Biographies/Leslie Kish

Tags: Slovakian Hungarian Battalion Battle of Huesca John Brown Battery Toledo Front WWII Veteran Extramadura

Researcher: Angel Ortmann-Lee, Stuyvesant '20

Leslie Kish (originally László Kiss) was born on July 27, 1910, in Popra-Felka, Slovakia which was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He is of Hungarian descent. In 1925, his family chose to immigrate to the US in a wave of Hungarian immigration. As the great Hungarian poet Attila Jozsef put it: “one and a half million of our people staggered out to America.” His father died soon after their arrival forcing Leslie, then 16, to work during the day and attend Bay Ridge Evening School at night to support his mother and 3 siblings. They settled at 335 East 79th Street, NY and his mother opened up a pastry shop in Manhattan. Kish went on to study at the City College of New York Evening School while working as a lab assistant at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research. In 1937, he became a US citizen.

By 1937, he only had a year left to complete his degree but instead chose to suspend his education and fight fascism in Spain. On March 14, he arrived in Spain as a volunteer for the Loyalists. There, he was initially assigned to a medical unit. Eventually, however, he met a Hungarian man at a bar who told him, “You don’t have to go through basic training,'” he recalled. “‘You go right to the front, we train you with the rifles, and you start shooting. And also, we have the best cooks.'” And so, Kish made his way to the front of the Hungarian Battalion and was injured in the Battle of Huesca in June of 1937. Afterward, he spent three weeks at the Benicasim Hospital and eventually joined the John Brown Battery which was positioned on the Estremadura Front from October through December 1937. They eventually relocated to the Toledo Front, where they remained until the Internationals were repatriated. By the end of the war, he was ranked Teniente (Lieutenant). He returned to NYC on February 4, 1939, aboard the SS President Harding. Kish resumed going to night school at City College and completed his BS in Mathematics cum laude.

In 1940, he moved to Washington DC and was hired by the US Census Bureau. A year later, he moved to the Division of Program Surveys of the Department of Agriculture and joined a group of social scientists that created a survey research unit. During World War II, he once again chose service to justice over his career, working as a meteorologist of the US Air Army Corps. In 1947, his research group went on to work at the University of Michigan and founded the Institute for Social Research, the world’s largest academic survey and research organization. There he developed the Kish grid, a statistical randomized surveying method as well as sampling techniques that were used in the 1948 election to predict the victory of Harry Truman. There, he received his MA in mathematics and Ph.D. sociology, while also working full-time as a lecturer and researcher. Kish became Professor Emeritus of Sociology in 1981 and founded the Sampling Program for Foreign Statisticians which trains statisticians from developing countries. He passed away on October 7, 2000 at the age of 90. Since his death, the Institute of Social Research established the Leslie Kish International Fellowship which funds foreign students studying survey sampling.


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