Mathias Abraham Cohn (1824–1901)

Mathias Abraham Cohn was a businessman, newspaperman, educator, elected official, and lawyer who immigrated to America from Germany. Moving to Arkansas in 1868, Cohn became a leader in the Jewish community of Little Rock (Pulaski County).

The son of Abraham and Doris Cohn, Mathias Abraham Cohn was born on May 29, 1824, in Hildesheim, Germany, and was educated in the schools near Bremen, where he also received private instruction in English. He came to the United States prior to 1849, moving to Cincinnati, Ohio. On March 14, 1848, in Cincinnati, he married Theresa Kobner, a native of Odense, Denmark, whom he had met in Hamburg, Germany, and who had arrived in the United States on July 30, 1847; they had nine children. Subsequently, he lived in New Albany, Indiana, where he was engaged in the auction business. He then returned to Cincinnati before moving first to Memphis, Tennessee, and then to Augusta (Woodruff County) in 1868. In Augusta, he served as county sheriff, superintendent of schools for the Second Circuit of Arkansas, state representative during the legislative session of 1871 (as a Democrat), and editor of the Augusta Sentinel. While in the legislature, he was a sponsor of a law allowing rabbis to perform marriage services in Arkansas, a power previously granted only Christian ministers.

Cohn was a member of the first board of trustees for what is now the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County) and was elected the first secretary of that board. Additionally, he was one of the three members of the board’s Buildings and Grounds Committee, which selected Fayetteville as the site of the university.

In 1873, he moved to Little Rock, where he practiced law from 1876 to 1890, primarily in partnership with his son Morris under the name “Cohn and Cohn.” In addition to his law practice, he was an organizer of the effort to bring electric lights to Little Rock and was a leader in the Jewish community, where he was an overseer of a Sabbath School called Talmud Yelodim Institute and attended the first convention of the Forum for Reformed Judaism in America as one of the three delegates of Temple B’nai Israel. Subsequently, he served as a president of B’nai Israel.

Cohn died in his home in Little Rock on February 5, 1901. He is buried in Oakland Cemetery in Little Rock.

For additional information:
Leflar, Robert A. The First 100 Years: Centennial History of the University of Arkansas. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Foundation, Inc., 1972.

LeMaster, Carolyn Gray. A Corner of the Tapestry: A History of the Jewish Experience in Arkansas, 1820s–1990s. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1994.

Reynolds, John Hugh, and David Yancey Thomas. History of the University of Arkansas. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas, 1910.

Alfred S. Joseph III
Louisville, Kentucky

Last Updated: 04/02/2012

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