Jump to Content

Collection Guide
Collection Title:
Collection Number:
Get Items:
Finding Aid to the William Schneiderman Papers larc.ms.0327
View entire collection guide What's This?
Search this collection
Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information
  • Biography
  • Scope and Contents

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: William Schneiderman papers
    Creator: Schneiderman, William
    Date (inclusive): 1920-1985
    Collection number: larc.ms.0026
    Accession number: 1988/104
    Repository: Labor Archives and Research Center
    J. Paul Leonard Library, Room 460
    San Francisco State University
    1630 Holloway Ave
    San Francisco, CA 94132-1722
    (415) 405-5571
    Language: Languages represented in the collection: English.
    Extent: 6.25 cubic feet (5 record cartons)
    Abstract: Primarily material related to Schneiderman's role as California State secretary of the Communist Party, including correspondence, leaflets, clippings, pamphlets, memoranda, reports, hearing transcripts and manuscript for his autobiography, Dissent on Trial , including one chapter not published.
    Location: Collection is available onsite.

    Administrative Information


    Collection is open for research.

    Publication Rights

    Copyright has not been assigned to the Labor Archives and Research Center. All requests for permission to publish or quote from materials must be submitted in writing to the Director of the Archives. Permission for publication is given on behalf of the Labor Archives and Research Center 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], William Schneiderman Papers, larc.ms.0026, Labor Archives and Research Center, San Francisco State University.

    Acquisition Information

    This collection was donated by Leah Schneiderman, the wife of William Schneiderman, in 1988 under the direction of Robert Cherny.

    Processing Information

    Processed by Rex Doane in October 1990.


    Born on December 14, 1905 in Romanov, Russia, William Schneiderman was brought to the United States at the age of two by his parents. The family settled in Chicago where Schneiderman's father worked in the garment industry. The Schneidermans would later relocate to Los Angeles in the 1920s after William's father contracted T.B. While in Los Angeles, Schneiderman wrote in his autobiography that the "land of promise" had once again "mocked" his family (Schneiderman, Dissent on Trial, p. 15). It was this disillusionment and the poverty that he suffered as a child that helped to, in Schneiderman's words, develop a strong "working-class consciousness" (Ibid. p. 17) early in life. At age 16, Schneiderman joined the Young Communist League to begin his long career of political activism. Schneiderman also held a number of jobs while in Los Angeles during the Twenties. Letters of recommendation found in this collection indicate that he worked as a bookkeeper for the Upholstery Union No. 15, in a similar capacity for the National Biscuit Company, and as an office clerk for a local grocery. Despite working ten hour days, Schneiderman attended night classes at UCLA. While enrolled, Schneiderman actively opposed the compulsory ROTC program on campus. As a result of his activities, school officials classified him as a "non-citizen." The consequence of this change in status meant that Schneiderman had to pay significantly higher tuition as a non-resident in order to complete his education. The increase in fees proved to be too much for the already strapped Schneiderman and he was forced to drop out. He would finally receive his degree some forty years later.
    Schneiderman's political convictions continued to have an impact on his personal fortunes. In 1925, he was fired from a job he had held for five years. The Simon Levi Company stated that Schneiderman was laid-off, "owing to some changes in our office work" (Simon Levi Co. letter of recommendation dated Nov. 28, 1925, Schneiderman Collection, box 2, folder 75). Schneiderman held that his dismissal was the result of being "fingered by the Red Squad." In 1927, Schneiderman's final citizenship papers came through and they would later become the source of some controversy. In 1930, Schneiderman was assigned by the Communist Party to become a district organizer in the New England area (a territory hard hit by unemployment). Schneiderman was transferred a year later to Minneapolis, where a number of party leaders had been indicted as a result of a "Red Scare." Serving once again as a district organizer, Schneiderman was also nominated as the Party's candidate for governor and received 5,000 votes. In 1935, Schneiderman spent a year in the Soviet Union and was deeply impressed with what he thought to be the future for all governments.
    Returning to California, Schneiderman was appointed as state secretary for the Communist Party, a position he held until 1957. In 1939, the year of his marriage to Leah, the U.S. Justice Department moved to deport Schneiderman on the basis of his membership to the Communist Party during the time of his naturalization. Schneiderman's citizenship trial would eventually reach the Supreme Court where he was represented by Wendell Wilkie without fee. Schneiderman won the case and soon made headlines again, when in 1949 he and fourteen other communist leaders were indicted under the Smith Act (a list of the individuals indicted is included in the noteworthy individuals index at the end of this guide). With the eventual Supreme reversal of the Smith Act, Schneiderman resumed his active role within the Communist Party, and as state secretary he delivered a number of speeches at the various state and national conventions. In 1982, Schneiderman wrote his autobiography, Dissent on Trial, chronicling his struggles as a life-long political activist. William Schneiderman died on January 29, 1985.

    Scope and Contents

    The material within this collection chiefly focuses on William Schneiderman's involvement in the Communist Party from 1931 until his retirement in the late 1960s. The types of material in the collection include: official and personal correspondence; court transcripts; newspaper clippings; Communist Party memos, newsletters, and pamphlets; research material; speech notes; and manuscript versions of both published and unpublished writings. The largest segment of the collection are the transcripts of speeches delivered by Schneiderman as California State secretary at the Communist Party state and national conventions. As long-time state secretary (and later chairman) of the California Communist Party, Schneiderman offers a critical and revealing view of the Party's development. As such, researchers will value his insight into the Communist Party and its internal turmoil. Issues often addressed by Schneiderman within his speeches include the rights of minorities and a need to develop a youth movement within the Party. Other issues include the steady decline of membership (particularly in the 1950s and early 1960s)and the developing ideological split in the party. Other noteworthy series in the collection include the Schneiderman citizenship case and the Smith Act trial materials. Included in the citizenship case are the Supreme Court briefs, news clippings, related correspondence, and the manuscripts of Schneiderman's speeches during the trial. This case still serves as a fundamental precedent for the rights of immigrants. Similarly, the speech notes, court transcripts, and newspaper clipping in the Smith Act series help further document the struggles endured by the Communist Party in the United States. Please note that the Smith Act transcripts included in this series are incomplete.
    Researchers should value the unpublished epilogue to Schneiderman's autobiography, Dissent on Trial. Indicative of Schneiderman's deep concern for the fate of the Communist Party, the epilogue is outspoken and fairly critical. In it, Schneiderman candidly writes that the Communist Party too quickly dismissed criticisms of the Soviet Union and too often held that these were merely distortions and falsehoods. While emphasizing the continued allegiance to the ideals of communism, Schneiderman warned that the Soviet Union could not be considered infallible and that certain alterations in policy were appropriate and just. The epilogue was considerably revised by Schneiderman prior to publication.

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Communist Party of the United States of America.
    Communism--United States.
    Communist trials--United States.
    Communists--United States.