance. His Social Insurance (1913) was an influential in forming progressive policy on the subject of unemployment compensation and national health insurance.

Early Life and Family

Rubinow was born in 1875 in Lithuania (at the time part of Russia) and immigrated to the United States when he was eighteen.

Dr Rubinow married twice. First was to Sophie Himwich with whom he had two children: Raymond S. Rubinow (1905-1996) who was active in New York public fields and Olga Rubinow Lurie (1907-2004), a child psychologist. Rubinow's second marriage was to Consuelo Kamholz (1909-1993) with whom he had no children.

Advocate for Social Insurance

He attended New York University Medical School from which he received the M.D. He then practiced medicine among the poorer Jewish neighborhoods of New York City until 1900 when he enrolled in Columbia University studying statistics and economics (with E. R. A. Seligman), sociology, and politics. In 1903, he took a position with the Bureau of Labor Statistics as statistical expert, abandoning his medical profession. He left the BLS in 1911 to become chief statistician for the Ocean Accident and Guarantee Corporation (just in time for icebergs).

At this time he became a vocal advocate for social insurance lecturing also for the New York School of Philanthropy during 1912 which were published as Social Insurance (1913).[1] It was these lectures that caught the attention of Theodore Roosevelt and the Progressive Party. His views covered workmen's compensation, sick time and pay, old-age pensions, life insurance, and unemployment insurance, and these ideas became part of the Progressive Party's 1912 platform. This work was partly an outgrowth of his dissertation which was a comparative study of workingmen's insurance in Italy, Russia, and Spain. This research was expanded for his Standards of Health Insurance (1916)[2]

While at Columbia, Rubinow began advocating for a nationalized system of health insurance for the U.S. He believed that only through a government-run health program could all the health needs of the working class be met. He thought that private practice neglected the needs of the poor and that to remedy that, doctors should be salaried by the state or other public health organizations.[3]

Rubinow joined the American Association for Labor Legislation (AALL) which had been active since 1906 advocating social legislation, including a national health insurance plan. In 1916, he was appointed as the executive secretary of the American Medical Association's Committee on Social Insurance which had been created that year. With AMA sanction, Rubinow began promoting the AALL national health insurance plan but by the Spring of 1917 with the entry of the United States into World War I the movement was all but dead.

American Zionist Medical Unit

Following the collapse of his efforts for a national health insurance program, Rubinow became active in the American Zionist Medical Unit. Rubinow was appointed medical director of the American Zionist Medical Unit in 1918. The aim of the AZMU was to provide medical relief to Jewish and Arab Palestinians who had suffered under Turkish rule during World War I. As executive director, he centralized and more or less nationalized medicine in Palestine, putting into operation the policies he had advocated with the AALL and the AMA. By 1921, Rubinow had expanded his program in Palestine to include school health, and maternal and child welfare. He also damaged relations with the workers mutual aid society Kupat Holim which had started receiving AZMU funds in 1918. His leadership of AZMU was not without critics, besides the Kupat Holim. AZMU had constant budget and internal problems of its own, and he was often criticized in the press. Rubinow left the AZMU in 1923 and returned to the U.S.[4]


While at Columbia, Rubinow had joined the American Socialist Party. As a Russian Jew, Marxism was part of his cultural heritage. While Rubinow may have been conscious of the Lithuanian Jewish labor movement of the 1880s and 1890s (when he was in his teens), he did not participate, but he remained sympathetic to the labor movement ever after. Later in life, he distanced himself from socialist politics, relying mostly on his professional reputation as a social scientist expert on social insurance.


  1. I. M. Rubinow, Social Insurance (New York: Henry Holt, 1913).
  2. Isaac Max Rubinow, Standards of Health Insurance (New York: Henry Holt, 1916).
  3. Shifra Shvarts and Theodore M. Brown, "Kupat Holim, Dr. Isaac Max Rubinow, and the American Zionist Medical Unit's Experiment to Establish Health Care Services in Palestine, 1918-1923," Bulletin of the History of Medicine 72, no. 1 (1998), 32.
  4. Shifra Shvarts and Theodore M. Brown, "Kupat Holim, Dr. Isaac Max Rubinow, and the American Zionist Medical Unit's Experiment to Establish Health Care Services in Palestine, 1918-1923," Bulletin of the History of Medicine 72, no. 1 (1998), 36-44.


Brown, Theodore M., and Elizabeth Fee. "Isaac Max Rubinow: Advocate for Social Insurance." American Journal of Public Health 92, no. 8 (August 2002): 1224–1225. doi:10.2105/AJPH.92.8.1224.

Casualty Actuarial Society, "History," CAS Overview, 2008.

Shvarts, Shifra, and Theodore M. Brown. "Kupat Holim, Dr. Isaac Max Rubinow, and the American Zionist Medical Unit's Experiment to Establish Health Care Services in Palestine, 1918-1923." Bulletin of the History of Medicine 72, no. 1 (1998): 28-46.

J. Lee Kreader, "Isaac Max Rubinow: Pioneering Specialist in Social Insurance," Social Services Review 9 (1976): 416-17.

J. Lee Kreader, "America's Prophet for Social Security: A Biography of Isaac Max Rubinow" (Ph.D. diss., University of Chicago, l988), pp. 294-300.

Ronald L. Numbers, Almost Persuaded: American Physicians and Compulsory Health Insurance, 1912-1920. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978), pp. 14-26.