Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Cohen, Ida (1867–1970)

by Sheila Tilse

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Ida Cohen (1867-1970), charity worker, was born on 27 August 1867 at Tamworth, New South Wales, eldest child of native-born parents Nathan Cohen, stock and station agent, and his wife Esther, née Solomon. Nathan and his siblings—including twin brothers Henry and George—had been born at Port Macquarie. Esther died in 1881; next year Nathan, who was mayor (1882-84) of Tamworth, married her sister Deborah. Ida was small and slight, with dark hair and eyes. Although a deeply religious Jewess, she was educated at St Dominic's Convent, and was foundation president (1925-46) and patron (1946-70) of the Tamworth Dominican Old Girls' Union. On 4 December 1901 at her father's Tamworth home she married George's son, her cousin Victor Isaac Cohen (d.1935), managing director (from 1912) of Nathan Cohen & Co. Ltd. The ceremony, conducted by Rabbi Landau of Sydney, was believed to be Tamworth's first Jewish wedding. Ida and Victor were to have three sons.

In 1914 Mrs Cohen became a foundation member of the Tamworth branch of the British Red Cross Society; her sister Alice was secretary. Soon afterwards Ida began fund-raising. She was regularly to be seen on the post office corner—equipped with a small table, a chair and a large Union Jack suspended from the railing—gently urging passers-by to make donations, or to buy buttons, miniature tin hats or poppies. Cohen collected there for Red Cross and other charities until she was 89, protected in summer by 'a yellowing panama hat' and in winter by one rug around her shoulders and another across her knees. Her dignified, gracious manner, unfailing kindness, tolerance and genuine interest in the welfare of others won her the admiration and respect of her fellow citizens.

Disapproving of women who spent their days 'wiping marks off mirrors', Mrs Cohen preferred to invest her time and talents in 'every charitable and patriotic appeal in her district'. She was a justice of the peace, foundation member and president (1916-62) of the Tamworth Ladies' Benevolent Society, a member of the Tamworth and District Ambulance committee (1927-52) and president of its ladies' committee. Involved in the Country Women's Association, she also belonged to the women's auxiliaries of Tamworth Hospital and of the Returned Sailors', Soldiers' and Airmen's Imperial League of Australia. In 1948 she received a certificate of appreciation from the State executive of the R.S.L. Awarded the Red Cross long service medal and bar, she was appointed M.B.E. in 1955: in deference to her 87 years, Governor Sir John Northcott travelled to Tamworth for the investiture.

Keenly interested in history, Ida was foundation president (1952-61) of the Peel Valley Historical Society and a member of the Australian Jewish Historical Society. In 1959, aged 91, she delivered the Anzac Day commemorative address at Tamworth and was given State-wide radio coverage. Her interest in charities continued until she was 96. Survived by two sons, she died, aged 102, on 18 April 1970 in St Elmo Private Hospital, Tamworth, and was buried in the local cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • Dominican, 1, 1937, p 50, 10, 1946, p 88
  • Australian Women's Weekly, 11 May 1955, p 20
  • Australian Jewish History Society Journal, 1970, p 552
  • Tamworth Observer, 7 Dec 1901
  • Northern Daily Leader, 26 Apr 1959, 26 Aug 1967, 20 Apr 1970
  • private information.

Additional Resources

Citation details

Sheila Tilse, 'Cohen, Ida (1867–1970)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/cohen-ida-9777/text17277, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 12 December 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

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