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Celeste Strack Kaplan Papers, 1931-1996
MSS 035  
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Collection Details
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  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information
  • Biography
  • Scope and Content
  • Related Material at the Southern California Library for Social Studies and Research

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Celeste Strack Kaplan Papers,
    Date (inclusive): 1931-1996
    Collection number: MSS 035
    Creator: Kaplan, Celeste Strack, 1915-1998
    Extent: 3 boxes, 1 half-box, 1 oversize box

    3 linear feet
    Repository: Southern California Library for Social Studies and Research
    Los Angeles, CA 90044
    Abstract: Papers of a 1930s student radical and Communist Party member. The collection covers her activities from her undergraduate debating career through her resignation from the party in 1958.
    Language: English.

    Administrative Information


    Donated to the Library by Celeste Strack Kaplan's husband, Leon Kaplan, November 10, 1999.


    The collection is available for research only at the Library's facility in Los Angeles. The Library is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. Researchers are encouraged to call or email the Library indicating the nature of their research query prior to making a visit.

    Publication Rights

    Copyright has not been assigned to The Southern California Library for Social Studies and Research. Researchers may make single copies of any portion of the collection, but publication from the collection will be allowed only with the express written permission of the Library's director. It is not necessary to obtain written permission to quote from a collection. When the Southern California Library for Social Studies and Research gives permission for publication, it is as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by the reader.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Celeste Strack Kaplan Papers, The Southern California Library for Social Studies and Research, Los Angeles, California.


    Celeste Strack Kaplan was born in 1915 in Chicago; the Strack family moved to San Diego during her childhood. After graduating from high school (1932), she earned a full scholarship to the University of Southern California (USC) where she was the only member of the freshman class to achieve an A average. She was a member of the championship women's debate team. Raised in a Republican household, Kaplan became involved in radical student politics at USC and was expelled in 1934 for her political activities. During the summer, Kaplan returned to San Diego and worked with the National Student League (NSL) and the American League Against War and Fascism, organizing in the local high schools before enrolling in UCLA. She also covered the 1934 San Francisco General Strike for the NSL's newspaper.
    As a UCLA student, Kaplan continued her association with the NSL (organizing at UCLA and Los Angeles Junior College). She had worked on organizing the 1934 Student Strike for Peace at USC, and also the 1935 Student Strike for Peace at UCLA. Kaplan and four male students (including the Student Body President) were suspended in November 1934 for attempting to arrange an open student forum. Kaplan specifically was charged with "persistent violation of university regulations including the holding of communistic meetings on its grounds." A large scale, negative publicity campaign was launched with support from a number of liberal organizations. Kaplan and the other students were reinstated with full credit in December 1934. In 1935, she was part of a 24-member delegation to Cuba in response to a request from the outlawed National Labor Federation of Cuba (pre-revolutionary Cuba was controlled by U.S. corporate interests). The delegation included various labor union leaders, writer Clifford Odets, and others; Kaplan was the NSL delegate. The delegation was arrested upon their arrival and deported. Kaplan graduated from UCLA with a Bachelor of Arts and went on to receive a Masters of Economics from UC Berkeley and a Masters of Social Work from UCLA. While in graduate school Kaplan continued to work on youth related projects including the American Youth Congress, American Student Union movement, and the YWCA's work on the Federal Youth Act.
    Kaplan was a member of the YCL (Young Communist League) as early as the summer of 1934, though she denied party membership at the time of her suspension. She married fellow party member, Leon Kaplan sometime in the 1940s. She continued to use her maiden name (Strack) through the 1950s. During the 1940s and 1950s, Kaplan wrote regularly for Political Affairs magazine, which was sub-titled "A magazine devoted to the theory and practice of Marxism-Leninism," under her own name and two pen names: Catherine Welland and Mary Norris. Her writing also appeared in New Masses and Mainstream. In 1948, as the Educational Director of the Communist Party of California, Kaplan testified in Hawaii in defense of John and Aiko Reinecke, a husband and wife both dismissed from teaching jobs for alleged communist affiliation. Kaplan also went on a speaking tour of the islands sponsored by the Hawaii Civil Liberties Committee (HCLC). 1948 was also the year she taught a class in "The History of Socialism in the United States" at the California Labor School. During this time period, Kaplan's husband was Labor Secretary for the party. In the early 1950's, the couple was sent underground, moving all over the country, sometime separated, and unable to contact their families. Their only daughter, Anna was born (1954) during this time. In 1955, they re-emerged (it was at this point that Kaplan returned to UCLA for her Masters of Social Work). In 1958, the Kaplans left the party as part of a mass resignation. This was a period that found many disillusioned with the Communist Party who went on to create other alternative political organizations
    After leaving the party, Kaplan went on to become the director of EL NIDO, a multi-ethnic social service agency serving children and families in Los Angeles County. She retired for the first time in 1983, going on to become founder and first president of the Los Angeles Roundtable for Children (1983-1990), help create the County Department of Children and Family Services (1984), and teach at the USC School of Social Work. In 1990, she retired again, moving with her husband to Ventura County to be near their daughter and her family, but Kaplan still taught at the Ventura County USC School of Social Work. She died in 1998.

    Scope and Content

    This collection contains correspondence, flyers, articles, teaching materials, manuscript drafts, a thesis, a book, clippings and periodicals. The collection is divided fairly evenly between clippings, published articles and unpublished letters and other collected materials. The materials give an inside view of the radical student movement of the 1930s through correspondence, flyers and periodicals, and the life and achievements of a specific, gifted student, including her prize winning record as a debater at USC. It also documents some of her activities as the Educational Director of the Communist Party of California in the 1940s. It contains no reference to her period underground except for one undated letter in which she tells her correspondent where she is really staying as opposed to where she is "officially" staying. The collection ends with her resignation from the party in 1958. It contains no information on her later career as a social worker and teacher.
    The collection also contains fairly extensive clippings and periodicals files. Besides the usual materials the collection contains two volumes, a 1960 thesis about the New Deal and Youth, in which Kaplan is mentioned, and a well annotated book (both directly on the page and on detailed strips of paper stuck between the pages), The Political Economy of Growth by Paul A. Baran, which Kaplan apparently used in writing State Monopoly Capitalism. Serril Gerber, who is also mentioned in the Blacklisted Teachers Collections, and radical lawyer Richard Gladstein, also make appearances in Kaplan's papers.


    The collection is divided into three series: Student Period, Communist Party Period , and Clippings and Periodicals

    Related Material at the Southern California Library for Social Studies and Research

    Title: Richard Gladstein Papers,
    Date: 1930-1969
    Physical Description: 10 boxes
    Title: Abraham Minkus Papers: Blacklisted Teachers in Los Angeles,
    Date: 1945-1983
    Physical Description: 4 boxes


    Kaplan, Anna L. Born Underground, in Red Diapers: Growing Up in the Communist Leftedited by Kaplan, Judy and Shapiro, LinnUrbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1998.