Kahn, Edmund J. and Louise Wolff (1904–1984)

By: Natalie Ornish

Type: Biography

Published: December 1, 1995

Updated: August 29, 2020

Edmund J. (Eddie) Kahn, cotton broker, oil explorer, and philanthropist, was born in Dallas, Texas, on October 18, 1904, the son of Jacob and Cora (Newberger) Kahn. His father had moved to Dallas from New York when A. L. Wolf and Company, whom Jacob represented buying and selling cotton, opened a branch in Dallas. Edmund graduated in 1921 from Forest Avenue High School. He served in the United States Army Air Corps in World War II. He went into business with his father and eventually became president of the Dallas Cotton Exchange. Louise Wolff Kahn, daughter of Julius and Hilda (Adler) Wolff, was born on October 5, 1910, in New York City and moved to Dallas in 1937, the year she and Kahn married. During World War II she served as secretary to Stanley Marcus while her husband was in the military. Kahn later became an independent oil producer. He served as chairman of the Dallas City Planning Commission for many years. In 1965 he headed the committee that established the Dallas County Community College District. "He was the conscience of the junior college system in getting it done right," said former Dallas Mayor J. Erik Jonsson, who worked with Kahn on large civic projects. Kahn also was on the site-selection committee for the Dallas City Hall. In 1972 he and his wife donated more than half a million dollars to Southern Methodist University to endow a chair in the department of history. In 1976 the Kahns made a $3 million contribution for educational uses. Of this, $1 million went to the Dallas Foundation for use in acquisitions at the proposed downtown library. The donation was at the time the largest single gift ever made to the foundation, according to Joe (Joseph M.) Dealey, then chairman of the foundation's board of governors. Kahn had graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1925 and Mrs. Kahn from Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, in 1931. Each of these institutions received a million dollars from the 1976 gift.

During their lives the Kahns gave an estimated $20 million to foster education and the arts in Texas. About $5 million of this philanthropy occurred before Kahn's death in 1984, and the rest subsequently, at the hands of Mrs. Kahn. On December 10, 1987, she donated more than $1 million to help build the Edmund J. Kahn Job Training Center at the Bill J. Priest Institute for Economic Development. She said she made this gift because her husband was interested "in helping people who could not do what they might be able to do"; an editorial in the Dallas Morning News said the gift "helped many minority businesses get started." Besides education, the Kahns supported historic preservation, medicine, and the fine arts. Edmund Kahn was an original trustee of Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas. Mrs. Kahn was an officer of the Historic Preservation League and a member of the Historic Landmark Committee. In 1989 she established a $3 million fund for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, the Kahns' second large contribution to the DSO. She had previously given a million dollars to the music library at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony center. By these gifts she became a bellwether for other Texans' contributions.

Edmund Kahn died on October 30, 1984, in Dallas. The couple had no children. Mrs. Kahn died on November 27, 1995, in Dallas and left the bulk of her estate, valued at more than $25 million, for the same sorts of philanthropic causes she and her husband had fostered. Louise Kahn's memorial service was held at the Meyerson Symphony Center.

Dallas Morning News, November 29, 1995. Dallas Times Herald, August 4, 1989. Natalie Ornish, Pioneer Jewish Texans (Dallas: Texas Heritage, 1989).

  • Peoples
  • Jews
  • Business
  • Activism and Social Reform
  • Civic Leaders
  • Patrons, Collectors, and Philanthropists
Time Periods:
  • Progressive Era
  • Great Depression
  • Texas in the 1920s
  • World War II
  • Texas Post World War II
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Dallas
  • North Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Natalie Ornish, “Kahn, Edmund J. and Louise Wolff,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 23, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/kahn-edmund-j-and-louise-wolff.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

December 1, 1995
August 29, 2020

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