Leonora Cohen: A Woman of Substance

 

The incredible life of Leeds Suffragette Leonora Cohen is explored, along with the fascinating objects we have in the collection – donated by Leonora herself – that represent her struggle.

Having read that West Yorkshire Archives and Huddersfield University have been busy digitising 80,000 records about the lives of women in Yorkshire and the North from the last few hundred years through their historytoherstory project, I thought I’d take the opportunity to tell you about a collection we hold here at Leeds Museums and Galleries.

We are very lucky to hold a large collection of material relating to votes for women, the suffragettes and other issues such as trade unions and vegetarianism that were all donated to the museum by Leonora Cohen and her associates. For those of you unfamiliar with suffragette history, Leonora Cohen was a formidable Leeds based campaigner in the movement to secure voting rights for women. Perhaps her best known act of defiance was smashing the case containing the crown jewels in the Tower of London. We are lucky enough to have the label attached to the iron bar she used. It states:

“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. Leonora Cohen”; on the reverse “Votes for Women. 100 Years of Constitutional Petition, Resolutions, Meetings & Processions have Failed”.

 

Green luggage label, handwritten by Leonora Cohen c. 1913.

 

My favourite item in the collection has to be a scrapbook put together by Leonora Cohen. It contains a variety of newspaper cuttings and photographs. Many of the items are annotated by the lady herself (in green or purple ink where possible) and she identifies herself and friends in pictures and cuttings. It is quite exciting to get your hands on something so personal on an issue as important as voting rights for women.

 

Page from Leonora Cohen’s scrapbook. Her annotations are on the left hand side.

 

Even in her later years she kept up her interest in political issues, was active as a Magistrate in Leeds for a number of years (even though she had herself been a prisoner on more than one occasion), awarded an OBE in 1928, and lived to the ripe old age of 105.

Other items in the collection range from pamphlets and leaflets about votes for women, to a dress that she made to wear at the Arts Society Ball in 1914 and a feeding tube that was used in Armley Prison. An exhibition was put on here at Abbey House in the 1966 (with the help of Leonora herself) which was how we came to acquire such a collection of material that is still relevant today.

Suffragette’s Dress, designed and worn by Mrs Leonora Cohen at the Arts Club Ball, 1914.

 

If you are interested in the collection, we have a number of items (including the dress and feeding tube) on display in the Leeds Gallery at Leeds City Museum. Most of the archival and paper material is kept in storage at Abbey House Museum – but if you would like to see some of it you can contact the museum in advance and we will try to set up an appointment for you to come and view it.

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