Sunday, December 18, 2011

GERTRUDE COHEN (1858-1939)

Not much is known about Cohen’s early life except that she joined the Aguilar Free Library in 1896 and worked there until 1903 when the AFL consolidated with NYPL.  At the time of consolidation, Cohen was in charge of Aguilar’s Traveling Library Department.

At NYPL, Cohen organized the new Carnegie Branch at Port Richmond, Staten Island, 1904-1905, and then became the Branch Librarian at the 135th Street Branch.  In 1920 she transferred to head the 125th Street Branch and retired from that position in 1931.

Cohen was transferred out of 135th Street so that Ernestine Rose could develop the Library’s services to the growing African-American community around the branch.  While Rose is justly credited with having great success in that effort, some of those activities did begin under Cohen.

In 1914, Cohen hosted a Negro Civic Improvement League meeting which was attended by over 100 community residents.  A year later, Cohen also had an impact on Hubert Harrison (1883-1927) who was soon to become Harlem’s foremost radical and orator.  His biographer credits Cohen and James Weldon Johnson, writer and civil rights activist, with encouraging Harrison to concentrate on working with the “Negro masses” in Harlem. 

December 17th would have been Gertrude Cohen’s 153rd birthday.

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