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.
Greifer, Julian L. “Neighborhood Centre—a Study of the Adjustment of a Culture Group in America.” Ph.D. diss., School of Education, New York University, 1984; Kohn, C. Marian. Papers, Acc. 214, 1164, and 1309. Philadelphia Jewish Archives Center; Rose, Elizabeth. World of Our Mothers: Jewish Women, Families and Social Workers (1988); Schneyer, Mark. “Mothers and Children, Poverty and Morality: A Social Worker’s Priorities.” Pennsylvania Magazine of History & Biography (April 1988); Schwartz, Lily G. “C. Marian Kohn (1884-1969): The Most Caring Person I Ever Met” (1985).
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Schwartz, Lily. "C. Marian Kohn." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 27 February 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on May 21, 2019) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/kohn-c-marian>.