Transcript of Henry Cohen

This is Texas Originals. From Humanities Texas, for the advancement of heritage, culture, and education.

Rabbi Henry Cohen once said, “Other men play golf for recreation. My hobby is helping people.” For many years, he could be seen pedaling around Galveston on a bicycle, a list of people to visit—prisoners, the poor, the sick—scribbled on his shirt cuff. 

Born in London, Cohen served congregations in Jamaica and Mississippi before arriving in Galveston in 1888. His home at 1920 Broadway became known as a place where needy people of any religion could seek help. He wrote books on Texas Jewish history in his spare time.

When the 1900 hurricane demolished most of the city and left thousands dead, Cohen sprang into action, delivering food and medical supplies in a mule-drawn wagon. Despite receiving offers to leave Galveston for more thriving communities, Cohen refused to abandon the city he had come to love.

Cohen is perhaps best known for his role in the Galveston Movement, which brought Jewish immigrants into the Port of Galveston to settle throughout Texas and the Midwest. Cohen met immigrants at the dock and provided advice and assistance, sometimes purchasing clothing and supplies for them with his own money.

In the 1920s, Cohen campaigned for prison reform in Texas, advocating vocational training and improved conditions.

In honor of Cohen’s lifetime of charitable work and dedication to social justice, President Woodrow Wilson called him the “foremost citizen of Texas.”

More information about Henry Cohen and other Texas Originals is available at This program is produced by KUHF Houston Public Radio and Humanities Texas, with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities.