Sisterhood Blog

Frieda Barkin Hennock, Federal Communications Commissioner

By Chana Pollack

  • Print
  • Share Share

Forward Association

Welcome to Throwback Thursday, a weekly photo feature in which we sift 116 years of Forward history to find snapshots of women’s lives.

In June 1951, Frieda Barkin Hennock was nominated for to a federal judge position in the Southern District of New York. Her nomination warranted coverage in the Yiddish Forverts. The headlines themselves seem to shep nakhes (take pride) noting the fact that “Miss Hennock” was Polish born, a not entirely subtle way to tell readers that she was undzers, she’s one of us — a Yiddish speaking immigrant from the old country.

Hailing from the shtetl of Kowel, in a territory that was formerly Poland and is now Ukraine, Hennock arrived in the United States as a six-year-old in 1910. She came with her seven older siblings and her parents, Boris and Sarah. According to the Forverts, the young Frieda showed talent already as a child when she studied piano. She was such a good musician that after graduating Morris High School in the Bronx, it seemed music would be her career, or so her father thought.

Frieda, however, had another idea. She wanted to be a lawyer. The precocious Frieda entered Brooklyn Law School immediately upon graduating high school, overcoming parental resistance and working as a law clerk in order to pay for her schooling. When she graduated in 1924, she was 19 and too young to be admitted to the bar. At 21, she became the youngest lawyer in New York at the time. The Forverts struck an excited tone when reporting on the lawyer-ke (woman lawyer) with the interesting career, noting that the 48-year-old “Miss Hennock” was only the third woman nominated as a federal judge. She had been the first woman and Democrat, the Forverts noted, accepted to the “Republican law firm” of Choate, Mitchell and Ely. The paper cited her record as a champion of women’s rights and the “plights of the masses.”

In 1948, Hennock was appointed by President Harry Truman to the Federal Communications Commission, becoming the first woman to hold that position, which, the paper noted, she worked with all her strength to ensure that radio and television viewers are not “sold out to business interests.” To that end, she led the struggle to ensure that a portion of television channels were made available for cultural and educational purposes. It was during Hennock’s tenure at the FCC, that educational television, now public television, was developed. Hennock even appeared on NBC’s “Mrs. Roosevelt Meets The Public’” to discuss the topic, and finally succeeding with the opening of a first such channel, KUHT-TV in Houston, Texas.

Nominated to be a judge for the Southern District of New York by President Truman, Hennock received support from the Women Lawyer’s Association of the State of New York, the National Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs as well as the Federal Communications Bar Association but not that of the American Bar Association. Many colleagues on the FCC such as Wayne Coy, the Chairman, testified on her behalf before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on her nomination.

As the hearing proceeded, questions were soon raised about her character as well as abilities. She subsequently faced the committee’s unrelenting inquiry mostly related to her advocacy for the underprivileged. When FCC colleague Robert F. Jones, a former Republican member of the House of Representatives completed his testimony in favor of Hennock’s aptitude as policy maker and lawyer, he was questioned about her supposed temper. Senator Alexander Wiley, a Republican member of the committee, presented anecdotal information wherein Hennock, speaking in private about personal matters with an unspecified Judge in DC was said to have become quickly enraged: “She flew off the handle” he said, according to the record for the Judicial Committee. He noted that was not an attribute compatible with being a magistrate. Wiley further asserted this indicated that Hennock was too much of an advocate and policy maker, and not likely to be able to put that aside on the Bench.

Another member of the committee, Senator Magnuson, a Democrat, seemed to represent broadcasters angered at Hennock’s strong advocacy for non-commercial educational channels when he suggested that frequently discussions had taken place at the FCC about removing her from the commission.

Despite a variety of witnesses speaking in support of her nomination, about her integrity and “zeal for the public interest,” her courage in decision making, thoroughness, skill and more, Hennock herself eventually withdrew her nomination.

“Miss Hennock’” the Forverts, in its initial glee about her nomination, informed readers, was 5 foot 3, blonde with brown eyes and had womanly charm. She was known as a generous family member, financially supporting relatives throughout their lifetime and someone whose Jewish ritual practice included reciting the shma prayer upon going to sleep.

Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Kowel, Jewish, Frieda Barkin Hennock, Forverts

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels.
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.