C. Marian Kohn
Despite being legally blind from childhood due to cataracts, C. Marian Kohn worked tirelessly to help others in need, from orphans and immigrants to people with disabilities. In 1907 Kohn’s first job as house mother at the Industrial Home for Jewish Girls lasted only two weeks before she was promoted to superintendent. By 1911 she was director of clubs and classes at the Neighborhood Centre, a Jewish settlement house, and in 1917 she became the Centre’s head worker. From 1925 to 1934 she served as founding executive director of the Orphan Guardian Society, then began work as supervisor of the Blind Pension Fund. In 1937 she turned to advocacy as a consultant on blindness for the Pennsylvania Department of Assistance.
A product of the Progressive Era and conservative Philadelphia German Jewish society, social worker C. Marian Kohn would not have defined herself as a feminist, yet her efforts on behalf of poor Philadelphia Jewish immigrant women clearly indicated that she was a woman ahead of her time. She was aware that the court system was stacked against women, and her advocacy of pensions that would allow mothers to stay home to care for their children puts her in tune with a concept of radical feminism.
C. Marian Kohn was born on April 2, 1884, into Philadelphia German Jewish “society” through her Bavarian-born maternal grandfather, Charles Bloomingdale. She was the fifth and youngest child of Florence (Bloomingdale) and Morris Kohn, a shirtmaker and later a manufacturer’s agent who was born in Marback, Germany.
Kohn was afflicted with congenital cataracts and was considered legally blind. She attended Overbrook School for the Blind in Philadelphia and, upon graduation, the Neff School of Oratory. She had no degree in social work when she began but took courses and received vocational certification from the Pennsylvania School of Social Work in 1934. Her first job was as house mother at the Industrial Home for Jewish Girls in 1907. Two weeks later, she became superintendent.
In 1911, Kohn was named director of clubs and classes at Neighborhood Centre, an agency established to aid in the social adjustment of Jewish immigrants. In 1917, Kohn became head worker, distinguishing herself and enhancing the agency. She became the first executive director of the Orphans Guardian Society in 1925, where she remained until 1934 when she became supervisor of the Blind Pension Fund. When the Pennsylvania Department of Assistance was created in 1937, Kohn became a consultant on issues regarding the visually disabled. She retired in 1955.
A pioneer in the battle to improve the lot of women and to achieve rights for the disabled, Kohn died on July 1, 1969, at age eighty-five.
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