Henry Cohen was born in Birkenhead on 21st February 1900, the youngest of five children of Isaac Cohen and Dora (née Mendelson). His father was described in census returns as a ‘traveller furnishings’ and seems to have earned just enough to ‘get by’. His mother was reportedly the dominant partner and Henry was greatly attached to her, living with her until her death in 1955.
He attended Birkenhead Institute where he excelled not only in all things academic but also on the playing field. He was the school captain, captained both the school rugby and cricket team and was also a champion gymnast but strangely never again played sport after he left school. Of his academic ability a schoolmaster remembered him as a boy who “showed signs of genius when most boys are only beginning to show signs of intelligence”. He gained an open scholarship to study law at Balliol College, Oxford but realising he lacked the financial means, instead went to Liverpool University on a local authority scholarship. Whilst still intending to be a lawyer he felt that the possession of a medical degree would be an advantage and enrolled in the medical school. The die was cast and whatever his initial intentions it was in the field of medicine that he was to make his mark, and a considerable one at that.
He graduated MB ChB in 1922 with first class honours, having gained a distinction in every subject. He joined the Liverpool Royal Infirmary and remained on the staff for 41 years. He was appointed chair of medicine at Liverpool in 1934 and his subsequent career saw him honoured in a host of ways, with many honorary doctorates and serving as the President of the BMA (1951) President of the General Medical Council (1961) and President of the Royal Society of Medicine (1964-66) President of the Royal Society of Health (1958-77). He was knighted in 1949 and in 1955 elevated to the peerage as Lord Cohen of Birkenhead.
Beyond his career Henry Cohen contributed to the wider life of Liverpool across a wide spectrum of interests. He served as a Justice of the Peace and was a deputy lieutenant for the county of Lancashire. A renowned public speaker he was the president of the Liverpool Branch of the English Speaking Union. He joined the board of directors of the Liverpool Playhouse in 1932 and was chairman from 1948 to 1961. A very active member of the Liverpool Jewish community he had particular interests in education and was a keY figure in the establishment of the King David school in Childwall.
For over 50 years Henry Cohen lived at 93 Hartington Road L8. He died on 7th August 1977 whilst attending a meeting of the Royal Society of Health. He is buried in Liverpool at the Jewish Cemetery, Long Lane.
Henry Cohen's home for over 50 years.
Henry Cohen's grave
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