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Leonora Cohen
Leonora Cohen OBE.jpg
Born Leonora Throp
15 June, 1873
Died 4 September, 1978
Nationality United Kingdom
Occupation Milliner and activist
Employer Women's Social and Political Union
Known for Vandalism at the Tower of London
Spouse(s) Henry Cohen
Parent(s) Canova Throp (1848-1879)
Jane Lamie[1]

Leonora Cohen OBE born Leonora Throp (15 June 1873 – 4 September 1978) was a militant British suffragette and trade unionist. She was known as the "Tower Suffragette" after smashing the display case for the British Crown Jewels in the Tower of London. She acted as bodyguard for Emmeline Pankhurst. She lived to the age of 105 and contributed to the second wave of feminism in the 1970s.

Early life

Lenora Cohen was born in Leeds on 15 June 1873 to Canova and Jane Throp[2] (born, Jane Lamie).[1] Canova Throp was a stone carver, but he died after developing tuberculosis of the spine when Leonora was only 5 years old,[3] which left her widowed mother to raise Cohen and her two younger brothers.[2] Her mother worked as a seamstress to provide for the family.[4]

She apprenticed as a milliner and while she was working as a millinery buyer, she met Henry Cohen,[2] a jeweller's assistant in central Leeds and the son of Jewish immigrants, most recently from Warsaw.[3] Henry was a childhood friend yet both of the families opposed the marriage. She married for love but in the eyes of society, she had married up.[4]

After their marriage in March 1900, the couple had their first child, Rosetta but she died within the first year.[2] Two years later, she gave birth to her son Reginald who grew up healthy. For the next nine years, the small family enjoyed a peaceful life as Henry's business as a jeweller flourished.[2][4]

Motivation to be a suffragist

Cohen's life was full of events and people that motivated her to fight for women's right to vote. Firstly, her mother Jane was a big influential factor in Cohen's life. Because her mother was a widowed seamstress who raised three children alone, it was obvious to Cohen that her mother had few rights as a woman living in Britain in the late nineteenth century. Later in life at an interview, Cohen stated that, "Life was hard. My mother would say 'Leonora, if only we women had a say in things', but we hadn't. A drunken lout of a man...had a vote simply because he was a male. I vowed I'd try to change things."[2] Cohen recognised at a young age that her mother had to overcome huge obstacles in her life simply because she was a woman. It was "her mother's lack of empowerment that radicalized her."[2]

Other motivating factors included her job and her husband. At the time of Cohen's first job as a milliner, there was a strong movement by the Leeds campaign for better working conditions for women.[4] This affected Cohen and her view of the treatment of women in the working world. Also, Cohen's husband Henry, was very supportive of her passion to fight for women's rights. Cohen's family and job experience all contributed to her desire to step up and take action as a suffragist.

Actions speak louder than words

Cohen made many physical actions of protest against the British government. Cohen stood up for what she believed in by taking action and this can be seen repeatedly in history. In 1909, she joined the Leeds Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU). Emmeline Pankhurst founded this organisation in 1903.[2] The group intrigued Cohen because they believed in direct action to create change for women. Later in her life, Cohen was a personal bodyguard to Mrs. Pankhurst,[5] which allowed her to physically defend someone who spoke up for women's right to vote.

In 1911, Cohen joined in a protest where she took further action against the government. At the protest, she threw a rock at a government-building window and was promptly arrested and placed in Holloway Prison for seven days.[2] Spending time behind bars had the opposite effect on Cohen as it just increased her passion to fight for her right to vote. Even though found guilty, she defended herself in court and the authorities released her.[4] As Cohen began to take more bold steps as a suffragist, her family supported her suffrage allegiance but her friends did not. Cohen received hate letters and her son faced persecution at school.[2] In 1913, Cohen took action against the government during a protest by using an iron bar to smash a glass showcase in the Jewel House at the Tower of London.[2] Cohen was arrested a second time but again, she decided to make a stand by going on a hunger strike rather than speaking out in anger. Because of the Cat and Mouse Act, Cohen was released from prison after a few days to allow her to recover from self-induced starvation.[2] Her deliberate act of rebellion was taken against the government and she chose to take physical action to show her displeasure with the government.

In 1913 leading suffragettes Annie Kenney and Flora Drummond arranged for WSPU representatives to speak with leading politicians David Lloyd George and Sir Edward Grey. The meeting had been with the proviso that these were working class women representing their class. The delegates explained the terrible pay and working conditions that they suffered and their hope that a vote would enable women to challenge the status quo in a democratic manner. Cohen explained how female fellow workers who had the vote would be able to negotiate better wages.[6]

By 1923, Cohen became the first woman president of the Yorkshire Federation of Trades Councils.[2] She was on the Council for 25 years and by the mid −1920s she was appointed an OBE for services to public life.[2] Cohen's political action and rebellious deeds during protests did not go unnoticed.

Second wave of feminism

Since Cohen lived to the age of 105, she witnessed the second wave of feminism in the 1970s and for the second time in her life, Cohen was brought back into the public eye. Cohen was labelled as a feminist and her actions taken as a suffragist in Britain helped modern feminists look at their development over time. Brian Harrison interviewed over 200 people, including Cohen, as a part of his project: Oral History of the Suffragette and Suffragist. In the interview, Cohen discusses her role in the 1911 rally and her experience of her first arrest: “[At the rally] it was so packed. And the mounted police were out. And when we got up to the palace gate, I can also remember so clearly the police there on horseback and that is where I was knocked down."[7] Cohen describes the violence and huge crowds at the rallies. Her recollections of these moments in history were brought back into focus during the 70s. These moments were seen as encouragements to modern day feminists.

Scholars later analysed Cohen's life as a suffragist. Jemal Nath argued that vegetarianism was linked to feminism.[8] The suffrage movement in the late nineteenth century was used as an example. Cohen's vegetarianism, along with other suffragists, was seen as a way for women to spend less time in the kitchen because they did not have to prepare meat.[9] Therefore, they could spend more time pursuing interests outside of the home.

Before she died Cohen donated her scrapbook and other memorabilia to Leeds Museum. These include a painting of her as a child.[10]

Death and legacy

At the time of her death in 1978, the Times newspaper published Cohen's passing in the obituary section. The short column attempts to reflect on Cohen's life and highlight the extraordinary accomplishments in her 105 years spent on earth. The column mentions her award as an OBE, her job as a bodyguard for Mrs. Pankhurst, her imprisonment and hunger strike and her title as the "Tower Suffragette" for the damage she did with the iron bar in the Tower of London.[11] From her short obituary, Cohen was clearly remembered for the actions she took to defend the rights of women. She was seen as a regional activist[12] who was willing to die for the cause that she felt so passionately about.

When Cohen took the iron bar and smashed it through the glass showcase, she had attached a note to the bar. What she wrote on the note clearly states and summarises why Cohen was willing to sacrifice her comfortable life to boldly defend the rights of women all over Britain: “Jewel House, Tower of London. My Protest to the Government for its refusal to Enfranchise Women, but continues to torture women prisoners – Deeds Not Words. Lenora Cohen”/ reverse “Votes for Women. 100 years of Constitutional Petition, Resolutions, Meetings & Processions have Failed.”[4]


  1. ^ a b "Marriage certificate of Canovar Throp and Jane Lamie, Christ Church Belfast" (PDF). 16 February 1870. Retrieved 25 February 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n "Leeds' forgotten suffragette". BBC. 30 November 2009. Retrieved 27 September 2014.
  3. ^ a b Jill Liddington (3 September 2015). Rebel Girls: How votes for women changed Edwardian lives. Little, Brown Book Group. pp. 231–241. ISBN 978-0-349-00781-6.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Clifford, Bridget (1 February 2013). "A continuing story of museum ffoulkes – The Tower Armouries – February 1913". Royal Armouries Blog. Royal Armouries. Retrieved 27 September 2014.
  5. ^ "Obituary". The Times. The Times Digital Archive 1785 – 1985. Missing or empty |url= (help); |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  6. ^
  7. ^ "Leonora Cohen, Suffragette". London Metropolitan University – Homepage. The Women's Library. Retrieved 19 February 2013.
  8. ^ Nath, Jemal (2011). "Gendered Fare? : A qualitative Investigation of Alternative food and Masculinities". Journal of Sociology. 47: 261–278. doi:10.1177/1440783310386828.
  9. ^ Nath. "Gendered Fare": 270.
  10. ^ "Ask the Expert Q&A 26 November – Leonora Cohen Suffragette Collection with Nicola Pullen | York Museums Trust". Retrieved 2018-02-04.
  11. ^ "Obituary". Missing or empty |url= (help)
  12. ^ Cowman, Krista (2010). "Carrying on a Long Tradition': Second-Wave Presentations of First-Wave Feminism in Spare Rib c. 1972—80". European Journal of Women's Studies. 3 (17): 193–210 [205]. doi:10.1177/1350506810368909.
This page was last edited on 7 May 2018, at 01:44
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