Biographical Sketch of Elizabeth Magdalene Cohen

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Elizabeth Magdalene Cohen ("Lizzie"), 1859-1931

By Dr. Isabel Asensio, Professor of Spanish and Chair, Foreign Languages Department, Weber State University, Ogden, UT.

Political activist and advocate of women's suffrage.
President and secretary, Utah Council of Women.
President, Utah Woman's Democratic Club.

Elizabeth Magdalene Sutton was born in New York City in 1859 to James Sutton and Nora Ann Sutton. She married Joseph Maurice Cohen (1845-1919) while in her teens. The couple moved to Park City, Utah in 1880, and then resettled in Salt Lake City where they raised four children: Elsie Sutton Pratt (1879-1960), Ida Rebecca Cohen (1885-1956), Irma Quinet Cohen (1887-1889), and Francis "Curt" Curtis (1889-1954). Joseph tried politics and served as Secretary of the Democratic State committee in the 1890s and as recorder on the 1906 American State ticket. He soon retired from politics to focus on his business. As opposed to her husband, Elizabeth had a quite active public life. She was very involved with progressive women's clubs, and civic and political affairs. In 1900, Elizabeth was chosen as an alternate to the Democratic National Convention in Kansas City. When another delegate became ill, she became the first woman delegate to a National Convention of either major political party. She seconded the presidential nomination of William Jennings Bryan, the American populist from Nebraska, known for his national stumping tours, and became the convention's assistant secretary.

Elizabeth served as chair of the industrial and legislative committees of the State Federation of Women's Clubs, and the Woman's Reform Committee. While she was president, and later secretary, of the Utah State Council of Women (which became the League of Women Voters afterward), Elizabeth helped draft a 1904 letter protesting a clause in a bill for statehood that characterized suffragists as "ignoramuses, lunatics, and criminals." She held other important positions such as president of the Utah Woman's Democratic Club, commissioner of pensions for Utah under Governor Simon Bamberger, and recorder of the Indian War Records.

Around 1906, Elizabeth disconcerted many of her fellow activists when she switched parties to become a member and president of the Utah Woman's American Club. The Utah American Party was created to counter "the influence of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints" in Utah politics, and to expose the resumption of plural marriage (the "new polygamy") that the party believed followed statehood. According to Elizabeth, "[Utah Gentiles] have never asked aught except that the Mormon church people shall come within the righteous laws of the United States."

In August 1915, Cohen joined a parade down Main Street with other national and local suffragists, including Utah suffragists, Emmeline B. Wells, editor of Women's Exponent, and Hannah Lapish. Carrying a banner, which read "We demand an Amendment to the United States Constitution Enfranchising Women," the women traveled by motorcade from the Newhouse Hotel to Hotel Utah where Mabel Vernon, Washington D.C. field representative for the Congressional Union for Women's Suffrage, thanked Senator Smoot for his continuing support for suffrage. In turn, the senator assured "the bill for the cause would not be sidetracked." When a Woodrow Wilson Club meeting was held in Provo, Elizabeth addressed the reticence of some states to vote on the constitutional amendment for suffrage. According to a September 21, 1916, Salt Lake Tribune article, the fervent speaker urged "active, effective work by [local] women in support of the ticket."

Elizabeth M. Cohen died on March 18, 1931 at age 72. She is buried in Wasatch Lawn Memorial Park in Millcreek, Utah.

SOURCES:

"Elizabeth M. Cohen," Ancestry.com. U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/85765080

"Elizabeth Magdalene Cohen," https://www.geni.com/people/Elizabeth-Cohen/6000000019934632442

Stone, Eileen Hallet, "Living history: Elizabeth Cohen, an early advocate for women's rights in Utah," The Salt Lake Tribune, March 11, 2016. https://archive.sltrib.com/article.php?id=3649356&itype=CMSID

back to top