Women of Valor: New Orleans Ladies

By ALAN SMASON, Exclusive to the CCJN

With Creole culture rampant in the early days of New Orleans and the European model of a prevailing male-dominated society, it is understandable that women enjoyed little in the way of political strength, financial clout or professional opportunities. The right to vote was denied them until 1920 and only a handful of concessions were given to women of property prior to its passage.

DancingWomen

Celebrating our earliest matriarchs for Mother’s Day.

But despite being born into a time and place when women were looked upon by adoring fathers, husbands, brothers and suitors as lacking in the acumen of politics and business, there were several exceptions who broke the yoke of inferiority and established themselves as true women of valor in the grandest of Jewish traditions.

In honor of Mother’s Day, we have selected nine New Orleans ladies, all born before the advent of women’s suffrage, who represent the nine decades of progress made since 1920 and who established themselves as leaders in politics, social action, the arts or as pioneers in their own professional fields.

Nationwide there were women like Henrietta Szold and Hannah Solomon, who established major organizations for women like Hadassah and the National Council of Jewish Women. But we in New Orleans can point with pride to these local leaders who also made a significant impact on the national and international scenes.

Every Shabbat we read from Proverbs 31:10-31 of the many attributes of eishet chayil (“a woman of valor”). These nine ladies most certainly proved their worth in their own lifetimes and laid the foundations for the achievements of the lives of today’s modern women.

 

ELIZABETH COHEN

Dr. Elizabeth D. A. Magnus Cohen was a pioneer in the strongest sense and a New Orleanian by choice. Born in New York City to shipbuilder David Cohen and his wife Phoebe, Elizabeth enjoyed a proper education and married Dr. Aaron Cohen. Of the five children she bore, only one lived to adulthood. It was the death of her youngest son from measles that inspired her to become a physician.

Elizabeth_CohenMD

Dr. Elizabeth Cohen, the first female physician in New Orleans. (Photo courtesy National Institutes of Health)

When her husband departed New York to become a surgeon in New Orleans, she applied to the Female Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1854. She graduated three years later, fifth in her class of 36. She was the 14th woman to earn the title of medical doctor in the United States and the first licensed female to practice medicine in Louisiana.

According to interviews conducted later in her life, Cohen claimed there was little in the way of bias towards women doctors at the time she received her training in Pennsylvania. Attitudes were different in New Orleans. An editorial in the New Orleans Bee in 1853 railed against women physicians examining male patients.

After rejoining her husband in New Orleans, Cohen found it difficult to gain acceptance as a physician. She was listed in the City Directory first as a midwife and for 12 years later was listed as a “doctress.” However, by 1876 she began to list her name as “Mrs. Elizabeth Cohen, physician.”

During Reconstruction, Dr. Cohen treated hundreds of patients during the outbreaks of yellow fever that killed thousands. She also saw to the needs of victims suffering from typhoid and smallpox.

Pushback against women physicians continued to mount in the intervening years. An editorial in the Journal of American Medical Association suggested that women doctors were to blame for a loss in prestige and earning capacity within the profession. Medical schools routinely refused to admit women and decades of prejudice ensued.

Following her retirement in 1887, Cohen moved into Touro Infirmary’s Department of the Aged and Infirm (later the Julius Weis Home for the Aged) and ran the hospital’s sewing and linen room. She had no living relatives at the time of her death on May 28, 1921. She was 101.

Cohen had been interviewed the year before as the fight for women’s suffrage neared its endpoint. “I’m glad to see girls of today getting an education,” she stated. “In my youth you had to fight for it. And I believe in suffrage, too – things will be better when women can vote and can protect their own property and their children.”

 

JEANNE FRANKO

The second eldest of Hamman and Helene Franko’s children, native New Orleanian Jeanne Franko was part of one of the most talented musical families of the period. When Union Forces captured New Orleans in 1862, the Franko family, who were noted Confederate sympathizers, was forced to flee to Breslau, Germany. Years later, Hamman Franko, a successful jeweler in New Orleans, stated in interviews that he had been “robbed” by General Benjamin “Beast” Butler, who acted as the military governor during the occupation. In their book “Lincoln and the Jews,” historians Jonathan Sarna and Benjamin Shapnell confirmed Butler’s blatant anti-Semitism and contempt for Jews he described as privateers.

Jeanne_Franko

Native New Orleanian violin virtuosa Jeanne Franko. (Photo courtesy St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

While living on the Continent, Jeanne Franko studied violin with two of the foremost instructors of the day, Henri Vieutemps and Heinrich De Ahna, according to retired Tulane University music professor John Baron. She made her debut in Paris at 13 and returned to the United States in 1869 in a series of concerts in which she was joined on stage with her four other siblings – Rachel, Naham, Selma and Sam – the latter two of whom, like her, also played the piano.

As a pianist, Jeanne Franko (sometimes billed as Jeannette) would often accompany her sister Rachel, a soprano vocalist. During this extended tour, she and her siblings made a triumphant return to New Orleans in February of 1870 with two concerts at Odd Fellow’s Hall.

The series of concerts continued over the next 17 years and captured the hearts of music lovers in major cities like New York and Washington, D.C. John Philip Sousa, who had first seen the Frankos as a mere lad of five, grew into manhood and became a band and orchestra leader who led several ensembles featuring Franko.

She married Hugo Kraemer in New York and began a second career as “an important teacher of music,” according to Baron. Then, after 1886, she began to concentrate on her career as a violinist and rarely appeared with other family members, all who had established their own musical careers.

She founded the Jeanne Franko Trio with pianist Celia Schiller and cellist Hans Kronold and they toured for many years. She also played as a member of the Woman’s String Orchestra of New York and the all-female Women’s Philharmonic Society of New York. Franko became known as the foremost violin virtuosa of her day and continued to perform in concerts as well as in private recitals at homes, often raising funds for Jewish causes. She toured New Orleans on a fairly regular basis, but failed to appear past 1906.

She died in New York City on December 3, 1940.

 

IDA WEIS FRIEND 

Arriving in New Orleans when she was just six weeks old, Ida Weis Friend lived most of her life in the city she loved, but had an influence that spread well past city boundaries. She was the third child born to cotton broker Julius Weis and his wife Caroline, who helped to found Temple Sinai. As a student, she attended a private school run by Flora Gayle in the city.

Ida_Friend

Ida Friend, the first New Orleanian to serve as NCJW national president. (Photo courtesy NCJW)

In 1882 the family moved to Europe in order to finish her schooling in Neiully, France and Frankfort, Germany. She worked on what we would today term a mitzvah project to raise money for a fountain at Touro Infirmary, the hospital with strong Jewish ties and on whose board her father served.

She later married Joseph Friend, a Milwaukee native and Yale graduate in 1890. After a brief residency in Chicago, the couple returned to New Orleans, where he became an associate with his father-in-law’s firm.

Friend was active in civic and social affairs during the first half of the 20th century in the Crescent City. She was the founder and first president of the local chapter of Hadassah in 1917. Weis served as president of the New Orleans Consumers League, the Tulane Lyceum Association, the Voter’s Registration League, New Orleans Traveler’s Aid, the Urban League, the Dilbert Memorial Hospital and served as the life president for the Home of the Incurables (now the New Orleans Home and Rehabilitation Center), which she also founded.

As a member of the Era Club, she worked tirelessly to get the 19th Amendment ratified in Louisiana and later was a champion for children, helping to raise the state’s child labor law minimum age from 14 to 16. A pacifist, she actively campaigned for the U.S. to become a member of the League of Nations and served as a local member of both the Women’s Committee for Lasting Peace and the League of Peace.

Friend was a patron of the arts and was a founder of the New Orleans Symphony Orchestra society, a member of the board of directors for Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carré and served as president of the Louisiana Council for Motion Pictures.

Active as a member in Temple Sinai, Friend was dedicated to many Jewish organizations and causes. In addition to her work with Touro Infirmary and Hadassah, she was the president of the women’s chapter of B’nai B’rith, which was named in her honor.

In 1926 Friend assumed the national presidency of the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW), an organization she proudly served for an impressive six years and was just the seventh person to hold that title.

After a half century of service, Friend was named 1946 Woman of the Year by the Quota Club, which noted her lifetime of humanitarian and benevolent work. In awarding her the prestigious Times-Picayune Loving Cup that same year, the nomination committee cited her lifetime of community involvement and advocacy for the betterment of the city’s citizens.

One sad note to Friend’s life was the loss of her oldest son Henry, whose nickname was Bunny. Henry died from complications of pneumonia following surgery to remove a ball bearing he had mistakenly swallowed as a young adult of 18. Filled with remorse, she donated land to the City of New Orleans as a playground in his memory in the Ninth Ward. The Bunny Friend Park was the scene of a mass shooting of 17 people in December of 2015.

Predeceased by her husband, Ida Weis Friend died on September 22, 1963, recalled as one of the most selfless and productive ladies of her generation.

 

MIRIAM DOROTHY “ISADORA” NEWMAN NEUGASS

What began as a conventional life for Miriam Newman became one associated with the arts in her later years. Born the daughter of banker and philanthropist Isidore Newman and Rebecca (née Kiefer), the young girl was frail in health. It was decided that she should be schooled at home under the guidance of a governess.

Newman_Isadora

Miriam Dorothy Newman Neugass, whose nom de plum was Isidora Newman. (Photo courtesy Isidore Newman School Archives)

She was married at 23 to Edwin A. Neugass, who held a seat on the New York Stock Exchange. The couple lived in New York, raising their three children under the hand of a governess and sending at least one, Edwin II, to a boarding school when he grew older.

Neugass enrolled at Columbia University after her children were grown and began to work creatively by writing folk tales inspired by the Creole and black cultures she was exposed to as a young lady living in New Orleans. As she began to explore her life as an artist, the nom de plume Isidora Newman emerged.

Her first book titled Fairy Flowers was published in 1926 and Isidora Newman received critical praise. The book, which sought to was published in several languages both in America and inernationaly.

Based on her initial success, she followed with a collection of her poetry, Shades of Blue, the following year. That led to two books of folk tales in German released in 1930 and a play, Granny’s Garden in 1931.

The restless soul of an artist continued to emerge as she found delight in painting watercolors signed with the alias of Isidora Newman. She trained as a sculptor in France and much of her work was exhibited in galleries in New York, New Orleans and in Europe.

A bust she created of her late father, the founder of the Maison Blanch Department Store chain, is on display at Isidore Newman School, the private school initially founded as the Isidore Newman Manual Training School in 1903.

She returned to New Orleans occasionally, but became known as a storyteller in New York, often entertaining as many as 200 school children ranging in age from 5 to 10 at the Hotel Astor. Her specialty was telling stories and singing while dressed as an antebellum Negro slave.

Another side of her character displayed an amazing dedication to making the world a better place for children. In 1926 she was recognized by the Serbian government for her relief work with war orphans.

Whether inspired by Creole or African-American cultures, Isidora Newman’s artistic achievements worked hand in hand with Miriam Dorothy Newman Neugass’s philanthropy and charitable work.

She died in New York in 1955.

 

EDITH ROSENWALD STERN

Born the daughter of Chicago industrialist and philanthropist Julius Rosenwald and wife Augusta (née Nusbaum), Edith Rosenwald lived a privileged life that few in America enjoyed. A cardinal precept both she and her father employed was to use their vast wealth to improve the local community. Thus she encouraged others in similar financial positions to contribute by issuing challenge grants to match her own donations. She was always in favor of granting civil rights to the impoverished and disenfranchised, a byproduct of her father’s legacy in building schools and recreational centers for African-Americans.

Edith_Stern_1936

Edith Rosenwald Stern (circa 1936) as a young woman. (Photo courtesy Longue Vue House and Gardens Archives)

Following her marriage to cotton broker Edgar Stern in 1921, she moved to New Orleans and the two began their work as dynamos for civic action and improvement of the local economy. She was a juggernaut for progressive education and helped fund both the Newcomb and Metairie Park Country Day Schools. Edith Stern was instrumental in helping build Dillard University into one of the region’s most respected traditional black colleges and did so in partnership with the African-American community.

While education was clearly of deep value to her, she was also a promoter of culture and the arts. She was a charter member and the vice-president of the New Orleans Philharmonic Symphony Society, a board member of the Delgado Museum of Art (now the New Orleans Museum of Art) and had been president of the Cultural Attraction Fund of Greater New Orleans. President John F. Kennedy appointed her to server the National Cultural Center Advisory Committee of the Arts.

Within the Jewish community, the Sterns were among the biggest champions for civil rights causes. They were deeply involved in the development of Pontchartrain Park as a neighborhood intended to attract African-American professionals. Edith Stern in particular fought for social justice by increasing voter registration, pushed for auditing of voter rolls and generally sought to clean up voting rights in New Orleans. After hearing her cook speak of a gifted singer appearing at her church, Stern had her installed as the guest of honor at a lofty society dinner party. It helped catapult opera singer Marian Anderson into the public spotlight and made her the toast of New Orleans.

A leading figure of Jewish philanthropy, Edith Stern encouraged all the members of her family to pursue their own charitable interests. She was a major supporter of the State of Israel and attributed her attitude towards giving as directly coming from her Jewish heritage. “One is permitted to glean one’s field only once,” she recalled. “Thereafter, other can partake…One has to tithe.”

A member of many civic boards, she naturally served as a board member of the Julius Rosenwald Fund, but also found time to be a president of the Garden Study Club. The members of the Orleans club made her an honorary life member and she was honored with a number of awards for her humanitarian and civic efforts including the 1971 Hannah G. Solomon Award from the NCJW.

She was the 1964 recipient of the Times-Picayune Loving Cup, an award her husband had won in 1930, making them the only husband and wife team to have been selected to receive this high honor separately for their own endeavors.

Perhaps the greatest legacy of the Sterns was the gift of their historical and artistic legacy of the Longue Vue House and Gardens, which is now open to the public and administered by a board and professional staff.

Predeceased by her husband, she died in New Orleans on September 11, 1980. Twin large sized replicas of the Times-Picayune Loving Cups made from granite grace the two front corners of their resting place in Metairie Cemetery.

 

GLADYS DENA FREEMAN CAHN

If the term social activist ever needed a poster child, it would most appropriately bear the image of Gladys Freeman Cahn, a true clubwoman, who advocated for social welfare and civil rights both locally and nationally.

Born in Chicago in 1901, she moved to New Orleans in 1922, where she was married to Moise S. Cahn, the director of the brokerage firm of Steiner, Rose and Co.

GCahn2329

Former NCJW president and civil rights activist Gladys Freeman Cahn (Photo courtesy Xavier University of Louisiana Archives and Special Collections)

A tireless crusader for the civil rights movement, Cahn was the president of the New Orleans Urban League and also served for three years as a member of the National Urban League. Cahn received an award in 1953 from the Louisiana chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) for “courageous and untiring efforts in the field of human relations.”

She was president of the Louisiana Conference on Social Welfare, the secretary of the Louisiana Advisory Committee of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, a member of the Louisiana Civil Liberties Union and a board member of Save Our Schools, Inc.

During World War II, she was the Civil Defense volunteer director with over 7,000 block leaders under her direct administration. She was on the national executive committee of the Women’s Division of the United Jewish Appeal and an executive board member of the U.S. Commission for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Cahn served as the local president of the NCJW and followed in the footsteps of Ida Weis Friend when she, too, was elevated to the national presidency of the NCJW from 1949-55.

Chairman of the women’s division of the Community Chest, Cahn was interested in obtaining charitable aid to those in distress, but she never forgot her local Jewish community as well. She was a member of the National Executive Committee of the women’s division of the United Jewish Appeal and also toured several displaced persons camps in Germany after World War II had ended, but before the Stratton bill passed that permitted them to emigrate to the U.S. She made contact with many of these Holocaust victims, whom she described as the backbone of resistance to the Nazis and was crucial in advocating for the partition of Palestine.

Cahn died at her summer home in Mandeville on April 13, 1964 at the remarkably young age of 63.

 

ROSALIE PALTER COHEN

An intellectual and original thinker, Rosalie Palter Cohen was a stalwart and pivotal leader for New Orleans’ Jewish community at a time when Zionism and the survival of the State of Israel were most severely tested.

A native of New Orleans, she was born into a family of Jewish immigrants Fanny (née Brener) and Leon Palter, who hailed from Bialystok, Russia. Palter was a peddler at first, but after a decade in the city, he opened a furniture store called Universal Furniture that eventually became one of the city’s largest firms.

Rosalie_Cohen

Jewish community leader and education proponent Rosalie Cohen. (Photo courtesy Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans)

The influence of her parents meant Rosalie, who was born in 1910, was reared under an Orthodox household and informed of the necessity for a Jewish homeland at a very early age. Her parents encouraged her to attend meetings of Zionists and arranged for her to learn Hebrew and to study Torah on a daily basis from the time she was just a young girl into her teens. The Palters arranged for esteemed Russian Hebrew poet Ephraim Lisitzky to come to New Orleans in 1918 from Milwaukee, where he had personally instructed a young Golda Meir. Lisitzky instituted the Communal Hebrew School soon after his arrival.

Only a few years after finishing her immersive study of Hebrew and Jewish history, Rosalie met and married Dr. Joseph Cohen, a New York surgeon, who shared her zeal for Zionism. On their honeymoon in 1929, the couple attended the World Zionist Congress in Zurich, Switzerland along with luminaries like Albert Einstein and David Ben-Gurion. They also visited Palestine, the first of many trips to the area.

After they returned to live in New Orleans, Rosalie continued her studies in journalism at Tulane University and soon graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree. She became a visible member of the Women’s Zionist Organization of America. During World War II, her mastery of Hebrew got her a wartime job as a translator at the U.S. Department of Censorship. Her interest in providing support to the State of Israel led her to become the first chairperson for Israel Bonds as well as her election to the presidency of the New Orleans Chapter of Hadassah on three occasions.

Cohen was the first female president of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans from 1959-61, but was also instrumental in the foundation of the Willow Wood Home for the Jewish Aged (now Woldenberg Village) and the Jewish Community Senior Citizens Club. Believing education was the cornerstone of a proper Jewish education, she co-founded the Lemann-Stern Young Leadership Group (now rebranded as the Katz-Phillips Leadership Development Program) that sought to engage young Jewish professionals in education, enhance their leadership skills and spark interest in philanthropic endeavors. Through missions to Israel and the interaction with national leaders, Lemann Stern members developed into future, responsive Jewish community leaders.

Cohen’s contributions included providing for the establishment of Tulane University’s Hillel Foundation and the integration of a Jewish Studies program, which has since developed into a full-fledged department. Her many passions for Jewish literature helped establish a fund in her name at Tulane for the express purpose of adding volumes of Jewish writing for studies there.

As a member of many national and international boards, Cohen saw to it that hundreds of Jewish writers, musicians and artists received the kind of financial support that would ensure their continued creativity and connection to Am Yisroel (“the people of Israel”). One of the most important of these was the National Foundation for Jewish Culture, on which she was a founding member.

“I have had a vision of what a Jewish community ought to be, and I felt I had a responsibility,” she once proclaimed. She was the 1979 recipient of the Hannah G. Solomon Award presented by the NCJW.

Predeceased by her husband and following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, Cohen was forced to relocate in Cincinnati. When she died on April 7, 2010, just one month before her 100th birthday, the entire Jewish community felt the loss of this graceful and determined lover of Jewish philosophy and culture.

 

BESSIE MARGOLIN

A perfectionist and a formidable attorney whose spectacular record in arguing and winning cases before the Supreme Court might have been enough to propel her into history, Bessie Margolin also had a hand in prosecuting Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg and was largely responsible for the legal language that established individual protections both for the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Equal Pay Act.

Bessie_Margolin_hires

Bessie Margolin at work at the Labor Department . (Photo courtesy U. S. Department of Labor)

The subject of a recent release by LSU Press and written over the course of a decade by Marlene Trestman,  “Fair Labor Lawyer: The Remarkable Life of New Deal Attorney and Supreme Court Advocate Bessie Margolin,” tells much more than the struggle of a woman vying to find her place in history in a legal world defined and populated almost entirely by men.

Margolin began life as most youngsters do with a loving set of parents who wanted to provide the best for their child. They immigrated to America to escape oppression in Russia just before Bessie was born in Brooklyn. Her father Harry moved the family to Memphis in search of a new job when his wife became ill with Hodgkin’s Disease. When Bessie was just 4, her mother died and Harry was unable to provide care for his family.

While in Memphis, he learned of the Jewish Orphans Home in New Orleans, which took Bessie in as a “half” orphan. Margolin received a scholarship through the home and as a result received a stellar education from Isidore Newman School. Bearing the school motto Discimus Agere Agendo, (“We learn to do by doing”) in mind, Margolin enrolled at Newcomb College and might have gravitated towards a conventional scholastic life. But there was a drive within her to accomplish more. It turned out Margolin accepted the scholarship to Newcomb, but deduced Tulane University was the place she wanted to be if she were to pursue a law degree. She transferred to the school and received both her undergraduate and law degrees.

Margolin was the only woman in her class and the first woman to receive the Order of the Coif membership when she graduated. She was hired as a research assistant to prominent Yale Law School professor Ernst Lorenzen and received a Sterling Fellowship there, another first for a woman. She received her doctorate in law at Yale.

Initially considering a career as a professor, she was disheartened to determine that the opportunities for women within the halls of academia would be very limited due to ongoing discrimination.

Drawn to public service, she became the first woman attorney working at the Tennessee Valley Authority in the Roosevelt administration. One of her major tasks was to fight legal challenges to the federal legislation, which created the series of dams and levees providing hydroelectric power to a vast area there.

The assured attorney soon found her way to the Department of Labor. Her work on the Fair Labor Standards Act in the 1940s as a young woman and her work on the Equal Pay Act in the 1960s as a a middle-aged lady are both considered some of the most important legal work ever conducted on the subject.

Following the cessation of hostilities in World War II, Margolin was loaned from the Department of Labor to assist the Nuremberg Military Tribunals in preparations for prosecuting captured Nazi war criminals. She was posted there from 1946 to 1947, but returned to Washington shortly before the trials of these lesser-known criminals by military tribunals began in earnest.

When she retired in 1972 as assistant solicitor, several Supreme Court justices including Chief Justice Earl Warren were in attendance. She had amassed an amazing 21 wins of the 24 cases she had argued before the Supreme Court, according to the count of her biographer Trestman.

Throughout her career, she was immaculately dressed and coifed whenever she appeared in public or in court. Though she spent the majority of her life living in the shadow of the Capitol, she always considered herself a New Orleanian and a Southern lady. Margolin, delighted in entertaining others, but was both resolute and charming in a courtroom setting.

She was a co-founder of the National Organization for Women (NOW), which pushed for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), legislation that ultimately failed to be ratified on the state level. During her time at the Labor Department, she was the nation’s top enforcer of the Equal Pay Act, which may be the reason she never came out publicly for or against the ERA, according to Trestman. (NOW members adopted the ERA as part of a public plank, but many of its highly visible members were not in favor of its passage.) It is possible that public comment on any proposed Constitutional amendment was something that was not in her comfort zone.

Chief Justice Earl Warren said of her remarkable winning ways, “While winning equal rights for women in her litigation, Margolin herself proved the equality of women lawyers in what had previously been a man’s world of law.”

Though she never married, Trestman claims there were many suitors who beat paths to her door. She occasionally would return to teach or give lectures in Washington, D.C. law schools.

Her health began to fail in her later years as Margolin suffered a stroke, which left her largely incapacitated. She died in 1996 at the age of 87.

 

IDA RITTENBERG KOHLMEYER

One of the most revered of New Orleans expressionist artists, Ida Rittenberg was born in the Crescent City to Polish immigrants Joseph and Rebecca Rittenberg in 1912. Her rather expected education resulted in her studying English literature at Tulane University, where she received her B.A. degree in 1933.

She married her husband, Hugh Kohlmeyer, the following year and resigned herself to a happy, if not conventional life as a mother and wife. On her honeymoon in Mexico, though, she was mesmerized by the work of local artists and other Central and South American art that she saw.

Ida_Kohlmeyer

Visual artist Ida Kohlmeyer at a signing. (Photo courtesy Arthur Roger Gallery)

It bred in her a desire to paint. In 1947 she began to take classes at the John McCrady Art School on Bourbon Street. She became one of his prize students and she elected to take additional instruction at Newcomb College, where she earned her Masters in Fine Arts degree in 1956.

Her interest in Abstract Expressionism was solidified with further studies under the eye of Hans Hoffman, considered one of the most important post-war painters in American art.

Solo exhibitions followed in New York as well as in New Orleans, where she was appointed as an assistant professor of Art at the University of New Orleans in 1973.

Kohlmeyer’s work was said to be strongly influenced by Mark Rothko, the controversial New York abstract expressionist painter, who was always evolving as an artist. She worked with him in New Orleans and he attended that first solo New York opening.

It was during this period that she developed a personal style that was largely consisting of various abstract geometric progressions. Her so-called pictographs were marked by vibrant colors that some critics and students claimed to be able to read.

Kohlmeyer was also noted for her sculpture pieces, many of which featured the same bright colors and fluid lines found in her paintings and associated with biomorphic designs inspired from nature. The sculpture media at first consisted largely of Plexiglass, cloth and wood.

Her media changed to painted steel when she received a commission to erect and paint several large structures opposite the Louisiana Superdome on Poydras. The five 40- to 45-foot tall structures were collectively titled “The Krewe of Poydras.” Today it is considered a downtown landmark.

Among her many awards, Kohlmeyer treasured her installation as an honorary life member of the National Women’s Caucus for Art in 1982.

Kohlmeyer’s work is on display throughout New Orleans. It graces the offices of Tulane University president Michael Fitts and is featured in an outstanding stained glass window at the Forgotson Chapel at Touro Synagogue. Visitors to the Aquarium of the Americas will note the appealing Aquatic Colonnade as a Kohlmeyer work.

Nationally and internationally, she is featured at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Societe Generale de Banque in Belgium and throughout many of the world’s top museums. Ida Kohlmeyer’s art is highly desired among private collectors.

Ida Kohlmeyer may have died on January 29, 1997 at the age of 85, but her art will certainly live on for generations to come. 

(Arlene S. Weider contributed substantial research to this story)

Share Button