Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Alfred J. Kahn Papers, 1919-2009

Summary Information


This collection consists of papers relating to the personal life, military service, and academic career of Columbia University professor Alfred J. Kahn.

At a Glance

Call No.: MS#1549
Bib ID 8386417 View CLIO record
Creator(s) Kahn, Alfred J., 1919-2009
Title Alfred J. Kahn Papers, 1919-2009
Physical Description 11.76 linear feet (28 document boxes)
Language(s) English .

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.



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.

  • Series I: Personal, 1919-2009

    This series contains mixed materials relating to the family life, education, and military service of Alfred J. Kahn. The subjects covered include awards and honors, including honorary degrees. There are also personal records from Kahn's college and graduate career, including early statements of his interest in social work and documentation of his participation in the Avukah Zionist student organization. There are also materials pertaining to Kahn's family life, several photographs, and transcripts of eulogies from Kahn's memorial services in 2009.

    The series also documents Kahn's military service at the Air Force Drew Field Mental Health Unit during World War II. The Drew MHU, in Florida, was the first of its kind, and the material included from this period of Kahn's life provides insight into the early diagnosis and treatment of mental illness among soldiers. Kahn began research at Drew that contributed directly to his professional development and, as a result, some of the materials in this section are of a professional as well as a personal nature. One folder of patient interview notes has been restricted due to the personal nature of its contents.

  • Series II: Professional, 1942-2008

    This series consists of materials documenting Alfred J. Kahn's career and professional activities. The content includes published writing as well as drafts, lecture notes, press clippings, and conference proceedings. Kahn's associations with non-academic organizations and his contributions to city, state, and federal policy are also documented here.

    The majority of materials in this series pertain to Kahn's teaching and research activities, as well as his professional publications. Syllabi and lecture notes provide insight into Kahn's teaching methods. The series also includes records of Kahn's televised lectures on CBS as part of a 1968 Columbia University public education initiative.

    Many of the publications that Kahn produced over the course of his career are also present in this series, either in draft or final form. The series also includes some of the raw material Kahn collected in the form of notes from his research trips to Europe with frequent collaborator Sheila Kamerman.

    In addition to teaching and research, Kahn contributed to public discourse about social policy in an advisory role. These include community organizations such as the Citizens' Committee for Children (CCC). The series features extensive records of CCC communications and publications, including some of the work that Kahn published under CCC auspices. The series also features records of Kahn's congressional testimony and his contributions to official reports and committees. One issue of note is juvenile delinquency, an early area of expertise for Alfred Kahn that initiated his involvement with federal policy in the 1950s.

  • Series III: Audiovisual Material, 1977-2004

    This Series consists of video and audiotapes, as well as one DVD interview of Dr. Kahn. The videotapes document Kahn's lectures from Columbia University course 8801, "Comparative Histories of Social Welfare and Social Work," during his last year of teaching. The audiotapes include a number of taped lectures Kahn gave at various organizations in the United States.

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.

Preferred Citation

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

Processing Information

Papers processed Eve Mayer, Pratt SILS 2011 2010 December.

Cataloged Lea Osborne 2011/01/21.

Revision Description

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.

Subject Headings

The subject headings listed below are found in this collection. Links below allow searches at Columbia University through the Archival Collections Portal and through CLIO, the catalog for Columbia University Libraries, as well as ArchiveGRID, a catalog that allows users to search the holdings of multiple research libraries and archives.

All links open new windows.


Heading "CUL Archives:"
"CUL Collections:"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
Clippings (Information Artifacts) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Military records Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Syllabi Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID


Heading "CUL Archives:"
"CUL Collections:"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
Avukah, American Student Zionist Federation Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Child welfare -- Government policy -- New York (State) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Child welfare -- Government policy -- United States Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Citizens' Committee for Children of New York Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Columbia University. School of Social Work Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Columbia University. School of Social Work. Cross-National Studies Research Program Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Conference proceedings Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Congressional committee records Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Family policy -- United States Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Jewish Board of Guardians Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Judaism and social problems -- United States Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Juvenile delinquency -- New York (State) -- New York Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Juvenile delinquency -- United States Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Kahn, Alfred J., 1919-2009 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Kamerman, Sheila B. Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
New York (State) -- Social policy Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Social policy Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Social work education Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Soldiers -- Mental health -- United States Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
United States -- Social policy Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID

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.