104-Year-Old Voting For Eight Decades Says ‘Every Vote Counts’

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Doris Kahn and her daughters, Susan Weikers Balaban, left, and Barbara Friedman .(Susan C. Ingram)

The year Doris Kahn was born, 1914, World War I erupted, and by the time it was over more than 16 million people had perished. A year before the end of the Great War women won the right to vote in New York, where Kahn was born, and three years after that the 19th Amendment granted women the right to vote.

Kahn first exercised that right in 1936, voting for Democratic presidential  incumbent Franklin Delano Roosevelt. She has voted in every presidential  election since — 20 in all, spanning 80 years — because, she said, although that first time was important to her in those early years of women’s suffrage, every presidential election is important.

“It’s important for the country,” she said from her room in Levindale, where she has lived for six years following a stroke. While the stroke slowed her down, the outspoken redhead stays as active as she can, socializing with family and friends and picking out favorite tunes on the piano that she brought to Levindale from her Pikesville home.

When John F. Kennedy was running for president, Kahn put a big picture in the window of her home on Smith Avenue. She picked a winner “almost every time,” she said.

Now, she leads by example.

“I tell them what I’m doing and let them decide for themselves,” she said of her fellow Levindale residents. But she’s inspired her daughters Susan Weikers Balaban and Barbara Friedman all their lives, and encouraged them, and others, to follow her lead.

“Aside from voting, my mother would tell a stranger who was smoking a  cigarette not to smoke and why,” Friedman said. “It would be embarrassing  sometimes.”

“She never smoked and she’s not a drinker,” Balaban added.

Kahn was born in Manhattan and  worked as a clerk at the former Gimbel  Brothers department store. She was  married in 1938 and moved to Baltimore in 1942. She has two daughters, a son,  five grandchildren and two great- grandchildren.

In her small, colorful room at Levindale,  lined with family photos and mementos, a large lacquered plaque dominates one wall — a testament to Kahn’s belief in America’s Democratic system and the fight for it to be equitable.

The plaque is an April 13, 1992, newspaper  clipping about Kahn’s fight for the  Maryland legislature to recognize Thomas Kennedy, a native Scotsman and Maryland legislator, who in 1826 won Jews the right to hold public office in Maryland.

Kahn was on hand the day a Statehouse exhibit and a plaque honoring Kennedy was unveiled.

“She bugged the governor and the  congresspeople and the local senators,” Balaban said, adding that her mother said she would not stop until he was recognized.

“Perseverance will help,” Kahn told the Baltimore Sun about working for more than three years to get Kennedy honored. “They got sick and tired of me and so did my friends. I think it’s wonderful that this man will finally be remembered.”

Kahn said she has seen a change in the country’s political climate since she began voting eight decades ago, especially when political ads began appearing  on television, but she said, “I didn’t change my views.”

“I feel I’m a real American,” she said. “I have a choice. I vote for who I want. And it counts.”

“You’ll be sorry if the wrong candidate came in and you didn’t vote,” she added. And when she picks the right candidate, she said, it makes her feel “like a million dollars.”

Kahn said she looks for honest  candidates who support families and Israel, which in 2016 led her to vote for Hillary Clinton.

“She had a very wonderful background because her husband was president and she got a lot of confidence from that,” Kahn said, adding that she enjoys  following politics on television.

Though she’s now confined to a wheelchair, Kahn still takes great pleasure in  sidling up to her piano (she’s been playing since age 11) in one of Levindale’s daylit lounges and picking out a few tunes with her one good hand.

Her favorite? A patriotic ditty penned by Jewish composer and lyricist Irving Berlin during World War I: “God Bless America.”

singram@midatlanticmedia.com

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1 COMMENT

  1. Dear Cousins,
    Happy birthday to your Mom.She is remarkable!Best wishes to the entire family.
    Love and best wishes always,Cousin Ethel

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