Caroline Klein Simon sworn in as NY Secretary of State
On January 1, 1959, following Governor Nelson Rockefeller's inaugural address, his government appointees were sworn into office in a modest ceremony in the executive chamber of the New York State capitol building. Among them was Caroline Klein Simon, the second woman to hold the office of Secretary of State for New York.
Born in 1900, Simon earned a law degree at New York University in 1925. Unable to find a law firm willing to hire a woman, she worked for free for a year in order to prove that a woman could be a lawyer. At the end of the year, her law firm offered her a permanent job, but she chose to work for family planning groups and indigent clients instead. That choice marked the beginning of a lifelong dedication to public service.
In addition to volunteer work with the League of Women Voters, the Women's City Club, and the National Council of Jewish Women, Simon held paid positions as the executive director of the New York State Council of Jewish Women and as editor of the Birth Control Review. Simon was also active in city and state politics. In 1937, she spearheaded a campaign to allow women to serve on juries and became among the first women called to serve. A registered Republican, she worked on the campaigns of Franklin Roosevelt, Thomas Dewey, and Fiorella LaGuardia.
Simon took up her first government post in 1943, when she became a member of the State War Council's Committee on Discrimination in Employment; later, she was the only woman member of the State Commission Against Discrimination, a position she held for more than ten years. In 1957, she became the first woman nominated for citywide office when the Republican party made her its candidate for president of the New York City Council. Although she lost the election, she ran some 100,000 votes ahead of the rest of the Republican ticket. Less than two years later, Nelson Rockefeller appointed her Secretary of State, a post she held until 1963; she then served on the New York Court of Claims until 1971. Simon continued to practice law into her nineties.
Throughout her years on the Commission Against Discrimination and in other state government posts, Simon was a strong voice for strengthening laws against discrimination in jobs and housing. She helped draft the first U.S. state law barring employment discrimination on the basis of race, religion, or nationality. Later, she led the way in barring racial "block-busting," a practice in which real estate agents exploited fears of racial integration to incite sales. Living out her credo of being simply "against discrimination in any form," Simon spent a lifetime working to bring down barriers. She died in July 1993, at age 92.
To learn more about Caroline Klein Simon, visit Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia.
See also: This Week in History for November 12, 1990, "Birth of Caroline Klein Simon, anti-discrimination pioneer."; Caroline Klein Simon in the Virtual Archive.
Sources: Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, pp. 1258-1260; New York Times, July 2, 1957, December 4, 1958, January 2, 1959, July 30, 1993.