The great World Wars, both involved armies of nations from all across the globe. But, in both wars–historians would agree–the balance of power shifted when America joined the allies. And while historians may quarrel over whether America’s entry into World War I was good or bad, at the time of the war, that decision was in the hands of the politicians. For Jewish Treats, it is intriguing to note that, during the course of the war, the House Military Affairs Committee was chaired by Julius Kahn.
Kahn’s role on the Military Affairs Committee is most interesting given that he was a German Jew by birth, born in Kuppenheim, Baden in 1861. But Kahn’s family immigrated to the U.S. when he was five, and he was raised in California. After a short theatrical career, he entered the legal profession and political life in his early 30s and, in 1899, was elected to the House of Representatives. With the exception of one term, he served until his death in 1924. He helped draft and secure the passage of the National Defense Act of 1915, the Selective Draft Act of 1917, and the National Defense Act of 1920.
Although Julius Kahn was not the first Jew to serve in Congress, his death shortly after being re-elected for a 13th term, led the way to the first Jewish Congresswoman. His wife, Florence Prag Kahn, was born in Salt Lake City, Utah (1866) and raised in San Francisco. Elected to fill her husband’s position in 1925, the former school teacher went on to serve five more terms and was the first woman to sit on the House Military Affairs Committee.
The Kahns were members of Congregation Emanu El of San Francisco, and Florence was a member of Hadassah and the Council of Jewish Women.