Woman Cohen, Ida

Community Worker

Written by Ann Standish, The University of Melbourne

Ida Cohen was born in the country town of Tamworth, New South Wales, in 1867. Her mother, Esther Cohen (nee Solomon), died when Ida was fourteen, after which her father, Nathan Cohen, married Esther's sister, Deborah. Ida was educated at the St Dominic's Convent, because although the family were deeply committed and religious Jews, they felt the Catholic school would provide a good education. At this time there was a small but active Jewish community in the area, which contributed a great deal to the development of the region. When Ida married her first cousin, Victor Cohen, the ceremony was conducted by a rabbi. The couple went on to have three sons, George, Nathan and Alan, before Victor died in 1935.

Ida lived the full span of her 102 years in Tamworth and was renowned for her commitment to a wide range charitable and community causes until her final years. Not one to 'stay home and wipe marks off mirrors', Cohen found lifelong employment in such work. She was inspired by the outbreak of World War I to begin fundraising for the Red Cross, the cause for which she is most closely associated. She and her sister Alice were founding members of the Tamworth branch of the British Red Cross society. She soon set up a collecting station on the street corner outside the Tamworth Post Office, where from behind a small table she would gently persuade pedestrians to donate to the cause. This was her regular spot for fundraising, for the Red Cross and for other causes, until she was nearly ninety.

In 1954, at 87, Cohen was awarded the Red Cross long service medal and her devotion to charitable work was officially rewarded by the granting of the imperial honour, Order of the British Empire - Member (Civil) (MBE). But her influence spread far wider - and for longer - than this. Ida Cohen was a leading figure in Tamworth culture and society, involved in the community in all ways she could be. She held many voluntary and honorary positions, as a justice of the peace, and an active member of a wide range of organisations, including the Tamworth Ladies' Benevolent Society, the Tamworth and District Ambulance committee, the Country Women's Association (CWA), and the women's auxiliaries of Tamworth Hospital and of the Returned Sailors', Soldiers' and Airmen's Imperial League of Australia. Cohen was also foundation president of the Peel Valley Historical Society and a member of the Australian Jewish Historical Society. She delivered the Anzac Day commemorative address at Tamworth in 1959, when 91, but five years later was forced to give up her charitable work. She died in Tamworth in 1970. By this time, she was one of the last Jewish residents of the town, as the community had largely dispersed to the cities. She is striking example of a woman who was a highly influential leader in a regional community, with a strong sense of personal responsibility for attending to community needs and culture.

Published Resources

Journal Articles

  • Cohen, H, 'Obituary: Ida Cohen MBE', Australian Jewish Historical Society Journal, vol. 6, no. 8, July 1970, p. 552. Details

Online Resources

See also