Jacob K. Javits (1904 – 1986) grew up in a Lower East Side tenement, and went on to become one of the country’s most important and well known politicians. A liberal Republican, he served as a United States Senator from New York from 1957 to 1981, adding a unique perspective to political discourse. In 1983 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Javits began his career as a partner in a law firm with his brother, which ultimately became quite successful. In 1946 he was elected to Congress, where he served until 1954, when he became New York State Attorney General, where he promoted liberal measures such as health insurance programs for state employees.
Javits played a role in many key historical moments during his long career in the U.S. Senate. He was a supporter of Civil Rights Acts and President Johnson’s Great Society Programs. Although initially supportive of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, in 1967 he was one of the 23 Senators who called on President Johnson for a peaceful solution to the conflict. In 1973 he sponsored the War Powers Act, which limited a president’s ability to send armed forces into combat without approval from Congress. He also traveled to Israel and Egypt with President Carter, opening up discussions that ultimately led to the 1978 Camp David Accords.
Jacob Javits’ name has remained ubiquitous; the Javits Center named after his death in 1986 helps ensure that, as does the Jacob K. Javits Federal Building in lower Manhattan. Due to his support for education, the Jacob Javits Grants for gifted individuals were established, as were the Javits Fellowships awarded by the United States Department of Education to graduate students studying humanities and social sciences.
In 1986 Javits died of Lou Gehrig’s disease. He was survived by his longtime wife Marian Ann Boris Javits and their three children, Joshua, Carla, and Joy.