Florence Prag Kahn
(1866 - 1948)
Florence Prag Kahn was the first Jewish woman to
sit in the United States Congress as a Representative. She served
from 1925 to 1937.
She was born on November 9, 1866, in Salt Lake
City, Utah, to Mary and Conrad Prag. Her parents were Polish Jews,
who were early settlers of California. Her father was a merchant who
sold supplies to the miners during the Gold Rush.
In the mid-sixties, her parents moved to Salt Lake
City. He became a friend of Brigham Young. the Mormon leader. Her
mother wrote a book entitled My Life Among the Mormons. The
family returned to San Francisco when their business failed. Her
mother taught history at the San Francisco Girls' High School for
over fifty years. She was also an advocate of state pensions and was
later elected to the San Francisco Board of Education.
Florence Prag graduated from her mother's school
in 1883 and went on to receive a degree from the University of
California. She married Julius Kahn on March 19, 1899. He was the
newly elected Congressman from California. He served for twenty-six
years until he died on December 18, 1924.
When she and Julius Kahn were invited to the
Executive Mansion to have dinner with President McKinley, they walked
there as a carriage cost one dollar to hire. "In what
country," asked Julius Kahn, "could two poor Jews be on
their way to dine with the head of state?" He was not a wealthy
man and when he died he left $4,430. Florence Prag Kahn was elected
to Congress to replace her husband in a special election.
The Kahns were Republicans who were dedicated to
Judaism. Their sons were bar mitzvahed at Temple Emanuel. Most of the
influential San Francisco Jews were among her friends and fans.
She was a brilliant woman and the San Francisco
Chronicle in August, 1926, described her as "a Republican who
knows how to get things done." She had a keen sense of humor.
Once when asked "Would you favor a birth control law?"
"I will if you make it retroactive," she replied. On
another occasion, she heard that the Democratic Party leaders planned
to buy an island in the San Francisco Bay for a weekend retreat. She
quickly sent a note to the Attorney General suggesting Alcatraz for
She worked hard for the re-election of Herbert
Hoover as president, but he lost to Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Mrs.
Roosevelt praised Mrs. Kahn and sent her an open invitation to the
When she lost her bid for re-election in the
Roosevelt landslide, in 1936, she returned to private life. She
participated in the American Association of University Women,
Hadassah and the Council of Jewish Women. She traveled throughout
California trying to get women interested in national politics. She
died on November 16, 1948, of a heart disease.
When Florence Prag Kahn became the first Jewess
elected to Congress, she started a long chain of other Jewish women
following in her foot steps. Recently, there were two Jewish women
elected to the United States Senate from Mrs. Kahn's home state of
California, which was a tribute to her efforts in having women in
national politics and the legacy that she left for all women.
Sources: This is one of the 150 illustrated true stories of American heroism
included in Jewish
Heroes & Heroines of America : 150 True Stories of American
Jewish Heroism, © 1996, written by Seymour "Sy"
Brody of Delray Beach, Florida, illustrated by Art Seiden of
Woodmere, New York, and published by Lifetime Books, Inc., Hollywood,
Dictionary of the United States Congress