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Kahn, Florence Prag (1866–1948)

Kahn, Florence Prag (1866–1948)

American Republican congressional representative from Utah (1925–37). Born in Salt Lake City, Utah, on November 9, 1866; died in San Francisco, California, on November 16, 1948; daughter of Conrad Prag and Mary (Goldsmith) Prag; University of California at Berkeley, A.B. 1887; married Julius Kahn (a politician), in March 19, 1899 (died 1924); children: Julius Kahn; Conrad P. Kahn.

The daughter of Polish immigrants, Florence Prag Kahn was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1866, but grew up in San Francisco, California, where her family moved in 1869. After graduating from the University of California in 1887, she aspired to a career in law, but the family's modest income precluding any further education. Instead, she became a schoolteacher, working for 12 years before her marriage to Julius Kahn, an actor turned politician who had just been elected the Republican congressman from California's Fourth District. With the exception of one term, Julius served for the next 25 years, during which time Florence supported his career, working particularly closely with him during the final years of his tenure when illness prevented him from fully carrying out his duties. Upon his death in 1924, she decided to run for his vacated seat. Elected in a special election held in February 1925, Kahn was reelected to five succeeding Congresses. Not only did she effectively advance her husband's legislative agenda, particularly in the area of military preparedness, but she became an effective member of the House in her own right. From her earliest days, she was known for her wit, especially during floor debates.

Kahn was somewhat dismayed over her early committee assignments, which included the Committee on the Census, the Committee on Coinage, Weights, and Measures, and the Committee on Indian Affairs, about which she bristled, "The only Indians in my district are in front of cigar stores." Later she served on the Committee on Military Affairs and on the Appropriations Committee. She was credited with securing expanded military installations in her district and was instrumental in gaining congressional approval for the San Francisco Bay Bridge, linking San Francisco and Oakland. She was also a staunch supporter of the FBI, and was friendly with its head J. Edgar Hoover, who referred to her as the "mother of the bureau."

Despite her popularity, Kahn lost her bid for a sixth term during the Democratic landslide of 1936. She retired to California and died there on November 16, 1948.

sources:

McHenry, Robert, ed. Famous American Women. NY: Dover, 1980.

Office of the Historian. Women in Congress, 1917–1990. Commission on the Bicentenary of the U.S. House of Representatives, 1991.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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