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Cohen, Mary Matilda


COHEN, MARY MATILDA (1854–1911), journalist, belletrist, educationist, communal worker, and proto-feminist. Cohen was born into an intellectually distinguished upper middle-class Philadelphia family. Never marrying and financially independent, Cohen devoted her energies to a variety of religious, cultural, and communal causes in Philadelphia. She was a capable and enthusiastic organizer, serving as superintendent of the large Hebrew Sunday School started by Rebecca Gratz, acting as the first corresponding secretary of the Jewish Publication Society, sitting on synagogue committees and philanthropic society boards, and joining numerous literary and cultural organizations. Cohen was at ease among the American Orthodox elite that associated with Mikveh Israel and was accepted within Philadelphia's progressive intelligentsia. She was a prolific writer, contributing to both the Jewish and general press under her own name as well as the pseudonym "Coralie." Cohen's literary output ranged from biography, social commentary, and essays on Jewish themes to short stories and poetry. The concerns that Cohen expressed in her writing reflected those of her intellectual and social milieu. She sought to advance the acceptance of acculturated Jews within American society by authoring articles that satirized prevailing prejudicial norms and criticized creeping racial antisemitism. She also sought to counter gender inequality within the Jewish community and wider society. Cohen was an advocate of universal education and argued for open access for women to professional training. She also pushed for improved religious education for Jewish girls, a greater role for women in the Jewish public sphere, and the ordination of female rabbis.


D. Ashton, in: American Jewish History, 83, 2 (1995), 153–76; H. Morais, The Jews of Philadelphia (1894), 316–17; American Jewish Yearbook, 7 (1905), 48–49.

[Adam Mendelsohn (2nd ed.)]

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