Kahn, Florence Prag

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KAHN, FLORENCE PRAG (1866–1948), U.S, congresswoman. Elected in 1924 to the United States House of Representatives for the first of six two-year terms, Kahn in her first speech before the House observed that since Moses had conducted the world's first census, she was especially qualified to address the reapportionment issue. Kahn, a Republican from San Francisco, California, the first Jewish congresswomen, chose to introduce herself to her colleagues as a Jew.

Kahn's Polish parents reached San Francisco during the Gold Rush. Her father was a 49er, while her mother arrived in 1852. Florence, born in Salt Lake City (where her parents lived briefly) grew up in a family and city where a Jewish woman had examples of success. In cosmopolitan San Francisco, Jews worked with non-Jews and faced relatively little antisemitism.

Educated in San Francisco's public and Jewish schools, Kahn earned a degree at the University of California at Berkeley in 1887. She became the first Berkeley graduate to teach in the San Francisco public school system. In 1899 Florence Prag married San Francisco Congressman Julius Kahn; he served in the House until 1924 except one term when he failed to win re-election.

In Washington, Florence served as her husband's secretary and observer for his local district, regularly sitting in the gallery of the House. Starting in 1919 she wrote columns for the San Francisco Chronicle which discussed a wide range of political issues.

After her husband's death in 1924, Kahn ran successfully for his seat in Congress. While her husband had been ill, she had been the de facto representative. The first piece of legislation Kahn introduced was a bill to reimburse Indians for land that had been taken from them in the treaties of 1851 and 1852. The bill was defeated. However, eventually California's native peoples received some compensation.

Kahn also helped her district's Chinese citizens. She supported an amendment providing citizenship for Chinese women married to American-born Chinese men, noting that the existing law deprived Chinese men and women of family life. In 1930 Congress changed the law to allow Chinese women who had married before the 1924 immigration legislation to enter the country. She also supported an amendment that passed on citizenship to children of American-born women residing outside the United States, the law already gave men this right.

Often receiving endorsements from both Republicans and Democrats, Kahn was the first woman appointed to the Committee on Military Affairs. She also served on the Appropriations Committee and co-authored legislation that obtained federal support for California's military installations and the building of the Oakland-Bay Bridge which connected Oakland to San Francisco.

For Kahn, citizenship rights for men and women, the Republican Party, and a confident Jewish identity were the core of her life and politics. She only voted against her party when Republicans supported prohibition and movie censorship, two issues that had a financial impact on her district. Known as a forceful, shrewd, and witty politician, Kahn's credo was "[t]here is no sex in citizenship, and there should be none in politics."


D.G. Dalin, "Jewish and Non-Partisan Republicanism in San Francisco, 1911–1963," in: American Jewish History, 68 (June 1979), 492–516; D. Gelfand, "Gentlewomen of the House," in: American Mercury, 18 (October 1929), 151–60; H. Hansen, "Woman Enters Politics: San Francisco's Pioneer Congresswoman, Florence Prag Kahn" (M.A. thesis, San Francisco State University, 1969); A.F. Kahn and G. Matthews, "120 Years of Women's Activism," in: A.F. Kahn and M. Dollinger (eds.), California Jews (2003); Kahn Collection, Western Jewish History Center, Judah Magnes Museum, Berkeley, California; F.P. Keyes, "The Lady from California," in: Delineator, 118 (February 1931); A.R. Longworth, "What Are the Women Up To?" in: Ladies Home Journal, 51 (March 1934); G. Matthews, "'There is No Sex in Citizenship': the Career of Congresswoman Florence Prag Kahn," in: M. Gustafson, K. Miller, and E.I. Perry (eds.), We Have Come to Stay: American Women and Political Parties, 18801960 (1999).

[Ava F. Kahn (2nd ed.)]