Muriel Kasdon, 96, lifelong Kenmore Square activist

Muriel Kasdon worked on rent control and other issues with the city.
Muriel Kasdon worked on rent control and other issues with the city.

If Muriel Kasdon had been born a half-century later, she probably would have run for office, and she would have won, said former congressman Barney Frank.

“She grew up in the wrong time for women to be politicians,” he said, “so instead she took the role of adviser, friend, and surrogate mother to those of us who were politicians.”

Frank, who met Mrs. Kasdon when he was working for Mayor Kevin White in the late 1960s, said she was “kind of a den mother, but not just in terms of providing Jewish mother comfort, which came naturally to her.”


“She also was a good source of policy suggestions and very supportive, even when she was being critical,” Frank said. “She was a wonderful woman with great political instincts.”

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A onetime rent control commissioner and lifelong activist, Mrs. Kasdon died of a cerebral hemorrhage Aug. 27 in the Elizabeth Evarts de Rham Hospice Home in Cambridge. She was 96 and had lived nearly all her adult life in her Bay State Road home in Kenmore Square.

Her house was the site of many community gatherings and political meetings, family and friends recalled, including a Ward 5 Democratic Committee meeting when White was being persuaded to run for mayor.

She was a fixture in the Kenmore Square neighborhood, where she rented rooms to six to 10 tenants and was deeply involved in the community.

In a 1994 letter to the editor of the Globe, she objected to a proposed Boston University building, calling it “studiously ugly” and saying it would be “visible from every part of the Charles River Basin, thus marring one of the great urban panoramas in the world.”


White appointed her rent control commissioner in January 1970. It was a role she relished, family said, because she believed that landlords and tenants should behave responsibly.

She also enjoyed being a landlady, said her daughter Louisa of Cambridge, and Mrs. Kasdon considered her building her “own little neighborhood.”

“Everyone who wanted to move in had to pass inspection, so she could be sure they’d be compatible,” Louisa said. “She wasn’t just renting to somebody. She was welcoming them into her life.”

Often, Mrs. Kasdon offered free living space to people in need.

“My whole life, there were always people living in extra rooms,” her daughter said. “She was helping them out during a tough time.”


Mrs. Kasdon’s nephew Michael Paley, a rabbi in New York City, described her as “incredibly kind and generous,” and said she was “always thinking about the values of community and standing up for her principles.”

When it came to politics and current events, she was “extremely hooked-in,” he said, and “could watch C-SPAN for wonkish hours.”

Lorna Miles, who is chief marketing officer for the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., met Mrs. Kasdon when Miles was college roommates with Louisa Kasdon.

Miles said that over the course of many dinners she “marveled at this extraordinary family, electric with ideas, opinions, humor, and warmth. Muriel was the ringleader, a news junkie, well informed with amazing confidence and unwavering vision about life and people and how things ought to be done.”

Miles added that after college Mrs. Kasdon gave her a place to live and financial support when needed. She said Mrs. Kasdon’s “steady hand and vision” were an enormous influence.

Born Muriel Cohen in Boston in 1917, Mrs. Kasdon grew up in Roxbury and Brookline. Her father, the youngest of 12, ran a company that manufactured men’s topcoats.

“My mom really wanted to be a businessperson,” Louisa said. “She wanted to run her father’s company, and she was super annoyed that he didn’t let her do that.”

She graduated from the John D. Runkle School in Brookline and Brookline High School. She attended Barnard College in New York City, but did not finish her degree because a romance distracted her from exams in her last semester, her family said.

Mrs. Kasdon was living with her parents in Brookline in 1941 when she was fixed up on a blind date with Dr. S. Charles Kasdon. They married in 1942, while he was on leave from serving as a flight surgeon during World War II.

The couple settled in Kenmore Square to raise a family. Dr. Kasdon was a professor at what is now the Tufts University School of Medicine and died in 1992.

Their son, Dr. David Kasdon, who followed his father to Tufts, where he taught neurosurgery, died in 1987 as a result of a scuba diving accident. Their daughter Madeline, an activist in the Kenmore Square area like her mother, died of lung disease in 2004.

“She grew up in an atmosphere where people cared about the neighborhood they lived in, and she had a lot invested in it as she grew up,” Mrs. Kasdon told the Globe after Madeline died. “The city officials might not have been so crazy about her, but she was effective in fighting the good fight for residents in the area.”

Although Louisa said Mrs. Kasdon’s enthusiasm was “occasionally exhausting,” she was always thinking of ways that people could live their lives better. On one occasion, Louisa said, Mrs. Kasdon gave a check to a relative and told her: “I think you should use this to get your real estate license.”

“And now she’s a successful real estate broker in New York,” Louisa said.

Mrs. Kasdon was involved with many organizations, including the League of Women Voters, the American Civil Liberties Union, and a wide variety of community groups.

While working for White, Mrs. Kasdon helped create summer arts programs and initiate renovations of landmark buildings, her family said.

Along with politics and community activism, she was interested in art, antiques, interior design, and music and was a devotee of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, for which she was an overseer emeritus. She also enjoyed summers spent at family vacation houses in Cohasset and Hull.

“She was a very good sport about sailing with my dad,” her daughter said. “I can’t tell you how many boats we sank.”

A service has been held for Mrs. Kasdon, who in addition to her daughter Louisa leaves five grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

Even though Mrs. Kasdon had lived a full, long life, she remained a vital presence and, continuing her practice of never skipping an election, voted for US Senator Edward Markey earlier this year.

Her funeral was “tearful,” said her nephew, who added, “How many tearful funerals do you have for 96-year-olds?”

“She had a fantastic laugh and great energy and was quite brilliant,” he said. “And she always opened her doors for people in need.”

Kathleen McKenna can be reached at kmck66@