The Seligmans: My New Mexican Ancestors—An Introduction

State flag of New Mexico copyright friendly picture

Flag of New Mexico

Although my parents did not talk very much about their ancestors or families when I was a child, one of the claims my father often made with pride was that his great-uncle had been the governor of New Mexico.  I used to find this both amusing and irrelevant.  A seemingly distant relative who died 20 years before I was born?  Why would I care about that? And New Mexico? How could we possibly have a relative—a Jewish relative—who came from New Mexico? We were from New York and Philadelphia—we were not from the Southwest; we were not cowboys.  Who was this relative, and how in the world did he get to be a governor?  It all seemed rather preposterous—like saying we were descended from Napoleon or George Washington.

Not that I doubted that my father was telling the truth. It just seemed unimportant to me—until I started to delve into my family’s history.  As I started to research and read about this side of my family, I realized how remarkable and interesting a story it is and what a uniquely American story it is.  But before I get to that story, I need to begin at the end and explain how the story of the New Mexican Seligmans is part of my family’s story.

I have written quite a bit about my great-grandparents, Emanuel and Eva M. Cohen, and in particular about my great-grandmother Eva.  You may recall that it was Emanuel and Eva who took in Emanuel’s brother Isaac and his teenage son when Isaac’s wife died.  It was Emanuel and Eva who opened their home for Emanuel’s uncle Jonas’ funeral.  And it was Eva who took care of my father and his sister for almost ten years when my grandparents were both unable to do so.  Both my father and his cousin Marjorie have described Eva as the sweetest, most loving, and kindest woman.

Eva was a Seligman, the daughter of Bernard Seligman and Frances Nusbaum.  She was born in 1866 in Philadelphia, but moved with her parents to Santa Fe, New Mexico when she was a young girl.  She returned east to go to Swarthmore College outside of Philadelphia, and while there, she met Emanuel Cohen and married him in 1886 when she was only twenty years old.

Eva Cohen in the Swarthmore Bulletin

Eva Cohen in the Swarthmore Bulletin 1885-1886


Marriage announcement of Emanuel Cohen and Eva Seligman

Marriage announcement of Emanuel Cohen and Eva Seligman

(Matrimony Notice,  Friday, February 5, 1886, Jewish Messenger (New York, NY)   Volume: 59   Issue: 6   Page: 6)

Together she and Emanuel had four sons, one of whom, Herbert, died as a toddler.  Their son Maurice ended his own life after suffering from cancer, and their son John, my grandfather, was disabled by multiple sclerosis as a young man when my father was just a little boy.  So Eva endured more than her fair share of tragedy, yet somehow she remained a positive and loving person who seemed to have an incredible ability to care for others.

One of my great disappointments was not having a photograph of Eva.  She wrote inscriptions on many of the photographs I have of my father and his sister, but she must have been taking many of the pictures and thus is not in any of those in my family’s collection.  I suppose that is consistent with what I know about her—someone who was focused on others and not on herself.

My father and his cousin Marjorie are the only surviving grandchildren of Eva and Emanuel Cohen, and my siblings and I are the only great-grandchildren.  In the last few weeks, I’ve been very fortunate to receive from Marjorie’s maternal cousin Lou a number of photographs of Marjorie and others, and I was thrilled to be able to see the face of the woman with whom I’d had such wonderful conversations this summer.  Below are several photographs of Marjorie as a child and as a young woman, including some with and of  her parents Stanley and Bess Cohen.

Stanley Cohen World War I

Stanley Cohen World War I


Marjorie and her mother Bess Craig Cohen

Marjorie and her mother Bess




Set Marjorie and Stan

Marjorie and her father Stanley

Stanley Cohen 1928

Stanley Cohen 1928

Marjorie 1933

Marjorie 1933

Marjorie and Bess 1933

Marjorie and Bess 1933

Marjorie Cohen

Marjorie Cohen with Pete-page-001

Marjorie with Pete from Our Gang

Marjorie and her parents Stanley and Bess Cohen at her graduation from Trinity (DC), c. 1947

Marjorie and her parents at her graduation from Trinity (DC), c. 1947

Marjorie as a student at NY Dramatic Arts Academy

Marjorie as a student at NY Dramatic Arts Academy

Marjorie model 2-page-001


Marjorie and her father Stanley 1981

Marjorie and her father Stanley 1981

Included in that group of photographs was a photograph that Lou had labeled as Bess and Stanley 1923, but when I showed it to my father, he said that it was his parents, John and Eva (Schoenthal) Cohen.  When I compared it to the only other photograph I have of my grandparents together, it was obvious that this was John and Eva, not Stanley and Bess.  I was delighted to have another picture of my grandparents.

Eva Schoenthal and John Cohen, Jr. 1923

Eva (Schoenthal) and John Cohen, Jr. 1923


John and Eva Cohen  c. 1930

John and Eva Cohen
c. 1930

Also mixed into the group of photos from Marjorie’s cousin Lou were a few taken in Atlantic City during the summer of 1932 that finally allow me to see the face of my great-grandmother Eva Seligman Cohen.  I will post those in a later post.

Myer and Helen Wolf Cohen and their Children: The American Dream

Myer Cohen, Sr., was the second child of Moses, Jr. and Henrietta Cohen.  As described earlier, he was a lawyer, perhaps the first in the extended Cohen family.  He had married Helen Wolf, daughter of the esteemed Simon Wolf, and they had five children between the years 1891 and 1907.  In 1910, all five children were still living at home, and Myer was engaged in the general practice of law.

As reported earlier, their daughter Marjorie died in 1920 as a young woman.  According to the town clerk in Saranac Lake where Marjorie died in 1920, she died from tuberculosis; the clerk also confirmed that there were several hospitals in the area where TB patients went for treatment.

In 1921, Myer, Sr., was written up in Who’s Who in the Nation’s Capital (Consolidated Publishing Company, 1921) as follows:

Who's Who in the Nation's Capital (1921) found on Google Books

Who’s Who in the Nation’s Capital (1921) found on Google Books

Myer died in 1930, and Helen died in 1949.  They are buried at the Washington Hebrew Congregation cemetery.

Myer Cohen, Sr. headstone

Myer Cohen, Sr. headstone


Ruth, their oldest daughter, married Harold B. Chase, the son of Plimpton B. Chase and Anna Bird of Ohio, on October 29, 1913.  Ruth and Harold were the couple who traveled with Harold’s recently widowed sister Ethel Chase Keith to England and probably also introduced her to Ruth’s cousin Jerome Selinger, whom she later married. In following up on my research of Ruth and Harold, I found this New York Times article about their wedding and that of Ethel Chase and B.F. Keith:

BF Keith wedding-page-001


I wonder how Harold and Ruth felt about B.F. Keith and Ethel Chase stealing their thunder on their wedding day!

Harold had graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1911 and from Georgetown Law School in 1914, bringing another lawyer into Myer’s family, although it does not appear that Harold ever practiced law. ( See Abraham J. Baughman, Robert Franklin Bartlett, History of Morrow County, Ohio: A Narrative Account of Its Historical Progress, Its People, and Its Principal Interests, Volume 2 (1911) (Google eBook), p. 744)

Harold B Chase U Penn alumni directory 1917

Harold B Chase U Penn alumni directory 1917 U.S., School Catalogs, 1765-1935 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2012. Original data: Educational Institutions. American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, Massachusetts

In December 1915, Ruth and Harold had a daughter, Ann Beverly Chase.  In 1917 they were living in Toledo, Ohio, where Harold was then secretary and treasurer of Standard Steel Tube Company, a company owned in part by Harold’s father, who had acquired it in 1915.

In January, 1919, their three year old daughter Ann died of meningitis while the family was visiting Harold’s parents in St. Augustine, Florida, according to an obituary published in the St. Augustine Record of January 31, 1919.

Although the family was still living in Ohio in 1920, when their son Harold, Jr., was born, by 1922 Harold and Ruth had moved to Worcester, Massachusetts, where they were to live for the rest of their lives.  Harold was the owner and president of Chase Motor Cars, a car dealership, for many years, and both Harold and Ruth seem to have been quite active in a number of community organizations and clubs, according to various newspaper reports and documents.  Harold wrote an autobiography entitled Auto-biography: Recollections of a Pioneer Motorist, 1896 to 1911 (Pageant Press, 1955); unfortunately, it seems to be out of print and not available.

Harold, Sr., died in January, 1964, and Ruth, the daughter of Myer, Sr. and Helen Cohen, died in October, 1984. Ruth returned to the Washington area after Harold died.   Despite living for so many years in Worcester, both Harold and Ruth were buried in Ohio at Bloomfield Cemetery with their little daughter, Ann, as well as many members of Harold’s extended family.

Their son Harold, Jr., served in the US Air Force for many years in Colorado Springs, Colorado and then lived in Alexandria, Virginia; he died in 2006 and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Myer and Helen’s second child, Edith, married Alexander Ceal Robeson on December 27, 1919.  Alexander, who was known as Zanny according to family members, was a lawyer in a general practice in Washington, DC, like his father-in-law Myer, according to the 1930 census and several city directories.  He was a 1916 graduate of George Washington Law School.  Edith and Zanny had one child, a son, Alexander C. Robeson, Jr., who was born April 13, 1923.  Zanny died July 26, 1972, in Washington, DC., and Edith died at age 90 in September, 1983.  Their son, who was intellectually challenged, lived as an adult in Innisfree Village in Crozet, Virginia, for some time; when Edith died, the family asked that donations be made to that institution in her memory.  Alexander, Jr., died December 15, 1996. His death notice said he was a retired weaver.    (Richmond Times-Dispatch (VA) – Wednesday, December 4, 1996)

Edith Cohen Robeson death notice 1983 Historical Newspapers, Birth, Marriage, & Death Announcements, 1851-2003 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2006.

Edith Cohen Robeson death notice 1983 Historical Newspapers, Birth, Marriage, & Death Announcements, 1851-2003 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2006.


Edith Cohen Robeson courtesy of Jane and Scott Cohen

Edith Cohen Robeson, photo courtesy of Jane and Scott Cohen

Roger Stahel Cohen was the fourth child and first son of Myer and Helen Cohen.

Roger Stahel Cohen as a young man, photo courtesy of Jane and Scott Cohen

Roger Stahel Cohen as a young man, photo courtesy of Jane and Scott Cohen

Unlike his father and brothers-in-law, he did not become a lawyer but instead became a doctor.  Roger went to Princeton University, graduating in 1919. The family said that he also served in World War I, but I have been unable to find a military record.  Since he was born in 1898, was already at age 19 at Princeton when the US entered the war in 1917, and was still at Princeton to graduate at age 21 in 1919, I had assumed he had been in school throughout the war. His tombstone in Arlington National Cemetery says that he served in World War I and World War II, achieving the rank of Commander (the family indicated the tombstone is incorrect and he achieved the rank of lieutenant commander), so somehow Roger must have taken time off from Princeton to serve and still manage to graduate when he was only 21 years old.

Roger Stahel Cohen headstone

Roger was living at home with his parents in 1920 and working as a law clerk, according to the 1920 census, but then went to George Washington University for medical school, graduating in 1924, according to his family.  After graduating from medical school, Roger married Lee Lenthal Towers on December 17, 1924. In 1926, he was a junior medical officer at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, according to the Washington city directory for that year. The family has a graduation certificate for Roger Sr. from the University of Vienna showing that he studied there from October 3, 1927 to September 29, 1928.  According to family sources, Roger, Sr., said he studied under Sigmund Freud at the University of Vienna. By 1930 he was back in Washington, practicing psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, according to the 1930 census.

Meanwhile, Roger and Lee were also having children.  They had four children born between 1925 and 1931, and after a time in Baltimore, returned to the Washington, DC, area, where they settled and raised their family.  Roger was stationed for some time in San Francisco with the Navy during World War II, and the family has a 1959 letter from Dwight D. Eisenhower, appointing him to serve on the Board of Veterans Appeals. The family also told me that Roger and the family enjoyed vacationing in Point Lookout, Maryland, and at 13th Lake in upstate New York.  He loved photography and his grandchildren and combined the two loves, taking many pictures of his grandchildren.  Sadly, Roger died of a brain tumor on December 14, 1963, when he was only 65 years old.  His widow Lee continued to live in the DC area until she died in May, 1980.

Roger Stahel Cohen, Sr., photo courtesy of Jane and Scott Cohen

Roger Stahel Cohen, Sr., photo courtesy of Jane and Scott Cohen

Lee Towers Cohen  photo courtesy of Jane and Scott Cohen

Lee Towers Cohen
photo courtesy of Jane and Scott Cohen

The youngest child of Myer and Helen Cohen was Myer Cohen, Jr., born in 1907, almost ten years after Roger, the sibling closest to him in age.

Roger and Myer, Jr., c. 1909, photo courtesy of Jane and Scott Cohen

Roger and Myer, Jr., c. 1909, photo courtesy of Jane and Scott Cohen

Myer, Jr., was still living at home in 1920 and in 1930. Myer went to Swarthmore College, where he was an honors student, a member of the Wharton Club, the Philosophy Club,  and the Men’s Debate Club as well as on the staff of the yearbook, the Halcyon.  This is how he was described in that yearbook:

Myer Cohen Jr 1929 Halcyon yearbook

1929 Swarthmore College yearbook The Halcyon

1929 Swarthmore College yearbook The Halcyon

After college, Myer made trips across the Atlantic in 1928, 1929, and 1930.  In 1932, he again traveled overseas, giving his residence as New Haven, Connecticut, where he was a graduate student at Yale.  I would think that these trips were related to his graduate work. Myer’s study of German must have been useful in his graduate studies. Myer received his Ph.D. from Yale in 1935 based on his dissertation, “Austria: An International Problem.”  I tried to locate a copy of it online, but could not find it.  It would be interesting to know what Myer’s thoughts were on what was happening in Europe at the time.

On August 21, 1933, Myer, Jr., married Elizabeth Elson, who was Russian born, but had immigrated to the United States in 1906 when she was two years old and had settled with her family in Chicago. Myer and Elizabeth were married in Chicago, and according to the 1940 census, in 1935 Myer and Elizabeth were residing in New Haven. After receiving his degree, Myer and Elizabeth relocated to San Francisco, where their two children were born, one born in 1937, the other in 1938.    According to the 1940 census, Myer was working as a private school teacher in San Francisco.

Although I cannot locate any military records for Myer, after World War II he definitely had a change of careers.  In 1945 he made the first of many trips to England; his residence was now Silver Spring, MD.  In 1946 he made at least two trips, one in June and one in October.  According to the airline manifest for the June trip, Myer was working for the UN BRA headquarters in Washington as the director of repatriation and (I think) relief division. New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2010. Original data: Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1820-1897. Microfilm Publication M237, New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2010.
Original data: Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1820-1897. Microfilm Publication M237,

Although I could not find an explanation for UN BRA, I found that acronym in several places with reference to the UNRRA, the United Nations  Relief  and Rehabilitation Administration, an organization involved in providing relief to refugees in Europe after the war.  I assume that Myer’s work was related to this endeavor.  The October trip in 1946 was on a flight from Berlin to Frankfurt to New York, and Myer’s address was now Chevy Chase, Maryland, and he was flying on a military permit.  Once again, his German studies must have come in handy.

In 1950, Myer again traveled to Europe, and the manifest for his flight from Zurich to New York has his address as “c/o I.R.O. Washington, DC,” and states that he was an O.I.R. director.   He was traveling with two other people involved with the same agency.  I could not find one definitive meaning for O.I.R or I.R.O, but given Myer’s work in 1946, this might be Office of International Relief and International Relief or Relations Organization.  I need to check further.  A later trip with Elizabeth to Europe in 1954 also lists their residence as Washington, DC.

Eventually, Myer rose to a fairly high level post within the United Nations. In 1962 he was the Director of Operations for the UN Special Fund, a fund created in 1958 by the UN General Assembly “in order to enlarge the scope of the UN programme of technical assistance in certain basic fields.”

UNDP Approves $1.5 Million Agreement to Expand Training Activities at International Institute of Seismology in Japan

UNDP Approves $1.5 Million Agreement to Expand Training Activities at International Institute of Seismology in Japan Ambassador Senjin Tsuruoka, Permanent Representative of Japan, is seen signing the agreement. At left is Mr. Myer Cohen, UNDP Assistant Administrator and Director of the Operations and Planning Bureau. At right is Mr. Tadayuki Monoyama, Second Secretary, Mission of Japan to the UN 27 March 1969 United Nations, New York

In 1969 Myer, Jr., was the Assistant Administrator and Director of Operations and Planning for the UNDP, the United Nations Development Programme, an agency involved in assisting developing nations.

Special Fund to Aid in Land and Water Surveys in Northern Rhodesia

Special Fund to Aid in Land and Water Surveys in Northern Rhodesia An agreement laying down conditions for the surveying of the land and water resources of the Kafue River Basin in Northern Rhodesia was signed this morning at United Nations Headquarters by representatives of the UN Special Fund and the United Kingdom Government on behalf of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. Signing the agreement are Mr. Paul G. Hoffman (left), Managing Director of the Special Fund, and Sir Patrick Dean, Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom to the United Nations. Looking on are (1eft to right) Mr. Roberto M. Heurtematte, Associate Managing Director of the Special Fund; Mr. Myer Cohen, Director of Operations, Special Fund; and Sri Ram Vasudev, Special Fund project officer. 23 February 1962

Myer, Jr., and Elizabeth ultimately retired to Newtown, Pennsylvania, where Myer died on January 8, 2003, at the age of 95, and Elizabeth died on July 25, 2004.  She was a hundred years old.

Myer, Sr., and Helen Wolf Cohen must have been very proud of their children.  Although the family suffered some heartbreaks with the deaths of Marjorie and little Ann Chase and the challenges presented to Alexander Robeson, Jr., overall it was a family that prospered.  There were several lawyers and a psychiatrist in the family as well as a Ph.D and  UN official.  The family moved around a bit, but overall stayed close to their roots in the Washington, DC, area.  The family seems to have moved away from the strong Jewish involvement of Helen’s father Simon Wolf and Myer, Sr.’s father Moses Cohen, Jr., as they moved into mainstream America and achieved success in fields that seem quite distant from the family’s beginnings as peddlers and merchants and pawnbrokers.  In just two generations, the family had gone from struggling Jewish immigrants to full-fledged participants in the American dream.




How They Met: The Cohens

In a much earlier post, I wrote about how some of my maternal relatives met—my grandparents, my aunts and uncles, my parents, and others.  When researching my great-grandparents Emanuel and Evalyn Cohen and my grandparents John and Eva Cohen, I wondered how they had met.  Fortunately, my brother had heard the stories years ago and shared them with me.

My great-grandmother Evalyn Seligman Cohen was born in Philadelphia in 1866, but her family had moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, before 1880 (more on that at a later time).   Evalyn (later Eva May) was probably the first woman in my family to go to college.  She came back to Philadelphia to start college at Swarthmore College and met Emanuel Cohen.  They fell in love and married in 1886, and Evalyn never finished college.  (Maybe if she had, Swarthmore would have accepted me back in 1970 when I applied there. But then again, if she had, I would never have been born.)  She was only twenty years old when they married.  If not for her ambitious and independent spirit, she might never have traveled east and met my great-grandfather.

Swarthmore College

Swarthmore College (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


My grandparents also only met because my grandmother Eva Schoenthal Cohen was willing to make the long trip back east.  She also was born in Pennsylvania, but her parents, Isadore and Hilda Schoenthal, had moved west to Denver, Colorado, by the time Eva was six years old.  Sometime in 1922 when she was eighteen years old (she had graduated from high school that June, so perhaps over the summer), she came east to visit with some of her family in Philadelphia.  She met my grandfather John Cohen at some social event while visiting Philadelphia, and as the family story goes, he was so smitten with her that he followed her back to Colorado to woo her and ask her to marry him.  She accepted his proposal, and they were married on January 7, 1923, when he was 27 and she was 19 years old.  As with her mother-in-law, if my grandmother had not been brave enough to travel from Denver to Philadelphia, my grandparents might never have met.

Denver Capital building

My father, the third Cohen man to fall in love quickly and marry a very young woman, also only met my mother because of her willingness to travel, although not across the country.  As I’ve recounted before, they met at Camp Log Tavern in the Poconos where my father was working as a waiter at an adult camp in the summer of 1950.  My mother, who was nineteen and living in the Bronx, came for a vacation, and my father fell in love with her at first sight.  She was less interested, so he had to track her down in the Bronx phonebook after she left.  They married in 1951 when she was twenty years old and he was twenty-four.  They will be celebrating their 63rd anniversary this September.

Camp Log Tavern Milford, PA

Camp Log Tavern Milford, PA

Do you see a pattern here? Not only the serendipity of how each couple met, but both my father and my grandfather had to pursue the woman they loved, my grandfather by taking a train across the country, my father by searching through phonebooks to find my mother.  Thank goodness for those impulsive and determined Cohen men and the traveling women they met and married, or my siblings and I would not be here today.

Florence and John Cohen 1951

Florence and John Cohen 1951