By Thomas Wirth, Lecturer, State University of New York at Cortland with additional edits by Jennifer Banks, University of Strathclyde
Political Prisoner, National Woman's Party, Occoquan Workhouse
Nina Samorodin was born to Yakov Samorodin and Sonia Rubinstein on 4 July 1897. Born to an orthodox Jewish family in Kiev, Ukraine, Samorodin took advantage of increasing educational opportunities available to Jews in the city, despite ongoing persecutions that called into question Jewish residency rights. She graduated from Kiev University, an institution that matriculated more Jewish students than any other Russian university by the early twentieth century. Samorodin left Kiev in 1914 to visit the United States, following her interest, she later told a friend, in American "industrial and political democracy."
Samarodin found work in a garment factory in New York City. Outraged by injustices she witnessed against immigrant laborers in the city's shops, she threw herself into the struggle to organize women workers, and by 1917 had joined the National Woman's Party (NWP) in the fight for female political equality.
While relatively little is known about Samorodin's role within the NWP, she did participate in at least one of the well-known suffrage pickets at the White House during the summer of 1917. On September 13, she was arrested along with other NWP members for carrying a pro-suffrage banner. She was charged with Unlawful Assembly, and a judge sentenced her to thirty days in jail at the Occoquan workhouse in Lorton, Virginia. Occoquan gained notoriety in 1917 for its harsh conditions after jailed NWP members and their supporters drew public attention to the inhumane treatment the picketers received as prison inmates. Samorodin's sister, Vera, who had left Kiev behind for Baltimore, visited Nina at Occoquan and was appalled by the "cruelty of the treatment" for a "simple political offense." Vera noted a decline in her sister's health, observing that she had "lost in weight and strength since her imprisonment" and suffered "a constant headache from hunger." After seeing Nina, Vera appealed in writing to the Russian ambassador, asking him to lobby District of Columbia commissioners to amend Nina's status from "inmate" to "political prisoner," a change that would have afforded her protections against prison abuse not granted to the common criminal.
Samorodin's prison experience perhaps served to embolden developing commitments to industrial protest and political radicalism. Upon release from Occoquan in the fall of 1917, she returned to New York and taught a course in Russian language instruction at the Rand School of Social Science, a Socialist workers' school located near Union Square. In 1919, she was hired as a general organizer for Local 153 of the Shirtmakers' Union, an affiliate of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America (ACWA), in Philadelphia. Samorodin's proficiency with three languages—Russian, Yiddish, and English—and her NWP connections proved an asset to the ACWA at a time when Pennsylvania locals were fighting to smooth over tensions between ethnic and native-born garment workers, the latter of whom often harbored deep suspicions of "immigrant unions" such as the ACWA. Samorodin recruited fellow NWP member and Bryn Mawr graduate Pauline Clarke to organize among native-born workers in Pennsylvania. For a time in 1920, Samorodin also shared a room on Spruce Street in Philadelphia with Ann Washington Craton, who went on to organize women in the Schuylkill Valley region of Pennsylvania.
Samorodin shifted her focus in the early 1920s from union activism to immigrant advocacy and propaganda work for the Communist Party of America. Although it is unclear when she joined the Communist Party, by 1921 she was working on behalf of Communist-front organizations such as the American Labor Alliance for Trade Relations with Russia. As secretary of the Labor Alliance, Samorodin pressed for a formal American trade agreement with Russia and urged American trade unions to petition Congress to open diplomatic negotiations with the country. In 1926, Samorodin accepted a post with the National Council for Protection of Foreign Born Workers, a Communist organization founded originally in 1924 by the Workers Party of America at its Third National Convention. She served as the group's executive secretary, with headquarters at 41 Union Square in New York. Samorodin sought to attract working-class opposition to "anti-alien" legislation in Congress and protect immigrants, especially radicals and Communist Party members, threatened by unlawful prosecutions or deportations. The National Council proved a forerunner on immigrant rights, paving the way for longer lasting organizations such as the American Committee for the Protection of the Foreign Born, established in 1933 by Roger N. Baldwin of the American Civil Liberties Union.
During the late 1920s, the Communist Party press occasionally referenced Samorodin's work with immigrants, yet the record of her activities in the United States appears to end abruptly in 1930. That year, a House of Representatives special committee charged with investigating Communist propaganda identified Samorodin as "a well-known agent of the Russian communist government." The committee's final report also pointed to the allegedly subversive ambitions of the National Council for Protection of Foreign Born Workers, claiming that Communists had "expected more from it than any other organization in the United States except the Communist Party itself." Despite these characterizations, the National Council was defunct by 1929 and Samorodin had likely moved on to other work.
As Nina Samorodin engaged in the work of union organizer she met fellow organizer Anthony Ramuglia. He proposed marriage and she accepted, but they did not have a formal ceremony. Their common-law marriage began on either 19 May or 3 July 1919 in Philadelphia. For more than twenty years they lived together as man and wife in Philadelphia, New York, Massachusetts, and California; separating in 1940.
On 1 July 1944, 47-year-old Anthony Ramuglia married Frances Pascal in California. On the marriage license he reported this as his first marriage. It is not known when Nina may have become aware of this marriage, but she did have their common law marriage declared legal by the Suffolk Probate Court in Massachusetts in May 1947. Nina filed for divorce in Los Angeles, California in April 1948 citing lack of financial support. Interestingly, the divorce paperwork does not mention Anthony's new marriage. The divorce was granted on 24 June 1948 and became final 7 July 1949.
Nina died 28 November 1981 in Fresno, California. Her body was not embalmed and was turned over to the San Francisco College Chapel for scientific use.
- Prior to 1920, particularly in references to her work with the National Woman's Party, her name is misspelled "Samarodin." In the majority of sources I have consulted, her name is spelled "Samorodin." This includes a letter she wrote to The Nation published in 1922.
- Doris Stevens, Jailed for Freedom (New York: Boni & Liveright, 1920), 179, 346, 367.
- On Kiev's treatment of Jews in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, see http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/kiev
- Jean H. Baker, Votes for Women: The Struggle for Suffrage Revisited, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 183-184, 188.
- Alice Kessler-Harris, "The Autobiography of Ann Washington Craton," Signs (Summer, 1976), 1019-1037. https://dokumen.tips/documents/the-autobiography-of-ann-washington-craton.html
- Nina Samorodin, Shirtmakers' Union, Local 153, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Box 5 Folder 11, Sidney Hillman Correspondence, 1911-1929, Amalgamated Clothing Workers records, 1914-1980, Kheel Center Archives, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York.
- Nina Samorodin, "Trade With Russia," The Nation (November 15, 1922), 524.
- National Council for Protection of Foreign Born Workers, Box 63, Tamiment Library & Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York, New York.
- Several Daily Worker articles quote Samorodin in her capacity as secretary to the National Council for Protection of Foreign Born Workers, including "Labor Secretary Davis Changes 'Hymn of Hate,'" Daily Worker January 31, 1927, p. 5.
- Part 1, Issue 4 of Investigation of Communist Propaganda: Hearings Before a Special Committee to Investigate Communist Activities in the United States of the House of Representatives, Seventy-first Congress, Second Session, Pursuant to H. Res. 220, Providing for an Investigation of Communist Propaganda in the United States (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1930), 148.
Sources added, Feb. 1, 2022:
- Social Security Administration. Application for Social Security Account Number. RAMUGLIA, Nina Samorodin. 2 December 1940. 555-26-2417. SSA, FOIA, P.O. Box 33022, Baltimore, Maryland.
-District of Columbia Department of Corrections [USA]. Register April 1917-September 1918 Washington Asylum Jail. p. 431, prisoner 1963. Lucy Burns Museum. 9518 Workhouse Way, Lorton, Virginia.
-Census records. USA. Winthrop, Suffolk, Massachusetts. 1 April 1930. RAMUGLIA, Anthony (head) ED 573 p. 4A. ancestry.com: accessed 7 May 2020.
-Census records. USA. Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California. 1 April 1940. RAMUGLIA, Anthony (head) ED 60-359 p. 7A. ancestry.com: accessed 9 May 2020.
-The Boston Record. (1947) Okay Common-Law Marriages. The Boston Record. 29 May. p. 10 col. 3. www.myheritage.com: accessed 9 May 2020.
-The Boston Post. (1947) Woman Made Legal Wife: Common Law Marriage Affirmed by Judge. The Boston Post. 29 May. p. 12 col. 4. www.myheritage.com: accessed 15 May 2020.
- Marriages (CR) USA. Los Angeles, California. 1 July 1944. RAMUGLIA, Anthony and PASCAL, Frances. cert. #16593. Collection: California, County Marriages, 1850-1952. familysearch.org: accessed 9 May 2020.
-Divorce announcements (1948) The Los Angeles Times. 30 April. RAMUGLIA, Nina S. against Anthony. p. 14 col. 1. newspapers.com: accessed 7 May 2020.
-Divorces (CR) USA. Los Angeles, California. 7 July 1949. Ramuglia, Nina S. vs. Ramuglia, Anthony. D. 359613. Superior Court, Los Angeles County, California. Archives: 222 N. Hill St. Room 212, Los Angeles, CA 90012.
-Deaths (CR) USA. Fresno, Fresno, California. 28 November 1981. RAMUGLIA, Nina S. (I.O.) certificate #1008. County Recorder, 2281 Tulare Street, Fresno, California.