Held at: University of Pennsylvania: Library at the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies [Contact Us]420 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106-3703
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the University of Pennsylvania: Library at the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
The Binswanger/Solis-Cohen Collection contains material, including correspondence, manuscripts, photographs and family heirlooms from a group of inter-related Philadelphia families, including Binswanger, Cohen, Hays, Hoffman, Polock, Solis, and Solis-Cohen.
The Solis-Cohen family traces its roots back to some time after 1492 when the Jews were expelled from Spain during the Inquisition. Solomon da Silva Solis fled from Spain to Amsterdam and married Isabel da Fonseca, daughter of the marquis of Turin, count of Villa Real and Monterrey. In 1803 the first Solis, Jacob da Silva Solis, arrived in the United States from London, settling, according to legend, in New Orleans. Jacob married Charity Hays in 1811 and they lived in Wilmington, Delaware for seven years, where he and his brother Daniel ran a dry goods and quill pen business from 1814-16, and for short periods of time in New Orleans and Mt. Pleasant, New York. He had seven children including five daughters (Benveneda, Esther Etting, Judith Simha, Sarah Miriam and Phoebe Elizabeth) and two sons (Solomon and David Hays). Jacob died in 1829 at age 49.
Family legend states that Myer David Cohen wanted to marry Jacob's daughter, Judith Simha da Silva Solis, who agreed but stipulated that their names be hyphenated, starting the use of "Solis-Cohen" as the family name. They had nine children, including five boys (Jacob da Silva Solis-Cohen, Leon da Silva Solis-Cohen, David Solis-Cohen, Solomon da Silva Solis-Cohen, and Isaac Leeser Cohen) and four daughters (Charity Solis-Cohen, Isabel Emanuel Cohen, Zitella Esther Cohen, and Salome Solis-Cohen Bernstein). [Note: Isaac, Isabel and Zitella do not appear to have used the "Solis-Cohen" surname.]
Jacob da Silva Solis-Cohen, son of Judith Simha Solis and Myer David Cohen, was born in New York City in 1838. Jacob attended Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia and graduated with a Doctor of Medicine degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1860. When the Civil War broke out, he enlisted as a private and was quickly appointed assistant surgeon of the Twenty-Sixth Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers of the Union Army, serving in Hooker's brigade. He resigned in order to become acting assistant surgeon (1861-1864) in the U.S. Navy. In 1864 he rejoined the Union Army as visiting surgeon to two military hospitals in Philadelphia. Following the war, he became known for his work as a specialist in diseases of the nose and throat and was a founder of the Philadelphia Polyclinic and the American Laryngologic Association (and served as President of the Association from 1880-1882). He founded and edited Archives of Laryngology. In 1892 he became the first person in America to perform a successful complete laryngectomy. In 1875 he married Miriam Binswanger with whom he had eight daughters (Judith Simira, Sophia Rebecca, Miriam Fonseca, Elinor, Rosalie Isabel, Bertha Florence, Esther and Edith) and three sons (Myer, Jacob da Silva, Jr. and Isadore). He died in Philadelphia in 1927.
Solomon da Silva Solis-Cohen, Jacob's brother, was born in 1857. Like his brother, he also became a doctor. Solomon attended Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia and received his medical degree in 1883 and went on to serve as professor of clinical medicine from 1902-1927. He also taught at the Philadelphia Polyclinic and gave a series of lectures at Dartmouth College. Solomon married his first cousin Emily Grace Solis in 1885 and had four children, David Hays, Leon, Francis Nathan, and a daughter, Emily Elvira. Solomon, in addition to his medical career, was active in a variety of Jewish charities and activities, including being a founder and trustee of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City, a founder of the Jewish Publication Society and the YMHA of Philadelphia. He was also involved in Jewish affairs internationally, attending the Third Zionist Congress at Basel in 1899. He wrote a number of articles on a variety of topics. He died in 1948. Solis-Cohen Elementary School in Philadelphia was named for him in 1948.
Solomon and Emily Grace Solis-Cohen's daughter, Emily Elvira, was born in 1886. She chose to sign her name as "Emily Solis-Cohen, Jr." She studied with Henrietta Szold and attended the University of Pennsylvania. She was active in Jewish affairs in the city of Philadelphia. She has been credited with organizing and promoting the Young Women's Hebrew Association. She worked for the Jewish Welfare Board in Philadelphia, including serving as a field secretary and as a consultant on women's activities. She was a board member of the Hebrew Sunday School Society and member of the National Conference of Christians and Jews.
In addition to her work in community and Jewish affairs, Emily spent a great deal of time doing research and writing. She was an award-winning poet, receiving a prize for her sonnet Have We Not One Father published in 1909. She wrote several books and "puppet plays" for children, including David the Giant-Killer, and Other Tales of Grandma Lopez. Solis-Cohen also engaged in historical research, compiling notes and information--and writing manuscripts for two unpublished biographies of Reverend Isaac Leeser: "Isaac Leeser: The Man and his Destiny" and "Isaac Leeser: An American Beginner." (For more detailed information about Emily Solis-Cohen, see Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia of the Jewish Women's Archive online at https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/solis-cohen-emily.)
Other prominent members of the Solis-Cohen family include Judith Solis-Cohen and David Solis-Cohen. David Solis-Cohen, a son of Myer David Cohen and Judith Simha da Silva Solis and brother to Solomon da Silva Solis-Cohen and Jacob da Silva Solis-Cohen, was born in 1850. He was employed by the Philadelphia Public Ledger as a proofreader and writer who frequently published under the nom de plume, Daisy Shortcut. David headed west in 1877, first settling in the city of Oakland, California where he worked as an auctioneer. A year later, he moved to Portland, Oregon where he opened an auction house for his California employers. In 1889 he started his own business, the Golden Rule Bazaar, also known as Cohen, Davis, and Company, a wholesale importer and exporter of toys and notions. His youngest brother, Isaac Leeser Cohen, joined him in the business. In 1900 he formed a law firm with his brother-in-law, Alexander Bernstein. He married Bertha Kahn in 1894. They had no children and both died (within seven weeks of each other) in 1928.
Throughout the years in California and Oregon, David Solis-Cohen was involved in religious and communal affairs. In Oakland he was a member of First Hebrew Congregation where he read Torah, delivered a Yom Kippur sermon and served as the congregation's first lay preacher. In Portland, where he spent his later years, he was an extremely active citizen, serving on numerous boards and organizations in a variety of capacities. He maintained a friendship with Rabbi Stephen S. Wise while Wise was at Congregation Beth Israel (1900-1902) in Portland, Oregon. He was a member of several lodges (Exalted Ruler of the Elks, 32nd Degree and Royal Arch Mason, Herzl, B'nai Brith Oregon Lodge 65 and Grand Lodge No. 4, and Grand Master of the Ancient Order of United Workmen). He was a supporter of the Council of Jewish Women and the Zionist Society. He was a member of two synagogues in Portland and was a founder of the YMHA of Portland, a director of the Portland Trust Company, Commissioner for Charities and Corrections for six years, served on the Oregon Board of Immigration for four years and in 1890 served as Police Commissioner of Portland.
Judith Solis-Cohen, Emily's cousin, was the daughter of Jacob da Silva Solis-Cohen and Miriam Binswanger. Born in Philadelphia in 1876, she was the eldest of eight children. She attended Drexel University. She was a student of the artist Colin Campbell Cooper and became known as an expert on dressmaking and costumes. Judith was involved in the Jewish community, including organizing activities for the Young Men's Hebrew Benevolent Society, after it voted to include women.
Judith is best known for her writing which introduced Jewish subjects to the blind. She wrote a number of articles and pieces of fiction, including Desdemona of the Ghetto (which was published in 1925) and the Last Magazine (published in 1922). [Note: At times, the story is titled "The Lost Magazine".] Articles on immigrants, religious school, dress-making and nature were published in local and national magazines, including The Jewish Exponent and Writer's Monthly. She also edited the weekly column "Womankind" in The Jewish Exponent, for at least ten years beginning in 1897.
The Binswanger family, connected to the Solis-Cohen family through Miriam Binswanger, traces back to the town of Binswang, near Wallerstein, Germany and dates to some time between 1705-1765 with Rabbi Eleazer Binswanger. His grandson, Isidore Binswanger, born in 1820 in Wallerstein, immigrated to the United States in 1841. Isidore had five siblings (Bertha, Clara, Fanny, Richea, and Louis) at least three of whom came to the United States before him. He formed a business partnership in Baltimore which sold drygoods in the wholesale and retail markets. In 1844 he withdrew from the partnership and started his own business in Cumberland, Maryland. He traveled to Wallerstein in 1846 when he learned his father was ill and returned to the United States in 1847, settling in Philadelphia. He went into business with his brother-in-law, David Eger, selling notions wholesale, under the name Binswanger & Eger, and expanded it in 1856 to St. Louis with Charles Stern as a partner and manager. The firm in St. Louis, Chas. Stern & Co., appeared to do well. When his brother-in-law, David Eger, died in 1862, the businesses in Philadelphia and St. Louis were continued by the surviving partners. A few years later, on a trip to St. Louis, he learned that his trust in Stern had been mislaid and that the firm was in trouble. He paid off the indebtedness that his partner had incurred, despite the fact that he probably could have avoided doing so. The decision to do so cost him a great part of his wealth but cemented his reputation. In 1869 he accepted the presidency of the Richmond Granite Company. He also served as a Director in the Commercial Mutual Insurance Company and the Union National Bank. In 1849 Isidore married Elizabeth Sophia Polock. Elizabeth's mother, Rebecca Barnett, was a descendant of the Levy family, early settlers in Pennsylvania, and Elizabeth's brother, Moses Polock, was a noted bibliophile. Elizabeth and Isidore Binswanger had nine children, four boys (Hyman Polock, Barnett, Lewis, and Morris) and five girls (Cornelia, Miriam, Rebecca, Clara, and Fanny). Cornelia, following the death of two children and her husband, became a doctor in 1887, having attended the Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania. She was one of the first Jewish women in Philadelphia to attain a medical degree. Miriam would later marry Jacob da Silva Solis-Cohen.
Isidore, in addition to his business accomplishments, was active in the Philadelphia Jewish and civic communities. Along with Rev. Isaac Leeser, Solomon Solis, Abraham Hart, A. S. Wolf, and Moses Dropsie, the first school of the Hebrew Education Society was opened in 1851 and Binswanger continued to serve as Chairman of the Board from 1851-1870, when he was elected President of the Society, as well as President of Maimonides College (which existed from 1867-1873). He continued to serve the Hebrew Education Society until 1875 when he withdrew from its management. He was active in the Hebrew Relief Society and its successor, the United Hebrew Charities. He helped establish and manage the Jewish Hospital, and helped add the Home for Aged Hebrews to the hospital grounds. He was a prominent participant especially in the 1853 and 1854 Hebrew Charity Dinners which raised funds for the various Hebrew Charities. With the help of Abraham Hart, S.W. Arnold and Herman Hamburger, the Annual Hebrew Charity Balls were organized. He was also a founder of the Mercantile Literary and Social Club, helped to bring about the establishment of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations in Cincinnati and served on the board of the Jewish Foster Home. During the Civil War he became a member of the Union League and in 1867 was unanimously elected by the City Council as a Director of Wills Eye Hospital.
Clara Binswanger, daughter of Isidore and Elizabeth Sophia (Polock) Binswanger, was born in 1860 and died in 1901. She left her small estate to fund an annual celebration of her birthday so she would not be forgotten. At an annual family gathering in January, of nieces, nephews, their descendants and spouses, the names of attendees were recorded in "birthday books," as well as the names of family members who were born or had died during the preceding year. Three birthday books which chronicle Binswanger family events from 1902-1980 are in the Binswanger/Solis-Cohen Collection at the Library of the Katz Center of Advanced Judaic Studies at Penn.
Fanny Binswanger, another daughter of Isidore and E. Sophia Binswanger, was born in 1862. In 1888 she founded, along with thirty young women from affluent Jewish families in Philadelphia, the Young Women's Union (YWU). The goal of the YWU was to operate a kindergarten and aid children of Eastern European Jewish immigrants settling in Philadelphia. Fanny became the first President. In 1918 the YWU became the Neighborhood Centre which eventually merged with the YW/YMHA to become part of the Jewish Ys and Centers of Philadelphia. She also founded the Women's League of the United Synagogue of America and was its second president, serving for nine years. In 1892 she married Charles I. Hoffman, a lawyer in Philadelphia. While practicing law and editing The Jewish Exponent (of which he was one of the founders), he studied for the Rabbinate under Rev. Sabato Morais and Rev. Marcus Jastrow and then went to Cambridge University to study under Dr. Solomon Schechter, whom he followed to the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City, becoming a member of the first graduating class. Hoffman is credited with helping to persuade Schechter to leave Cambridge for the Jewish Theological Seminary. Charles died in 1934 and Fanny died in 1948.
Several well-known Philadelphians and nationally recognizable individuals are connected to the Binswanger and Solis-Cohen families. Among these are J. Robert Oppenheimer, Edwin Wolf II, and Dr. A. S.W. Rosenbach. J. Robert Oppenheimer (1904-1967) was an American physicist, the wartime head of the Los Alamos Laboratory, and among those credited as being "the father of the atomic bomb." Edwin "Ed" Wolf (1911 -1991) was the Curator and Librarian of the Library Company of Philadelphia. He published a number of books, and co-published The History of the Jews of Philadelphia from Colonial Times to the Age of Jackson with Maxwell Whiteman. Ed's father, Morris Wolf, married Pauline Binswanger and became a well-known lawyer in the city of Philadelphia, and partner in the Wolf, Block, Schorr and Solis-Cohen law firm. Ed's brother, Robert B. Wolf, also was a partner at Wolf, Block, Schorr and Solis-Cohen, as well as serving in a number of governmental agencies including as General Council of the Federal Housing Administration in Washington. The founders of the Rosenbach Museum and Library, Dr. Abraham S. W. Rosenbach (1876-1952) and his brother, Philip, were nephews of Isidore Binswanger's wife (E. Sophia Polock) and Fanny Binswanger's husband, Henry Rosenbach. A. S.W. Rosenbach, the founder of Rosenbach Company, helped assemble the collections of the Folger Shakespeare Library and the Huntington Library and worked for such private clients as Harry Elkins Widener and J. P. Morgan. Frank G. Binswanger, Sr. (1903-1991), son of Barnett Binswanger, founded the Binswanger Company, a successful and well-known commercial real estate company in 1931.
The Binswanger/Solis-Cohen Collection is truly remarkable in several ways. Both families were large and members routinely had a number of children. Both families came to the United States in the early nineteenth century or earlier. They managed to become integral to both the Philadelphia Jewish community and assimilate into the larger civic community. Their children did more than "earn a living"--they thrived by following their interests, becoming doctors, lawyers, bibliophiles, writers, researchers, auctioneers, and businessmen. Their daughters were educated and as productive in the social, artistic, educational, cultural, and philanthropic worlds as their sons.
Guide to the Papers of the Solis-Cohen Family, American Jewish Historical Society, Center for Jewish History, P-642.
American Jewish Year Book, 1904-1905
Jewish Encyclopedia, articles by Cyrus Adler and Frederick T. Haneman, 1906
Silver, Samantha. Jewish Museum of the American West. http://www.jmaw.org/david-solis-cohen-portland-jewish/
Kiron, Arthur. "Emily Solis-Cohen." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 20 March 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/solis-cohen-emily).
Philipps, Karen. "Judith Solis-Cohen." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. Jewish Women's Archive
Jewish Ys and Centers of Greater Philadelphia, Neighborhood Centre Branch Records, SCRC 22, Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (https://library.temple.edu/scrc/jewish-ys-and-centers-greater)
Solis-Cohen, Myer, M.D. The American Descendants of Samuel Binswanger, 1957.
University of Pennsylvania, University Archives and Records Center. October 2015. Edwin Wolf II Papers. UPT 50 W853.
The Binswanger/Solis-Cohen Collection has been divided into six groupings or series, mainly by family, although the groupings should be considered fluid as the families and individuals were related.
The majority of the material relates to the activities of the Solis-Cohen family, with about one-half attributable to Emily Solis-Cohen, Jr. Born in 1866, Emily was the eldest child, and only daughter, of Solomon Solis-Cohen. A significant portion of the material is composed of transcriptions and typed versions of the letters of Isaac Leeser and material which Emily used in writing her manuscripts for two unpublished biographies of Rev. Isaac Leeser: "Isaac Leeser: An American Beginner" and "Isaac Leeser: The Man and His Destiny." Notes and typescripts for other works by Solis-Cohen include "The Valiant Maccabees" (co-authored with Remo Bufano), "Biography of Isaac Harby" and "Hanukkah: The Feast of Lights." Emily also was involved in a variety of local activities and the files contain reports which demonstrate her involvement with the Hebrew Sunday School Society of Philadelphia and the Henrietta Szold 70th Birthday Celebration. There is a significant amount of personal and professional correspondence in the series, including letters from Justice Benjamin Cardozo, Rosa Mordecai, Isabel Hewson Manning and Cyrus Adler.
The second series contains material related to Miriam Binswanger Solis-Cohen. Miriam, Isidore Binswanger's daughter, married Dr. Jacob Da Silva Solis-Cohen. The material in the collection includes Blue Books with notes on history, school papers, and a wealth of family correspondence from 1870-1890. Also included is a copy of "Desdemona of the Ghetto," published in 1925, which was written by Miriam's daughter, Judith.
The third series, Dr. Solomon Solis-Cohen, is composed of material, including correspondence and writings, by and about Dr. Solis-Cohen. The majority of the correspondence is undated, although the month or day of the week may be included. Much of the rest of the material can be roughly dated to 1880-1930. Drafts of a number of articles, on both medical, religious and civic topics are included among the files, and demonstrate the range of interests and activities in which Solis-Cohen was involved and interested. Also included in this series is a draft of a biography about Dr. Solis-Cohen by his daughter, Emily Solis-Cohen, Jr.
The fourth series, Binswanger/Solis-Cohen Family, includes a variety of material related to a number of members of the Binswanger and Solis-Cohen families. Chief among this is correspondence between family members. There are also three Birthday Books for Aunt Clara's annual birthday celebration, memoirs and recollections of family members, genealogical charts tracing the Binswanger and Solis- Cohen families and the connected branches. Two Estate Sale catalogues of the books/library of Moses Polock are in the collection--A.S.W. Rosenbach, his nephew, was greatly influenced by the library of his uncle Moses Polock. There are also several advertising and dance cards from balls held in Philadelphia in the nineteenth century.
The fifth series, Binswanger Family, contains several items. Following his death in 1890, the Binswanger family published a memorial book on Isidore Binswanger. There are five copies of this book in this collection. One is inscribed "M. [B]. S-C." on the flyleaf and another is inscribed "Miriam Fonseca Solis-Cohen from Grandma Binswanger" and contains an 1895 notice of the seventy-fifth birthday anniversary of Isidore Binswanger to be held at the Jewish Foster Home. There is also a Braille copy of "Desdemona of the Ghetto" and "The Last Magazine" which was published by the Wednesday Evening Literary of Philadelphia, in memory of Judith Solis-Cohen, of which she was the founder. In addition, there is a series of letters (dated 1929) acknowledging the gift of the Braille copy by numerous libraries and schools for the blind from across the United States (including thirty-four states), Hawaii, Canada, and Great Britain. There is also a large leather-bound photograph album of photographs of various members of the Binswanger family (including Benswangers, Egers, Polocks, Rosenbachs, Goldsmits, and at least two rabbis from Philadelphia congregations (Jacob Frankel and George Jacobs). While some of the photographs are labeled, not all are. Most appear to be late nineteenth century.
The sixth series, Heirlooms, is a small group of items which are fragile. These include a wedding veil, a fan, a wreath, part of a glass (minus part of the stem and base), a baby garment and a cap. There is little or no accompanying information as to their significance, other than labels: "Grandma Polock's Cap" and "Grandma Polock's Baby's Undergarment."
The basic organization of the collection, and the titling of the individual folders, was completed in 1991 by Arthur Kiron. The 2017 finding aid builds on that organization and includes the related families.
- Leeser, Isaac
- Solis-Cohen, Solomon
- Solis-Cohen, Emily
- Judith Solis-Cohen
- Solis-Cohen, Miriam Binswanger
- Binswanger, Isidore
- University of Pennsylvania: Library at the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies
- Finding Aid Author
- Louise Strauss
- Finding Aid Date
Includes 1949 University of Pennsylvania Summer Session Matriculation Card with notice about fee paid, an invitation to Bryn Mawr College for an award presentation to Marianne Moore and to a program in Philadelphia which would honor Cornelia Otis Skinner, a program held in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. in 1938 at which Emily spoke, a 1926 passenger list from a Cunard line cruise and letters related to financial matters.