Dolly Cohen: Philanthropist and Fashionista

Dolly Cohen

By Suzanne Maggard

If you were a member of Cincinnati’s blue blood society in the 1950s and 1960s, you would have surely known Dolly Cohen.  You might have also been acquainted with her, if you were a polio or cancer researcher, a local orphan, a victim of muscular dystrophy, a University of Cincinnati faculty member, a student seeking a scholarship, or even an Ohio State University football player.  The woman was everywhere, donating her time and money to a myriad of causes in Cincinnati and throughout the country.  The University of Cincinnati’s Archives and Rare Books Library holds Mrs. Cohen’s scrapbooks and other mementos which provide a visual timeline of her life and charitable work.

Dolly Cohen as a young woman

A young Dolly Cohen

Born Dolly Lurie in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, she met her husband, Abraham B. (A.B.) Cohen, in the lobby of a Pittsburgh hotel. She was working for the Red Cross selling anti-tuberculosis stamps. He was a young shoe salesman whose first job had been selling newspapers on the streets of Boston.  They were married in November of 1920 and lived in Boston where A.B. worked at the Cohart Shoe Co., a firm he had started with a friend.  In 1926, A.B. and Dolly moved to Cincinnati, when he became vice president and general manager of the Sternauer Shoe Co.  In 1931, Sternauer merged with U.S. Shoe Co. and Cohen became Vice President and then president in 1947.  In 1951, he was named one of the country’s 60 top salesman.

Mrs. Cohen was involved in charity work her entire life, but her charity work took on new focus when she was diagnosed with cancer in the 1940s.  Her activities were varied and she was involved with the Greater Cincinnati Chapter Auxiliary of the Muscular Dystrophy Association of America, the Magnetic Springs Polio Clinic, the Sister Kenny Polio Foundation, the Music Drama Guild, Stage, Inc., the U.S. Army Band project, the Orphans’ Mother and Dad Club, CARE in Cincinnati, the Symphony Orchestra Women’s Committee, the United Fine Arts Fund, and many other organizations. She served on the board of the Camp Fire Girls, the Wise Temple Sisterhood, the Los Angeles Sanitarium, and the Jewish Consumptive Relief.  She was the founder of Orphans’ Day in Ohio. She was chairman of MEDICO, an organization that supported volunteer medical workers in developing countries. Mrs. Cohen served as a member of the President’s Committee on Employment of the Handicapped during the Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson administrations. To the University of Cincinnati, Dolly Cohen gifted funds for an annual teaching award.

Dolly Cohen and Eleanor RooseveltMrs. Cohen’s interests were varied.  She was founder of the High School Graduation Fund which provided shoes, clothing, and graduation pictures to students who could not afford them.  She was a football fan, especially of Ohio State and was the first woman ever admitted to the National Football Foundation and Hall of Fame.  She was known to purchase sports equipment for underprivileged children, so that they could participate in sports.

Dolly and FootballShe loved to dance, and was quite a fashionista, known for her hats.  Her hats were so popular, that she often donated them to charity.  In the many photographs throughout her scrapbook, it is hard to find a photograph of her without a hat.

Mrs. Cohen received numerous honors during her lifetime. She was named a Kentucky Colonel and received an honorary doctorate from the University of Cincinnati.  In the end, it was the cancer, that spurred her to do so much good, that eventually got the best of her.  She died in 1970.

The scrapbooks and other material in the Dolly Cohen collection primarily document her public life in the 1950s and 1960s.  There is very little information on her early life and family, but the scrapbooks continue after her death and highlight the work of the A.B., Dolly, and Ralph Cohen Foundation spearheaded by Julia Cohen.  A complete finding aid for the collection is available through the OhioLINK Finding Aid Repository.  The collection is available for research in the Archives and Rare Books Library.  For more information on this or other collections in ARB, please call 513-556-1959 or email