A Twentieth Century Woman:
Lucy Kramer Cohen  1907 - 2007
Biographical Information
  • Lucy Kramer grew up when women were seeking new roles.

  • She educated herself for a career in mathematics or anthropology.

  • In the Great Depression of the 1930's Lucy and her husband Felix Cohen fought for New Deal reforms and Native American rights, so that Indians could control their lives and lands.

 

1907 May 22Lucy Kramer was born to Aaron and Annie Frankel Kramer at 191 Rockaway Avenue, in a newly developing area of Brooklyn. Lucy was the second of five children. Lucy's father and aunt named her after the the French revolutionary and reformer Louise Michel. Lucy wrote that her given name was Louisa Clemence Michel Demahis Kramer, although she was always called Lucy.

1907 July 3Felix Solomon Cohen was born to Morris Raphael and Mary Ryshpan Cohen in Manhattan; the first of three children, Felix grew up in Yonkers.

1912-1920Lucy attended Public School 144 in Brownsville, Brooklyn. She graduated from grade 8 as valedictorian. She admired and formed lasting friendships with some of her teachers. Miss Angela Sweeney, fifth grade, was, she said, “my special crush.” Her 8th grade teacher, Miss Hall, an African-American, was voted best teacher in the city, she recalled. Vernon E. Duroe, her 7th grade and Latin teacher, a well-known amateur photographer, took the photographs of Lucy at about age 17 in frilled collar, that appear in the video.

1920-1924Lucy attended Erasmus Hall High School at Flatbush and Church Avenues. At this long-established academic school she studied Latin, Greek and mathematics. The family moved from 1484 St. Marks Avenue to 36 Chester Avenue about 1920.

1924-1928At Barnard College, Lucy studied mathematics and anthropology, as well as Latin, Greek and economics. She worked as a research assistant for Professor Franz Boas during the school year. Study and work with Boas gave her the opportunity to meet Native Americans, like Ella Deloria, and to learn about their societies.

She visited the local Hillel to learn about her Jewish heritage and attended meetings and joined groups, like the League for Industrial Democracy, to study and work for socialism and social reform.

1925Lucy met Felix at a Halloween party organized by friends in their apartment in Harlem. He was a senior at City College; she was a sophomore at Barnard.

1927Having graduated from City College in 1926, Felix earned a masters degree in philosophy from Harvard University.

1928Lucy earned a Barnard AB in Mathematics and went on to graduate school in Mathematics at Columbia University. She continued working for Boas during the school year and worked for the National Bureau of Economic Research some summers.

1928--Felix entered Columbia Law School. Felix and Lucy organized and attended conferences on philosophy and social reform over the next four or more years.

1929Felix completed a PhD in Philosophy at Harvard. Lucy earned a Master's degree from Columbia; her thesis was “Points at Infinity: Questions on Generalization in Mathematics.”

The Great Depression began.

1931 Sept. 22Lucy and Felix were married by Rabbi Stephen Wise in the Library of the newly opened New School for Social Research. Lucy wrote:
"It was an open, informal, word-of-mouth invitational event. Just a wonderful party with Felix's CCNY friends, family, band music, and his grandfather providing home-brew wine, and his grandmother the home-made sponge cake. 1931 was the depression."
“After the wedding, Felix took me back to my home in Brooklyn, (driving romantically thru Prospect Park) because I had a state math exam for teaching the next day. Only exam I ever failed. Not really my fault, they upped the passing grade because of excessive # of applicants, Depression time—1931."
Their wedding canoe trip was through the Fulton chain of lakes in the Adirondack Mountains.

1931 - 1932Lucy continued her Columbia math studies and worked for Boas. From Sept. to June, Felix served as a law clerk for NY Justice Bernard Shientag. Lucy served as the secretary of the Industrial Research Group, Columbia University; Lucy and Felix organized a conference for the LID, the League for Industrial Democracy, and spent the summer helping Morris Cohen organize his essays for "Law and the Social Order.”

1932 NovemberFranklin Delano Roosevelt elected president.

1933 MarchRoosevelt was inaugurated and took office--New Deal legislation to reform economic institutions and to provide work for the jobless was passed and implemented very rapidly.

1932 - 1933Lucy continued her math studies and taught math at George Washington High School, 459 Audubon Ave. in Washington Heights. Felix and Lucy lived at 144 Seaman Avenue, NYC. Felix worked for the law firm Hayes, Podell & Shulman June 1932-Oct. 1933.

1933 Fall-Felix was appointed an assistant solicitor in the Interior Department. He moved to Washington, DC; he made his first trip to Indian country and worked on drafts of the Indian Reorganization Act. Lucy remained in New York. They wrote to each other often and traveled to see each other. Lucy helped John Collier prepare a questionnaire for Indian tribes—perhaps through anthropologists and Indian Office officials— and to summarize their responses.

1934 @Jan-Mar.Lucy moved to Washington DC; she was ill and went to recuperate in Asheville, NC in March.

1934 March-JuneFelix traveled to many of the 10 Indian Congresses organized by the Interior Department to discuss the proposed Indian Reorganization Act with tribal leaders. Lucy attended the IRA Congressional hearings and compiled Indian tribe and anthropologists’ responses to the proposed law for the Congressional committees.

1934 June 18President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Indian Reorganization Act.

1934-1938Felix made repeated trips to Indian Country to work with various Indian tribes, particularly to assist in drafting of constitutions under the Indian Reorganization Act. Lucy held short temporary appointments with the Interior Department. She made several trips--to observe or assist in the drafting of tribal constitutions and to research Sioux Winter Count records. Lucy's Indian Country trips include one in August 1935, with Felix, to Montana and the Dakotas, where she sat in on a meeting with Pine Ridge women and one in May-June 1936, with Felix, to the Southwest, which included visits with Navajo and Pueblo Indians.

1934-1938Lucy researched the history of Indian-government relations for Interior Secretary Harold Ickes and wrote articles for the "Indians at Work" Interior Department publication.

1938Lucy held a 3 month appointment to the Dept. of Agriculture's Bureau of Home Economics. She traveled and worked with Dr. Eleanor Hunt collecting physical anthropology data about children's sizes.

1939 July 29Gene Maura Cohen born.

1939In addition to his regular assignments for the Solicitor's Office, Felix worked with Secretary Ickes on plans to save Jewish and other refugees by creating a refuge in Alaska or the Virgin Islands.

1939-1941Felix directed and Lucy worked as an unpaid staffer on the "Handbook of Federal Indian Law." Her earlier research for Secretary Ickes became part of the two chapters she wrote for the Handbook. After Felix left the project, Lucy was hired to work on a second volume of the "Handbook."

1942 springLucy, Felix and toddler Gene move to 2827 Hurst Terrace, NW, in Washington, where Lucy lived until her death in 2007. [The address was 4956 Hurst Terrace until the early 1950's.]

1943 July 29Karen Ann Cohen born.

1943-45Lucy's first fulltime permanent government job was at the War Labor Board

1945-47 & 1949Lucy worked at various jobs at: the United Nation Food and Agriculture Organization, the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Non-Ferrous Metals Commission.

1947 December 15Felix resigned from the Interior Department.

1948 JuneLucy suffered a miscarriage.

1948--Felix opened a law office;later he joined the law firms Curry, Bingham and Cohen and then Riegelman, Strasser, Schwarz and Spiegelberg [later known as Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver and Kampelman] on Indian claims and other cases. Felix traveled to New York and New Haven to teach at City College of New York on Fridays and Yale University Law School on Saturdays.

1948 & 1950Lucy worked for Congresswoman Helen Gahagan Douglas on research for Douglas' market basket speech and other economic projects; in 1950 she worked on Douglas' campaign for senator.

1950-52 & 1953Lucy worked at the Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, then in the Mexican Farm Labor Program.

1953 Oct. 19Felix died of mesothelioma.

1954Lucy looked for work, took some short-term jobs.

Lucy was invited to join the Association on American Indian Affairs Board of Directors, first as an honorary member, then, for 40 years, as a regular member.

1955-57Lucy worked as the editor of the country studies at the Washington Human Relations Area Files [WaHRAF]. The office was on the American University campus. These were initially confidential studies written for the Army. Later some were edited and published.

1955--Lucy studied art at American University, with Pietro Lazzari and others, and became friends with Pietro and his wife Evelyn, a colleague at the Public Health Service. She continued her drawing and painting for the next 25 or more years. She became an active participant in the local arts community; for example, she served for many years as the editor of the "Newsletter of the Washington Water Color Association."

1956-57Lucy worked for the National Science Foundation's President’s Commission on Scientists and Engineers.

1958-1989Lucy worked for the United States Public Health Service in various jobs--as an economist, statistician, project manager, and editor--and in various capacities on loan to offices of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, under its various names.

1989Lucy donated Felix’s papers to the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University. She worked with George Miles, Curator of the Western Americana Collection, and Susie R. Bock so extensively and professionally that she is cited as one of the three authors of the guide to the papers.

1989--After her retirement, Lucy continued to live her usual engaged and active life with friends and family. She went to the theater, concerts, and art exhibits often, traveled, and read. She and the family continued their regular summer stays at the family vacation home near Saranac Lake in the Adirondack Mountains.

1960-2007Lucy's family grew. Both her daughters married; each had two sons. Lucy thoroughly enjoyed getting to know her grandsons as they grew up and, in due course, her three great grandchildren. Lucy visited often with Gene and her husband Kurt Tweraser and Karen and her husband Graham Holmes and their children and they with her, at their homes and in the Adirondacks. Lucy's daughters organized big celebrations for Lucy's 70th, 80th, 90th and 99th birthdays. [In the video, Lucy in a red dress, is dancing with one of her grandsons at her 80th birthday party.]

2007 Jan. 2Lucy Kramer Cohen died a few months before her 100th birthday.