Edward W. Kinney: The First to Convert to Judaism in Los Angeles, 1889

Edward W. Kinney: The First to Convert to Judaism in Los Angeles, 1889


Annie Cohn became romantically involved with Edward W. Kinney, a non-Jew, in the spring of 1889, unbeknownst to Annie’s Polish-born Jewish parents, Alice and Leopold B. Cohn.

Leopold Cohn was a prosperous Los Angeles pawnbroker, who had established his business sometime in the 1850s. He was a cousin of Rabbi Abraham W. Edelman, the first rabbi of Congregation B’nai B’rith (today’s Wilshire Boulevard Temple), and, together with Alice, produced fourteen children. Annie was said to be his favorite.

Annie Cohn was nearing age eighteen when she began seeing Kinney. She had been studying at the State Normal School of Los Angeles, a teachers’ college. (In 1919, the State Normal School became the University of California, Los Angeles.)

Kinney was twenty-seven at the time, and had worked as a hostler — looking after horses at a Main Street stable — and as a hackman (carriage driver) before becoming a fire engine driver in 1886. He drove for Fire Engine Company No. 4, located at the Los Angeles Plaza (Plaza de Los Ángeles).

Kinney’s father was born in Ireland, and his Mexican mother belonged to the famed Lugo family, major Californio landowners in the Los Angeles and San Bernardino areas.

Edward W. Kinney, first convert to Judaism in Los Angeles, #WS0935

On May 25, 1889, Annie Cohn and Edward Kinney were married by Judge Walter C. Lockwood. A half hour later, Kinney approached his new father-in-law and “laid the case before him.”

According to the Los Angeles Tribune (June 3, 1889), “a stormy scene ensued” and Kinney had “considerable trouble placating Annie’s parents.” The Cincinnati-based American Israelite, which took an interest in the story, noted that Leopold and Alice Cohn “were heartbroken over their daughter’s escapade” (July 25, 1889).

Tensions eased when Kinney agreed to convert to Judaism (he was raised Catholic). During the next week, he undertook a crash course in Judaism with Rabbi Abraham Blum, who had recently assumed the pulpit of Congregation B’nai B’rith.

On June 2, 1889, just eight days after their courthouse wedding, Rabbi Blum performed the rite of circumcision and conversion for Edward Kinney. Immediately after, Mr. and Mrs. Kinney were married according to Jewish custom.

Newspaper headings the next morning included: “Joins the Jewish Church”; “Ed Kinney Accepts the Faith of His Charming Bride”; and “A Newly Wedded Man Embraces the Jewish Faith.”

Leopold Cohn purchased a livery stable for his now Jewish son-in-law, who resigned from the fire company.

Kinney was reportedly a devout convert, attending synagogue services regularly and fasting on Yom Kippur. However, he was apparently not as devoted to Annie. Less than a year after their widely publicized marriage, rumors of infidelity sent Annie back to her parent’s home.

A divorce was promptly sought and received from a court in San Bernardino. Annie resumed her maiden name to minimize the scandal. Edward returned to the fire department, this time as a driver for Fire Engine Company No. 3.

Annie and Edward were not separated for long. They rekindled their romance and were quietly remarried in November 1890.

Edward became a police officer in 1892 and in the late 1890s journeyed to Alaska for the Klondike Gold Rush. He returned to Los Angeles around the turn of the century and worked as a lineman for the Los Angeles Electric Company (later Los Angeles Gas & Electric Company), holding the position until his retirement in 1920.

From 1900 to 1920, Annie Cohn Kinney operated a retail business in downtown Los Angeles, first dealing in lingerie and foundation garments (corsets) and later expanding to women’s and children’s clothing.

Annie and Edward had one daughter, Riffa Kinney, born in 1893.

Riffa Kinney, daughter Annie and Edward W. Kinney, age 4, #WS0938

Edward Kinney died in 1921 and was interred at Home of Peace Cemetery, next to his father-in-law, Leopold B. Cohn. His granite marker reads: “Edward W. Kinney, beloved husband of Annie Cohn Kinney, 1861-1921.”

Annie Cohn Kinney died in 1965 at the age of ninety-four.


  • Norton B. Stern, “A Nineteenth Century Conversion in Los Angeles,” Western States Jewish History 16/4.

Jonathan Friedmann is the curator of this Edward Kinney exhibit.