Later Victorian Portraits Catalogue

Nathaniel Louis Cohen (1846-1913), Philanthropist and pioneer of the Labour Exchange movement

Philanthropist and pioneer of the Labour Exchange Movement; born 22 May 1844, [1] youngest surviving son of Louis Cohen, banker and stockbroker. Privately tutored; joined family firm at 16, rising to partner; his scheme for consolidated stock adopted by the government 1890; after dissolution of the firm 1901 directed his energies at a range of charitable and communal causes, [2] including Jewish Religious Education Board (founder and vice-president) and Stepney Jewish Schools; served on committees including that of London Hospital and Cambridge University Appointments Board; Municipal Reform (Conservative) member for the City of London on London County Council 1907–11; devised concept of labour exchanges and advised on Labour Exchanges Act, 1909; married 1873 Julia Matilda Cohen (née Waley), who founded Union of Jewish Women 1902; died at his Sussex home, Courtlands, East Grinstead, 14 January 1913.

‘A large, ungainly man’, [3] Cohen was said to have ‘an element in his nature which was rarely manifest but which in his occasional arrogance, wilfulness, obduracy and cyclonic, uncontrollable temper was almost diabolic.’ [4]

On the other hand, according to the Rev. E. Spero, Minister of London’s Central Synagogue, ‘it was always a pleasure to him to give unstinted praise to and appreciation of a Minister’s service … he had a gentle and fatherly manner and one could not but feel that there was true guidance and sincere friendship in his advice. By the winning charm and grace of his manner, and by the arts of courtesy and gentleness did he contrive that duty should be well done.’ [5]

Carol Blackett-Ord

Footnotesback to top

1) See Rubinstein et al. 2011, p.171. Alternative dates of birth are given in Jacobs 1897, p.153 (1847); Harris 1911, p.355 (22 May 1847); and ODNB, under Julia Waley (1846).
2) For an overview of his activities, see his letters to The Times, 1880s–1890s. ‘The originality of his mind – it was said – amounted almost to a facet of genius. The diversity of his ventures, in which he invaded so many alien worlds to which he had no natural entrée, almost as if he went seeking challenges to answer, earned him a score of minor victories but prevented his achieving any single major triumph.’ Henriques 1966, p.30.
3) Bermant 1971, p.358.
4) Henriques 1966, p.31.
5) Jewish Chronicle, 24 Jan. 1913, p.14 (obits).

Referencesback to top

Bermant 1971
Bermant, C., The Cousinhood: The Anglo-Jewish Gentry, London, 1971.

Harris 1911
Harris, I., ed., “Jewish Chronicle” Year Book: An Annual Record of Matters Jewish. 5671–72. 1st January 1911–31st December 1911, London, 1911.

Henriques 1966
Henriques, R., Sir Robert Waley Cohen 1877–1952, London, 1966.

Jacobs 1897
Jacobs, J., ed., The Jewish Year Book: An Annual Record of Matters Jewish. 5658. 27th September 1897–16th September 1898, London, 1897.

Moss & Saville 1985
Moss, G.P., and M.V. Saville, From Palace to College: An Illustrated Account of Queen Mary College (University of London), London, 1985.

Roe 1978
Roe, F.G., Fred Roe, R.I. (1864–1947): Historical and Genre Painter, Author and Antiquary, His Life and Art, privately printed, London, 1978.

Rubinstein et al. 2011
Rubinstein, W.D., M.A. Jolles and H.L. Rubinstein, The Palgrave Dictionary of Anglo-Jewish History, Basingstoke, 2011.