Dr. Cohen, who died at 98 in her Miami home Oct. 21 of complications from a fall, was the last surviving member of the first women who graduated from Harvard Medical School, in the class of 1949.
A lifelong advocate for women and people of color in medicine, she would become a pioneering woman in leadership roles in Greater Boston’s mental health field.
In her 50s, she took on new challenges defining approaches to counseling disaster survivors. And in her 60s, she moved to Florida to help the state coordinate psychiatric care for Cuban refugee children in the Mariel boatlift.
“My contribution to the field of psychological assistance to survivors of disasters has been one of my most important professional activities,” she told the National Library of Medicine.
Dr. Cohen was a trainer and adviser for disaster intervention into her mid-80s, and she collaborated on journal articles and book chapters into her final months.
“She really loved discovering and she loved learning,” said Dr. Daniel Austin, one of her grandsons, “and she had that continuous passion all her life.”
Her career, including in medical school, was not without challenges, however.
She told the National Library of Medicine’s Changing the Face of Medicine project that she had encountered stereotypical reactions from “male colleagues, supervisors, and heads of departments that did not seem to believe in the skills or seriousness in the commitments of women. Once a male physician wondered why I was not at home taking care of my children and rejected my application.”
In a 2006 interview for the Women in Medicine Oral History Project, she recalled that for women in her class, “there was a sense of neutrality, of not being there, of not being asked questions.”
Yet because of the extensive media coverage of their groundbreaking accomplishment, “we felt special,” she added.
Even there stereotyping was prevalent. Globe reports about Dr. Cohen and the women in her class appeared under headlines such as “Women doctors prove medicine and homekeeping do mix.”
That headline, for a feature 10 years after the women graduated, included a photo of Dr. Cohen with her three children, ages 10, 8, and 6. She was pregnant with her first child during her final year of medical school.
“There is a great conflict if you want to dedicate yourself to your family,” she said in that 1959 interview. “Continually you are weighing your interests between profession and family.”
The older of two sisters, Raquel Eidelman was born in 1922 in Lima, Peru. Her parents, Samuel Eidelman and Pola Kozac, were Jewish immigrants from Russian who ran a home goods shop.
Though a daughter of immigrants, Dr. Cohen “more than anything identified as Peruvian,” said her daughter Polita Cohen Glynn of Miami. “Her love of Peru was very, very deep.”
Dr. Cohen said that growing up, she was “very lucky because the thing I love the most is to learn and to read and to think.” She read constantly,…