Fanny Cohen

Frances Cohen (1887-1975), headmistress, was born on 9 June 1887 at Grafton, New South Wales, only daughter and third of four children of Jewish parents, Priscilla (born Cohen) and Algernon Aaron Cohen, physician and surgeon. She was educated at Miss Emily Baxter's Argyle School in Sydney and the University of Sydney, graduating BA (1908), BSc with honours in mathematics and geology (1909), and MA (1913). She had been junior demonstrator in geology at the University from 1909-11, when she was awarded the Barker graduate scholarship. Her enrolment at the University of Cambridge, studying mathematics, was cut short by her mother's illness.

Fanny was appointed in 1912 to teach mathematics at Fort St Girls' High School, Sydney, and was promoted mathematics mistress in 1913. She was successively deputy headmistress of North Sydney Girls' High (1922), headmistress of Maitland Girls' High (1922), headmistress of St George Girls' High (1926) and headmistress of Fort St Girls' High from 1929 until retirement in 1952. Fort St Girls' was a selective school and Miss Cohen's pupils were encouraged to aspire to university degrees and professional occupation: 'girls . . . were capable of reaching the same high academic standards as boys and of entering the professions on an equal footing'. She was a teacher of exceptional ability and an outstanding leader, an able administrator willing to delegate responsibility.

Fanny Cohen was a fellow of the Senate of the University of Sydney from 1934-44 and 1949-59; she represented it on the Council of Women's College from 1936, and as a director of the Sydney University Women's Union in 1953-59. At Senate she moved the resolution to grant degrees to immigrant doctors who had completed the three years of medicine required for them to be eligible for registration, but they had additionally to come within a very strict quota if without a degree from a British (or Australian) university. Miss Cohen represented the Secondary Teachers' Association on the Board of Secondary School Studies from 1937-52.

She loved travel and after her retirement went to London where she worked for some time at Australia House. She enjoyed theatre, opera, films, bridge and horse racing but her main occupation in her retirement was to assist the Royal Blind Society. She learnt braille and taught it to sighted people who were willing to translate books into braille. When one seventeen year old ex-pupil turned up as a volunteer, she thanked her but sent her away, telling her there were better things to do at her age.

Fanny Cohen always took great interest in her pupils, though she was remembered both for her high ideals and as a somewhat aloof person. She died on 21 August 1975.

Heather Radi

Lysbeth Cohen Beginning with Esther: Jewish Women in New South Wales from 1788 1987.