Judith Solis-Cohen was born into a distinguished Philadelphia family with a tradition of strong-willed women. Although she studied art and clothing design, her career was as a writer. She published articles about these topics, in addition to more serious issues such as immigration, religion, education, and, later on, women’s suffrage and rights. She was also active in Philadelphia’s Jewish intellectual circles such as the Young Men’s Hebrew Association of Philadelphia and is credited with introducing Jewish literature to the blind.
Family and Education
Judith Solis-Cohen, an author and editor, was a feminist by name and in action. According to family legend, her last name reflected her grandmother Judith’s demonstration that women wield power. In 1837, when Myer David Cohen asked Judith Solis to be his wife, she agreed to marry him only after he agreed that their names would be hyphenated.
The Solis-Cohen family in Philadelphia traces itself back to Jacob da Silva Solis, who immigrated to the United States in 1803. Over the generations, Solis-Cohens, through their work, have ensured that their family name is remembered. For example, Emily Solis-Cohen, the first cousin of the younger Judith Solis-Cohen, was a well-known writer in her time. Judith Solis-Cohen’s father was a renowned physician who did research in laryngology and served as a surgeon in the Union army during the Civil War. Her brother Myer Solis-Cohen was also a doctor, an internist and a pediatrician, who contributed prolifically to medical literature. While her family members’ roles in history have been recorded, Judith Solis-Cohen’s name is largely unmentioned.
Judith Solis-Cohen was born in Philadelphia in 1876. She was the eldest of the eight children of Jacob da Silva Solis-Cohen and Miriam Binswanger. Judith Solis-Cohen attended Drexel University. She studied art with Colin Campbell Cooper, an artist best known for his paintings of skyscrapers, and she was an expert on dressmaking and costumes. She is also credited with introducing literature on Jewish subjects for the blind in the United States.
Solis-Cohen was an active participant in a Philadelphia Jewish intellectual circles. When the Young Men’s Hebrew Association of Philadelphia admitted women to membership in 1878, she immediately became involved in organizing educational activities. The “Evening Literary Chats,” an example of such activities, were attended by an elite audience.
Solis-Cohen is best remembered for her writing. Her articles about nature, dressmaking, and writing appeared in periodicals and newspapers such as Writer’s Monthly, Little Folk’s Magazine, Little Men and Women, and Toilettes. The Philadelphia Jewish Exponent published articles by Solis-Cohen, including “Religious-School Pedagogics: Is the Paid Teacher Superior to the Volunteer?” and “How Immigrants Make Their Entry into the United States: A Glimpse of the New York Barge Office.”
Solis-Cohen also wrote fiction. Her story “The Lost Magazine,” which appeared in the Jewish Forum in 1922, and “Desdemona of the Ghetto,” which was published in Designer in 1925, were listed among the best short stories for those years.
Beginning on December 3, 1897, and for at least the next ten years, Solis-Cohen edited the weekly “Womankind” column in the Jewish Exponent. In these columns, which covered such topics as “What Women Can Earn,” “Coeducation,” “Women Zionists,” “The Woman Suffrage Movement,” and “The Council of Jewish Women,” Solis-Cohen lived up to her feminist name. She assumed the pen name Giuditta [Italian for Judith] for these columns. According to her sister Elinor, their father thought it was improper for a woman to attach her own name to her writing; however, Solis-Cohen did sign her own name to some of her other published work.
Judith Solis-Cohen died in Atlantic City on October 8, 1927.
Selected Works by Judith Solis-Cohen
“Desdemona of the Ghetto.” Designer (1925).
Jewish Exponent (December 1897–April 1907).
“The Lost Magazine.” Jewish Forum (1922).
AJYB 16 (1914–1915): 162.
Friedman, Murray, ed. Jewish Life in Philadelphia, 1830–1940 (1983).
Kramer, William M. “David Solis-Cohen of Portland: Patriot, Pietist, Litterateur and Lawyer.” Western States Jewish Historical Quarterly 14 (1982): 139–166.
Langfeld, William. The Young Men’s Hebrew Association of Philadelphia: A Fifty Year Chronicle (1928).
National Cyclopaedia of American Biography 48 (1902): 168.
NYTimes, November 7, 1937, 9.
Public Ledger (October 10, 1927).
Solis-Cohen, Judith. Solis and Solis-Cohen Papers (1808–1990). American Jewish Historical Society, Waltham, Mass.