Edgar and Jean Cahn Papers

Identifier: NEJL-005


  • 1953 - 1978



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Biography of Jean Camper Cahn and Edgar Cahn

Jean Camper Cahn was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1936. She devoted her career to social causes, a calling that was probably sparked by growing up in a family of activists. Her father, Dr. John Camper, a physician, founded the first chapter of the NAACP in Baltimore.

She began university at Northwestern and later transferred to and graduated from Swarthmore, then proceeded to earn an LL.B. at Yale Law School. While at Swarthmore, Jean Camper met Edgar Cahn and the two eventually married after graduating.

Jean Cahn died in 1991 from breast cancer, and up until her death, she continued to teach and practice law.

Edgar Cahn is the son of legal scholar Edmond Cahn and followed Jean at Yale Law School after earning a PhD in English at Yale. Edgar Cahn founded Time Bank, based on the concept of "time banking," conceived by Edgar while he was a fellow at the London School of Economics in 1987. Members of Time Bank earn Time Dollars for each hour they perform a community service. Some of these services include child care, helping students with homework and running errands for elderly neighbors. These dollars are then “banked” and can be exchanged for items or services by other members of the Bank. Some members can earn college tuition or a service such as yard work.

1964 saw the publication of the Cahns’ landmark article for the Yale Law Journal, “The War on Poverty: A Civilian Perspective,” which proposed a national system of legal services to the poor. Sargent Shriver, director of the Office of Economic Opportunity, was moved by the Cahns to establish the Legal Services Program, the first federally-funded national program of its kind. This program lasted until 1974 when it was replaced by the Legal Services Corporation. In 1972, the Cahns founded the Antioch School of Law which emphasized public interest law. The school used a clinic education model to train its students. They spent the first 2 weeks of the school year living with a poor family to familiarize themselves with the people they would be representing. The school was closed in 1988 but its legacy continues at the University of the District of Columbia’s Clarke School of Law where Edgar Cahn is Distinguished Professor Emeritus.

Edgar and Jean Cahn were pioneers in legal services and clinical legal education. Together and individually they helped shape the field of legal services as we know it today.


2.8 linear feet

Language of Materials



The collection is arranged into four series: 1: Legal Services, 2: Topical files; 3. General Legal and Research Files, 4. Personal files. Series 1: Legal Services, has two sub-series: Topical, and Legal Services Program, Office of Economic Opportunity - 1953-circa 1970s.

Related Materials

Cahn, Edgar S. (2002 Jul 03). Oral history interview by Alan Houseman [video recording]. National Equal Justice Library Oral History Collection (NEJL-009.056). Online at https://repository.library.georgetown.edu/handle/10822/709336

Finding Aid for the Edgar and Jean Cahn Papers (NEJL 005)
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Repository Details

Part of the National Equal Justice Library Repository

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