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Using the Collection
Note: some material may be restricted or offsite
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At a Glance
This collection is arranged in three series.
This collection consists of a range of materials, relating primarily to Alfred Kahn's education, military service, and professional life. The materials include lesson plans and drafts, publications, reviews, research notes, conference proceedings, and correspondence. There is also one box of video and audio tapes, including a video interview and some of Kahn's lectures at Columbia and elsewhere. In addition, the collection includes a small amount of personal correspondence and several photographs.
Using the Collection
Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Restrictions on Access
This collection is located off-site. You will need to request this material at least three business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room.
Files concerning consultations are restricted. Please see container list for exact box and folder.
Terms Governing Use and Reproduction
Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. The RBML maintains ownership of the physical material only. Copyright remains with the creator and his/her heirs. The responsibility to secure copyright permission rests with the patron.
Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Alfred J. Kahn Papers; Box and Folder; Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.
No additions are expected
About the Finding Aid / Processing Information
Columbia University Libraries, Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Papers processed Eve Mayer, Pratt SILS 2011 2010 December.
Cataloged Lea Osborne 2011/01/21.
2011-01-26 xml document instance created by Lea Osborne
2011-04-21 xml document instance updated by Catherine C. Ricciardi
2011-04-21 xml document instance updated by Carrie Hintz (reflects integration of 2011 accession)
2019-05-20 EAD was imported spring 2019 as part of the ArchivesSpace Phase II migration.
History / Biographical Note
Biographical / Historical
Alfred J. Kahn was a pioneer in the field of social work and served as a member of the Columbia University faculty for fifty-seven years. Born in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in 1919, Kahn spent much of his early life in the Bensonhurst neighborhood. His parents, Meyer and Sophie Kahn, raised their children in the Jewish faith. Kahn remained interested in his Jewish heritage through his college years, enrolling concurrently in the secular City College and in the Jewish Theological Seminary and graduating from both programs by 1940.
Kahn's interest in social work as a field of study developed during his college years. At City College, Kahn became active in the Zionist student organization called Avukah. As a student leader of Avukah, Kahn organized a national survey of Jewish college students in an effort to understand the particular needs and challenges of that community. This experience, along with a few courses in social work, convinced Kahn that this would be his vocation. After an initial rejection, Kahn was accepted into the M.S. program at the New York School of Social Work in 1941. He also remained engaged with the Jewish community through an administrative role in Avukah and a post as a Hebrew Sunday school teacher.
Kahn studied at the School of Social Work until 1942, when he entered the military. Stationed at the Air Force Drew Field Mental Health Unit in Florida-the first unit of its kind in the United States military-Kahn screened incoming patients and observed their patterns of adjustment and maladjustment. He also provided informal advice to soldiers (and occasionally their wives) through a column entitled "What's Your Problem?" Ultimately, he published a scholarly article based on his experiences at Drew and collected material that would help to launch his early career.
Upon his discharge from the military at the end of World War II, Kahn completed his M.S. at the New York School of Social Work and began his doctoral studies at Columbia University. He would maintain an affiliation with Columbia for the rest of his life. Kahn received the first doctorate in social work to be conferred at Columbia and, indeed, in the state of New York. He remained at Columbia, helping to develop the doctoral program and to shape the academic field of social work, particularly in the areas of family and child welfare, social service planning, and comparative international analysis.
In addition to his work as a professor, Alfred Kahn served as a consultant for federal, state, and local agencies as well as philanthropic organizations, in the development of social policy. His work in this capacity began very early in his career at the Citizen's Committee for Children. Kahn contributed to the CCC from 1948 to 1972, publishing a number of major studies on juvenile justice under CCC auspices. These publications drew Kahn onto the national stage in the 1950s as an expert on juvenile delinquency. He continued to serve as a policy advisor through the 1960s and 1970s, contributing to the shaping of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society programs.
Kahn remained interested in children and family structure throughout his long career. Over time, the geographic scope of his interest expanded. Along with his frequent collaborator Sheila Kamerman, Kahn embarked on comparative studies of European and American families and social policies. This research provided the basis for Kahn's increasingly frequent critiques of United States policies in the late 1970s and 1980s, and his advocacy for European-style socialized services to aid underprivileged Americans. At Columbia, Kahn and Kamerman established and co-chaired the Cross-National Studies research program, promoting comparative international scholarship.
Alfred J. Kahn received numerous honors and awards throughout his career and received several honorary degrees. Kahn retired in 1989 and continued to teach as a Professor Emeritus until 2004. He died in 2009, survived by his daughter, Nancy.