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A Photograph of Bertha Cohen, She has dark hair with grey streaks and is looking at the camera

Shirley B. Cohen Family Papers

Lifetime New Bedford resident and member of Tifereth Israel Synagogue, Bertha Alpert Cohen (1898-1974) was involved in many organizations that helped Jewish women and their community. She was a secretary of the Russian War Relief “KIT” committee which provided relief to Jewish individuals in the Soviet Union. From 1961-1978, Bertha served on the Council of Women’s Organizations of Greater New Bedford as president and hosted meetings between other women’s groups throughout the city.

Bertha Alpert Cohen (1898-1974), also known as Mrs. A. J. Cohen, or Bessie Alpert, was a lifetime resident of New Bedford and member of Tifereth Israel Synagogue. She was very active in many community groups, particularly the New Bedford Chapter of the Senior Hadassah, Hebrew Ladies’ Helping Hand Society, Council of Women’s Organizations of Greater New Bedford, New Bedford Jewish Convalescent Home, National Council of Jewish Women, Young Men & Women Hebrew Association (YWHA), Sisterhood of Tifereth Israel, the Jewish Welfare Board and United Jewish Appeal during World War II. She was a recipient of many awards, including the Golden Rule Award and the Great Hearts Award for her humanitarian work. She also won awards for her dedicated service in prevention of heart disease.  

Bertha Cohen (born Alpert) was born January 15, 1898, in Massachusetts, and was one of five children of Bessie and David Alpert, both emigrants from Russia. Bertha was a lifelong resident of New Bedford, Massachusetts. She went to school up until the 8th grade when she then did clerical work in a cotton mill. In 1923, at the age of 25, Bertha married her lifelong partner Abram J. Cohen. Together, the couple had two daughters – Shirley B. Cohen and Thelma Lee Cohen. Bertha played a huge role in many organizations around the city, all while working as a clerk and being a homemaker. 

Bertha engaged in several organizations that helped Jewish women and their community. She was a secretary of the Russian War Relief “KIT” committee which provided relief to (mainly) Jewish individuals in the Soviet Union. Bertha was also on the committee for New Bedford United Jewish Appeal for 1939. Between 1961-1978, Bertha served on the Council of Women’s Organizations of Greater New Bedford as president and hosted many meetings between other women’s groups throughout the city. She was also a part of the National Council of Jewish Women, hosting many annual balls; a board member of New Bedford Chapter of the Senior Hadassah; secretary of Sisterhood of Tifereth Israel; and co-chair and delegate for the Hebrew Ladies’ Helping Hand Society. 

To preserve these accomplishments, Bertha kept several scrapbooks full of photos, newspaper clippings, programs and committee meeting minutes, allowing her memories and efforts to be passed down to future generations. After a long life of involvement for the Jewish community, especially women, Bertha passed away on July 27, 1974, at the age 76, leaving her husband and two daughters behind.

Mya Resendes-Medeiros, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, Class of 2022, Elisabeth Arruda, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Faculty Sponsor with Ann O’Leary, Emily Bourne Research Fellow

Information from

  • Ancestry.com. Massachusetts, U.S., Birth Records, 1840-1915 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2013.

  • Ancestry.com. U.S., Find a Grave Index, 1600s-Current [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012.
  • Shirley B. Cohen Family Papers, MC 170. Box 1, Folder 2, Correspondence New Bedford United Jewish Appeal (1939), Russian War Relief (1944), Archives of the Center for Jewish Culture, Claire T. Carney Library Archives and Special Collections, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.

  • Shirley B. Cohen Family Papers, MC 170. Box 1, Folder 3, Council of Women’s Organizations of Greater New Bedford, Archives of the Center for Jewish Culture, Claire T. Carney Library Archives and Special Collections, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.

  • Shirley B. Cohen Family Papers, MC 170. Box 1, Folder 8, National Council of Jewish Women’s Ball (1935-1936), Archives of the Center for Jewish Culture, Claire T. Carney Library Archives and Special Collections, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.

  • Shirley B. Cohen Family Papers, MC 170. Box 1, Folder 9, Newspaper Clippings, Archives of the Center for Jewish Culture, Claire T. Carney Library Archives and Special Collections, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.

  • Tifereth Israel Sisterhood records, MC 38. Box 2, Archives of the Center for Jewish Culture, Claire T. Carney Library Archives and Special Collections, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. Year: 1920; Census Place: New Bedford Ward 5, Bristol, Massachusetts; Roll: T625_687; Page: 5B; Enumeration District: 145.

  • Tifereth Israel Sisterhood records, MC 38. Box 2, Archives of the Center for Jewish Culture, Claire T. Carney Library Archives and Special Collections, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. Year: 1940; Census Place: New Bedford, Bristol, Massachusetts; Roll: m-t0627-01700; Page: 9B; Enumeration District: 20-83.

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