Mary Goldsmith Prag, California educator and mother of the first Jewish Congresswoman, dies
She came to America by ship to New York, then went on to Nicaragua, which she crossed by mule and canoe, then by steamship to California. She was six years old. It was 1852.
Mary Goldsmith’s family left Poland to settle in San Francisco, where her father was a ritual butcher for the fledgling Jewish community. Graduating from San Jose State Normal School, she was 21 when she married Conrad Prag, fifteen years her senior and a former gold miner turned merchant.
Mary Goldsmith Prag taught at Temple Emanu-El for 28 years and was head of the history department at San Francisco’s Girl’s High School, later becoming that school’s vice-principal. She became well known for her progressive educational methods, tenacity, and sense of humor, she became the first Jewish member of the San Francisco Board of Education, where she served for 30 years. Among her accomplishments there were the passage of the Teachers’ Pension Bill and a bill that guaranteed women teachers were paid the same as men.
Prag also wrote memoirs of early California life collected at the Western Jewish History Center at the Judah Magnes Museum in Berkeley. Her reminiscences of Jewish education in San Francisco are published in Jacob Voorsanger’s The Chronicles of Emanu-El.
She left a record of Jewish life in the nineteenth-century West Coast, demonstrating how a woman and a practicing Jew could play a leadership role in religious and public life, a model followed by her daughter, Florence Prag Kahn. Kahn became the first Jewish congresswoman in 1925 when she succeeded her husband Julius Kahn, going on to serve six terms in the US Congress through1937. The next Jewish woman elected to Congress would be Bella Abzug in 1970.
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Jewish Women's Archive. "Mary Goldsmith Prag, California educator and mother of the first Jewish Congresswoman, dies." (Viewed on October 1, 2022) <https://jwa.org/thisweek/mar/17/1935/this-week-in-history-mary-goldsmith-prag-california-educator-and-mother-of>.