"New Orleans Times-Picayune" celebrates 100th birthday of Elizabeth D.A. Cohen, Louisiana's first practicing female physician
February 22, 1920
Elizabeth D. A. Cohen, who would become the first practicing female physician in Louisiana, was born in New York City on February 22, 1820, the daughter of David and Phoebe Cohen. She married a doctor named Aaron Cohen with whom she had five children. When one of her sons died of measles as a little boy, she determined that she too should become a doctor in order to help mothers care for their children.
When her husband moved to New Orleans to study surgery in 1853, Elizabeth chose to move to Philadelphia where she enrolled in the nation's first medical school for women, the Philadelphia College of Medicine. Upon graduation in 1857, she joined her husband in New Orleans, in time to serve patients during a major outbreak of yellow fever.
Cohen reminisced about her career for two articles about her that appeared in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, one on her 93rd birthday and one on her 100th birthday. She recalled working through two yellow fever epidemics and described "attend[ing] to families through generations." 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."
Cohen retired from her active practice in 1887 and entered the Jewish community-sponsored Touro Infirmary in 1888 as a resident of the Department of the Aged and Infirm. She took an active volunteer role at Touro, overseeing the sewing and linen room. In her 100th birthday interview in 1920, she demonstrated that she was still attuned to what was going on in the world, noting (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."
Cohen died in New Orleans on May 28, 1921 and was buried in the Gates of Prayer Cemetery on Canal Street.
To learn more about Elizabeth D.A. Cohen, visit Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia.
Source:Catherine Kahn, "Cohen, Elizabeth D.A.," Jewish Women in America: an Historical Encyclopedia, pp. 243-244.