Charles and Mary Cohen Collection
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
Charles Joseph Cohen was born on September 21, 1847 in Philadelphia into a prosperous family and died in Atlantic City, New Jersey, September 17, 1927. He was a prominent member of a number of Philadelphia Jewish and other civic and charitable organizations. Rebecca Gratz, the famous Philadelphia Jewish leader, was Charles' godmother.
Mary M. Cohen was born in Philadelphia February 26, 1854 and died in Atlantic City, New Jersey on July 2, 1911. She was a leading exponent of Jewish and women's causes, a journalist, writer, and poet. She was active in numerous civic organizations, and was among the founders of the National Council of Jewish Women and the founder and life-time honorary President of the Browning Society.
Their father, Henry Cohen, arrived in Philadelphia from London in 1843 and established a successful business manufacturing envelopes. Henry Cohen married Mathilda Samuel (of the prominent Samuel family of Liverpool) in 1844. The Cohen family maintained close relations with important London Jewish families, including the Aguilars. Charles and Mary had one younger sister named Katherine who also attained prominence, as an artist and sculptress. She studied art in Philadelphia, New York, Paris and Italy, and was renowned for her many artistic productions, including the busts of several famous individuals, such as Judge Mayer Sulzberger and Lucien Moss.
Charles was educated in Philadelphia and abroad, and later married Clothilde Florence Cohen, in 1880, with whom he had three children, Henry, Albert, and Eleanor. Mary was similarly educated in elite private schools in America and Europe. She never married.
According to Cyrus Alder, in his necrology of Charles Cohen published in Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society, vol. 31, p. 255-56, among the many organizations in which Charles was active were: Synagogue Mikveh Israel (vice-president) and (president, 1879-1881, 1903-1907); Gratz College (board of trustees); Young Men's Hebrew Association (president, 1879); Hebrew Education Society (board of officers, 1877-1880); American Jewish Historical Association (executive council).
Charles was also a member of many Philadelphia civic groups and private clubs, including the Committee of 100, the Philobiblon Club and the New Century Club. He was the president of the Numismatics and Antiquarian Society of Philadelphia (1898-1913), president of the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce (1913-1916); trustee of the Fairmount Park Art Association (1877), president of the Association from 1916); president of the Philadelphia Fountain Association (1923).
The published works of Charles Cohen include Sabato Morais: A Memoir and Portrait as well as several histories of Philadelphia institutions, e.g. the Faires Classical Institute, the Penn Club, as well as the Rittenhouse Square area of Philadelphia.
According to the American Jewish Year Book (1905-06), pages 48-49, Mary M. Cohen was a member of the Central Executive Board, Chairman of the Central Committee on Reciprocity, Council of Jewish Women; president of the Mikveh Israel Association; Superintendent of the Mikveh Israel religious school; manager of the Female Hebrew Benevolent Society; vice-president and chairman, section on Literature and Art, New Century Club; president of the Hebrew Sunday School Society; corresponding secretary of the Jewish Publication Society of America; superintendent of the Southern Hebrew Sunday School; founder of the National Council of Jewish Women.
She was also a member of the Philadelphia Committee for the Columbus Exposition of 1893; member of the executive committee of the Philadelphia Contemporary Club; Director of the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art. She belonged to the Women's New Century Club and was "the first woman to read (an) original paper before the Philadelphia Social Science Association."
Mary was a prolific contributor to local newspapers and published, often under the pseudonym "Coralie," many literary works. She was outspoken in her many public defenses of Judaism and the Jewish people, and was called by Henry Morais in his book on Philadelphia Jewry "unwavering in her attachment to historical Judaism."
Cyrus Adler, "Charles J. Cohen," Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society, volume 31 (1928), pp. 255-256.
"Mary M. Cohen," in American Jewish Year Book, 5666 (1905-06), pp. 48-49.
Dropsie College Board of Governors Minutes, "Report of the Dropsie College Library, May 26- Sept. 21, 1920," pp. 394-396.
Guide to the Depositories of Manuscripts in the United States, prepared by The Historical Records Survey Division of Women's and Professional Projects Works Progress Administration (Columbus, Ohio: The Historical Records Survey, 1938).
Guide to the Depositories of Manuscript Collections in Pennsylvania, Bulletin no. 774 (no. 4 of Historical Commission Series), edited by Margaret Sherburne Eliot and Sylvester K. Stevens (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania Historical Commission, 1939).
Morais, Henry S., The Jews of Philadelphia (Philadelphia: 1894).
Stern, Malcolm H., Americans of Jewish Descent, (Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College Press, 1960).
Also see the relevant articles on Charles, Mary, and Katherine Cohen found in the Universal Jewish Encyclopedia, vol. 3 (NY: 1943).
The Charles and Mary Cohen collection provides valuable insight into the workings of the Philadelphia Jewish community and two of its leaders, particularly around the time of the turn of the century. Important events such as the Philadelphia Centennial celebration and the dedication of the new building to house Congregation Mikveh Israel (Charles succeeded his father as president of the Congregation in 1879) are also represented.
A large portion of the collection is composed of newspaper clippings, primarily dealing with Jewish subjects, such as a collection of memorial clippings on the occasion of the death of Sabato Morais. Mr. Cohen avidly collected articles relating to the controversies of his time -- including the question of whether Jews were a race or religion, the Dreyfus Affair, and other articles and book reviews dealing with archeological discoveries in Egypt and the Near East. An unbound scrapbook of articles by Charles Cohen forms part of the collection.
The collection also contains four scrapbooks belonging to Mary M. Cohen -- one unbound and three bound scrapbook volumes of newspaper articles by or of interest to her. These items may prove useful for researching American Jewish women's history and particularly for understanding Mary's activities in Philadelphia civic affairs. Also found in the scrapbooks are letters to Mary Cohen from Cyrus Adler, Gustav Gottheil, A.S. Isaacs, Marcus Jastrow, Nina Morais, Sabato Morais, Ellen Phillips, Mayer Sulzberger, and others.
Of interest to researchers of Jewish life in Latin America is an extensive diary kept by Charles Cohen of his visit to Kingston, Jamaica, Panama, and Costa Rica in 1910, as well as photographic postcards of the cemeteries of Sarajevo and Prague, and the Prague Synagogue, (circa 1916).
Notably absent from the collection is the correspondence between Charles Cohen and the Aguilars, an influential Jewish family from London. According to the 1938 Guide to Depositories of Manuscripts Collections in the United States and the 1939 Guide to Depositories...in Pennsylvania, the Charles J. Cohen collection "consists mainly of correspondence of the Cohen-Aguilar families concerning social and literary activities in Philadelphia and London. There are 450 items arranged in 71 envelopes (6" x 10"), numbered 1-71." Only a few exchanges of letters between Sarah Aguilar and the Cohen family were found during processing.
The original order of the collection, including the sequence of the original numbered envelopes (1-69, plus unnumbered envelopes) has been preserved as the basis for its arrangement. While many of the original groupings by subject at first appear quite random, they nevertheless often provide the context and therefore the only clue to a given item's ultimate relevance within the collection or to a dateable identification. In addition, the original titled envelopes may provide the only basis for eventually reconstructing what is missing from the original donation, e.g., in those cases where numbered envelopes were discovered during processing to be either missing (e.g. nos. 2, 18, 20, 40, 42, 50, 64, 70 and 71) or empty (see Box 3 File Folder (FF) 5).
Donated by Charles J. Cohen (Dropsie College Board of Governors Minutes, Library Report, May 26-September 21, 1920);
Additional gift of Mrs. Albert M. Cohen, November 2, 1960.
See Oversized Storage Box 1 for a photo of a sculpture, signed by Katherine Cohen and dated Paris Salon, 1896.
- University of Pennsylvania: Library at the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies
- Finding Aid Author
- Arthur Kiron, Manuscript Curator and Assistant Archivist.
- Finding Aid Date
- September 1991