22 February 2007

Louisiana's first female physician

The Jewish Women's Archive has a good feature highlighting prominent women. This week, Elisabeth D. A. Cohen is in the spotlight.

The daughter of Phoebe and Magnus Cohen was born in New York City on February 22, 1820, and married a doctor named Aaron Cohen. One of their sons died very young of measles and she believed that she should become a doctor to help mothers.

Her husband studied surgery in New Orleans in 1853, and Elizabeth moved to Philadelphia to enroll in the nation's first medical school for women, the Philadelphia College of Medicine. She graduated in 1857 and joined her husband in New Orleans to serve patients during a yellow fever outbreak.

At the ages of 93 and 100, two stories were written about her in the New Orleans Times-Picayune.
"It was hard for Cohen to gain recognition as a doctor. The city directory of 1867 listed her as a midwife. In 1869, she was included as a "doctress." Only in 1876 did the directory finally describe her as a physician. When she was admitted to an old age home, she asked the registrar to "insert M.D. after her name."

In 1920, on her 100th birthday interview, she noted ("in anticipation of the ratification of the 19th amendment that year); 'things will be better when women can vote and can protect their own property and their own children. Even if I am a hundred, I'm for votes for women.'"

She died in New Orleans on May 28, 1921.

Elizabeth's entry is from "Jewish Women in America: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia," sponsored by the Jewish Women's Archive and available on CD for $200.
The electronic encyclopedia offers biographies, essays, photos and illustrations.

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