Florence Prag Kahn elected as first Jewish woman in U.S. Congress
As the wife of Julius Kahn, a U.S. Representative from San Francisco, Florence Prag Kahn had developed her own public identity by writing a column on Washington doings for her hometown newspaper. When her husband died, she ran in a special Congressional election held on February 17, 1925.
With her victory, Prag became the first Jewish woman and only the fifth woman to serve in Congress. She was reelected five times, serving until 1937. The next Jewish woman elected to Congress would be Bella Abzug in 1970.
In 1930, Kahn became the first woman to serve on the House Military Affairs Committee, where she introduced legislation that led to the creation of numerous military bases in her district and to the building of the Bay Bridge between San Francisco and Oakland.
A Republican, Kahn had excellent relationships with the leaders of her own Party. Yet, she was also the first Republican legislator to dine in Franklin Roosevelt's White House. During her years in Congress, Kahn was noted for her support of the rights of Chinese women and Native Americans and for her opposition to Prohibition and movie censorship. Alice Roosevelt Longworth, Teddy Roosevelt's daughter, called Kahn "an all-around first-rate legislator, the equal of any man in Congress and the superior of most."
Kahn argued that “there is no sex in citizenship and there should be none in politics.” She made this point in a slightly different way in the context of a newspaper interview that noted her refusal to lose weight or tend to her hair in order to please others. When asked later in the interview why it was that she received more than twice as many votes as her late husband ever got, she responded, “sex appeal!”
Kahn died in 1948.
To learn more about Florence Prag Kahn, visit Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia and Florence Kahn: Congressional Widow to Trailblazing Lawmaker.
Sources:Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, pp. 712-714; www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/biography/kahn.html; jwa.org/discover/inthepast/infocus/politics/kahn.html; New York Times, February 18, 1925; Communication from Ava Kahn, October 2004; Glenna Matthews, "'There is No Sex in Citizenship': The Career of Congresswoman Florence Prag Kahn" in We Have Come to Stay : American Women and Political Parties, 1880-1960, edited by Melanie Gustafson, Kristie Miller, and Elisabeth I. Perry. (Albuquerque, 1999), pp. 134-140.