Theresa Otterbourg (née Cohen; 1828-1909)
Bertha Lewis (née Cohen; 1832-1896)

by George Fogelson

Theresa and Bertha were the daughters of Rev Raphael Isaac Cohen (né Freundlich). Both were born in Hamburg and came to England with their parents between 1832 (Bertha’s birth) and 1836 (their mother’s death). The girls were then sent to Hamburg for several years, presumably to be brought up by relatives or friends, returning to England a few years later.

Bertha Lewis (née Cohen; 1832-1896)

Bertha was well educated and spoke fluent English, German, French and Italian, She was the first of Raphael Cohen’s daughters to marry.

Her marriage to David Lewis of Liverpool took place on 6 September 1854 at Sussex House (the Jewish boarding school and part-time synagogue in Dover founded by her father), the ceremony being performed by her father. David and Bertha did not have any children but were very generous. Bertha made a practice of giving alms to a number of pensioners every Friday, and she and David contributed money to the Seel Street and Princes Road synagogues of the Liverpool Old Hebrew Congregation.

Bertha was a chauvinist in her Judaism and proud of it. In a quiet, unassuming way, she did a great deal to counteract or combat anti-Semitism. Her obituary in the Jewish Chronicle states: “She had friends everywhere – in France and Germany as in England. During the last few years, she resided at Devonshire Lodge, Landbroke Terrace, and at her home one was almost sure of meeting somebody interesting – a painter or a sculptor or a professor.”

She continued to live in Devonshire House until 1890 when she moved to the south of France to be near her sister, Theresa, who had become her closest companion. In 1896, she moved to Boulogne-sur-Mer, where she died, just a few weeks before an appointment to lay the foundation stone of the new David Lewis Northern Hospital in Liverpool.

Zadoc Kahn said of Bertha “Her intelligence was very keen, her knowledge remarkable… but it was especially by her qualities of heart, by the most delicate kindliness, the most exquisite tact, that she pleased everyone by first sight.”

Theresa Otterbourg (née Cohen; 1828-1909)

Before she was married, Theresa directed a very successful girls’ school at Marine House in Dover. Her obituary states that, “her influence over her pupils was deservedly great and invariably beneficial.” Many of her students were to hold prominent places in English society.

The Jewish Chronicle tells of Theresa’s troubled love-life:

“The clever, enterprising schoolmistress had her own romance… She was secretly engaged to Harry Isaac. Those were the days of the great American Civil War; and the chief supporters in Europe of the Confederate cause were the army contractors’ firm of Campbell and Isaac, Jermyn Street. One of the Isaac brothers was afterwards MP for Nottingham. Harry was the son of the elder brother, Major Samuel Isaac… Harry was a fine, dashing, out-spoken young man, whose sister Phoebe, afterwards Madame Bernard Levy, with either a pupil or visitor of Miss Theresa Cohen. When Harry went out to Nassau, West Indies, to take part in the direction of the blockade-runners employed in his father’s and uncle’s fleet, an attachment which had long existed between the two young people was crystallised into a definite understanding, and his death, from yellow fever, was mourned nowhere more sincerely than in Dover.”

Theresa later met Dr Solomon Jonas Otterbourg of Paris and they were married on 6 November 1871. Solomon became a general practitioner in Paris and soon had a European reputation. He was always recommended as a physician to the Germans in Baedeker’s early guides, and his patients included Heinrich Heine (1797-1856) and Giacomo Meyerbeer (1791-1864). He was a physician to various royalty during the Franco-Prussian War of 1866-67, the Siege of Paris and the Commune. After the war, Solomon was the “court physician” of rois en exile.

Madame Otterbourg was known as “a great lady of the fashions.” While she lived in Paris she was also the guiding spirit of the Ecole Bischoffsheim, where so many Jewish teachers were trained before they emigrated to Palestine.

After Solomon’s death in 1881, Theresa left Paris to be with her sister Bertha. Both were indefatigable travellers. After Bertha’s death in 1896, Theresa had few blood relations left in the world, but “was never without a host of friends attached to her through the fascination of her personality and the brightness of her intellect.”

When she was almost eighty years old she insisted on visiting Constantinople (now Istanbul), Turkey, to investigate the quality of education that Jewish girls were receiving there, and almost single-handedly established a new girls’ school there. In England, Theresa became a member of the Council of the Anglo-Jewish Association and regularly attended their meetings.

Theresa died in London in 1909. In her will, she charges her executors with paying for the maintenance of her father’s grave and that of David and Bertha Lewis, as required. 

- Cook, ALM (1960), “The David Lewis Story 1823-1885”, pg 12.
- Jewish Chronicle (available via JC archive (subscription required) at
- Jewish Chronicle, 5 November 1909 (available via JC archive (subscription required) at

Grave References
Theresa Otterbourg (née Cohen, 1828-1909): A 18.03
Bertha Lewis (née Cohen, her sister; 1832-1896): A 18.05
David Lewis (né Levy, Bertha’s husband; 1823-1885): A 18.04
Rev Raphael Isaac Cohen (Bertha and Theresa’s father; 1803-1865): A 07.14