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February 17: The First Jewish Woman in Congress

Lawrence Bush
February 17, 2017
Florence Prag Kahn, at age 58, became the first Jewish woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives on this date in 1925. She beat two other candidates in her San Francisco district to succeed her husband, Representative Julius Kahn, who had died after being reelected to his 13th term. Florence Kahn would herself be reelected five times, and was quite the conservative, relative to her time: She was a strong supporter of a beefed-up military and a beefed-up FBI (J. Edgar Hoover nicknamed her “the mother of the FBI”), an opponent of Roosevelt and his New Deal (FDR’s 1936 reelection landslide ended her career), and a Republican party-line voter. When Representative Fiorello La Guardia criticized her for being “nothing but a stand–patter following that reactionary Senator [George H.] Moses,” Republican leader from New Hampshire, Kahn shot back: “Why shouldn’t I choose Moses as my leader? Haven’t my people been following him for ages?” Kahn did effectively serve her district by helping to assure the funds for construction of both the Golden Gate Bridge and, in particular, the Bay Bridge, which connected San Francisco to Oakland and the East Bay and helped boost the economy of the entire Bay area. “I am not specifically interested in so–called women’s questions as all national positions are sexless.” --Florence Prag Kahn

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.