This essay examines the early life and work of the Russian American social reformer Abraham Epstein, an advocate for old-age pensions and compulsory social insurance whose work as head of the American Association for Social Security helped lead to the passage of the 1935 Social Security Act. The essay traces a young Epstein’s 1921–22 journey to Russia to study the Soviet government’s radical experiments in social welfare policy. Although Epstein was disillusioned with the Soviet system on the whole, his experiences in Soviet Russia informed his later idea of “social security”: a unified system of social insurance and social assistance to protect the entire population from social risk while functioning as a powerful tool of income redistribution. Epstein’s early interest in Soviet social welfarism adds new insight into the development of the broader concept of “social security,” an important but understudied link between Progressive Era “workingmen’s insurance” and the postwar welfare state.

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