Fannia Cohn, labor educator and leader, was born in 1885 or 1888 in Russia to a middle-class Jewish family. In 1904 she emigrated to the United States, and in 1909 she began her life-long career with the International Ladies Garment Workers Union as a member of the Executive Board of the Wrapper, Kimono, and Housedress Makers Local 41. From approximately 1914-1916 Cohn lived in Chicago, working as a general organizer for the ILGWU. In 1916 Cohn returned to New York as the ILGWU's Vice-President. She was the first woman ever to hold that post, and she retained it until 1925.
Throughout her life she played an important role in worker education. From 1918 until her retirement in 1962, Cohn was the Executive Secretary of the ILGWU Educational Department. Under her leadership the union provided educational, cultural, and recreational services to members, and the ILGWU Educational Department grew to become the largest union education department in the country. Throughout her career, Cohn lectured and published on workers' education and the role of women in the labor movement.
Cohn's career had many notable highlights. Cohn was a co-founder, in 1921, of the Workers' Education Bureau, a clearinghouse for workers' education programs absorbed in the 40's by the American Federation of Labor. Also in 1921, she helped to found Brookwood Labor College, a residential college for workers in Katonah, New York. In 1924 she helped to found both the Manumit School for Workers' Children in Pawling, New York, and the Pioneer Youth of America. Throughout her life, Cohn was also active in many other labor, education, Jewish organizations. Cohn retired from the ILGWU in August, 1962, and died soon after.
From the guide to the Fannia M. Cohn papers, 1914-1962, (The New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division.)