Rosenberg Treasure: Rabbi Henry Cohen
Rosenberg Treasure of the Month
During the month of May, the Rosenberg Library will exhibit photos of Rabbi Henry Cohen and a special gift he received after the 1900 Storm.
The Rosenberg Library is proud to observe Jewish American Heritage month and to honor local Rabbi Henry Cohen for his many contributions to the city of Galveston.
Jews arrived in Galveston during the early to mid-1800s, becoming an integral part of the community. During the 19th century Galveston was Texas’ most advanced city, pioneering many firsts in the state, including the establishment of the first Jewish cemetery in Texas in 1852. Jews have contributed to the success of Galveston, representing a unique and diversified part of history.
|Henry Cohen||Photograph Collection, Rosenberg Library|
Rabbi Henry Cohen (1863 – 1952) is perhaps the most well-known Jew in Galveston history. Son of David and Josephine C. Cohen, Henry was born in London on April 7, 1863. Henry became a rabbi in 1884, preaching and developing reform philosophy. Henry arrived in Galveston in 1888 to serve as Rabbi for the Temple B’nai Israel, then comprising 175 families. In 1889, Henry married Mollie Levy and had two children.
After the storm of 1900, Rabbi Cohen acted swiftly to help the community. Over 3,000 homes and businesses were destroyed, two-thirds of the city was gone and many Jews lost their lives. However, Congregation B’nai Israel sustained only minor damage and was one of the few houses of worship that survived. As a result, Rabbi Cohen opened the doors to this synagogue to Christians whose churches had been destroyed. Additionally, Rabbi Cohen served on the Central Relief Committee where he partnered with Clara Barton to provide aid by delivering food and medical supplies around the city.
|Given to Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross, when she came to Galveston after the 1900 storm. Barton, in turn, presented the gift to Rabbi Henry Cohen.||Courtesy of the Rosenberg Library Museum|
A profound humanitarian, Rabbi Cohen’s actions stretched further than just the city of Galveston. Known as the Galveston Movement between 1907 and 1914, Rabbi Cohen and many others helped Jews enter Galveston fleeing from Russia and Eastern Europe. His efforts were to help Jews settle in parts of the United States away from the Atlantic coast. More than 900 Jews passed through Galveston in 1907, eventually settling in other parts of the state. Thousands more immigrated the following years.
|Henry Cohen – WWI||Photograph Collection, Rosenberg Library|
During World War I, Rabbi Cohen served as a Lieutenant for the American Expeditionary force in France, responsible for getting Congress to provide naval chaplains. In the early 1900s, Rabbi Cohen was one of the seven charter members for the Galveston Equal Suffrage Association, advocating for women’s suffrage. By the 1920s, Texas Governor Dan Moody appointed Rabbi Cohen to the Texas Prison Board, where he advocated for prison reform and humane treatment of prisoners.
Called the “First Citizen of Texas” by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, Henry Cohen was known as one of the greatest humanitarians and spiritual leaders of his time. Henry Cohen passed away June 12, 1952. A historical marker honoring Henry Cohen is at 722 21st Street.
The Treasure of the Month is located on the library’s historic second floor near the East Entrance. It can be viewed during regular library hours, 9:00 a.m. to 5:45 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 9:00 a.m. – 8:45 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. For more information, please contact Ivy Albright, Museum Curator at 409.763.8854 Ext. 125 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.