Leonora Cohen OBE
Leonora Cohen was born in Leeds in 1873. Following her father's death when she was young, Leonora witnessed her mother work long hours as a seamstress for very little pay, to support her and two younger brothers. She would later describe how her mother's lack of empowerment inspired her to strive for change. In 1905 she joined the Leeds Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU), founded by Emmiline Pankhurst.
Leonora became part of Pankhurst's personal bodyguard and would be arrested twice, once for throwing a brick at a government building, and again for attempting to break a glass case containing the crown jewels. It was for this act she came to be known as the 'Tower Suffragette'.
It was at the age of 18, following a bout of TB, that Leonora decided to become a vegetarian, recognising at the time the health benefits of a meat-free diet. Vegetarianism was generally popular in the women's suffrage movement, with many finding the humanitarian, 'reformist' diet a natural step forward. However, in contrast to many of her fellow suffragettes, Leonora's working class background provided a further motivation. In publications of the time, vegetarianism was promoted as a cheaper and more time-efficient dietary choice for working women. The feminist vegetarians of the day encouraged women to reject the 'masculine pursuit' of meat consumption, but Leonora also posited that vegetarian meals took less time to prepare than meat and so freed women’s time for more important issues.
Leonora died in 1978 at the age of 105, long enough to witness and be celebrated by the second wave of feminism. In 1966, The Vegetarian reported on the event of her receiving the OBE:
"At ninety-two years of age she bakes her own wholemeal bread and was featured prominently recently in the Yorkshire Post (1/3/66) as an "ex-suffragette who was a prisoner of the Tower". This was on the occasion of an exhibition in Abbey House Museum, Leeds, entitled "Votes For Women". Mrs Cohen was a leading suffragette in her day and gave the exhibits from her collection.
"Despite her window-smashing and hunger-striking in jail, Mrs. Leonora Cohen can add O.B.E. to her name. We wish her every happiness in what the paper calls her now "quiet life" at Headingly."