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Vivian Elizabeth Smyrl

COHEN, WILBUR JOSEPH (1913–1987). Wilbur Joseph Cohen, secretary of health, education, and welfare and university professor, was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on June 10, 1913, the son of Aaron and Bessie (Rubenstein) Cohen. He married Eloise Bittel on April 8, 1938, and they became the parents of three children. He earned a bachelor's degree in economics from the University of Wisconsin in 1934. Cohen was on the Committee for Economic Security in 1934 and helped to draft the original Social Security Act. He began working for the Social Security Administration when it was established in 1935. By 1953 he had attained the position of director of the division of research and statistics. He left the agency in 1956 to become professor of public-welfare administration at the University of Michigan. From 1969 to 1980 he was professor of education at Michigan, where he also served also as dean of education from 1969 to 1978. He went to the University of Texas at Austin in 1980 as a professor for the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs (see LYNDON BAINES JOHNSON LIBRARY).

In addition to his academic activities Cohen served as a consultant on aging to the United States Senate Committee on Labor and Public Welfare in 1956–57 and again in 1959. In 1960 President John F. Kennedy appointed him chairman of the President's Task Force on Health and Social Security, which made recommendations on Medicare, Social Security, and unemployment insurance. Cohen was a delegate to the General Assembly of the International Social Security Association in Turkey in 1961 and in the United States in 1964. He served as assistant secretary of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare from 1961 to 1965, as undersecretary from 1965 to 1968, and as secretary from 1968 to 1969. He continued his work for Social Security outside of government by serving as cochairman of Save our Security from 1979 until his death. Cohen wrote Retirement Policies in Social Security (1957). He coauthored Social Security: Programs, Problems and Policies (with William Haber, 1960), Social Security: Universal or Selective (with Milton Friedman, 1972), and Demographic Dynamics in America (with Charles F. Westoff, 1977). He was also editor of The New Deal: Fifty Years After (1984) and The Roosevelt New Deal (1986).

Because of his many years of work with the Social Security agency and his later efforts to protect both Social Security and the Medicare program, Cohen has been called the "father of Social Security" and the "father of Medicare." He was the recipient of numerous awards, including a distinguished service award from HEW (1956), the Bronfman Public Health Prize (1967), the Rockefeller Public Service Award (1967), the Forand Award from the National Council of Senior Citizens (1969), and at least fifteen honorary degrees. He was a member of the American Public Welfare Association, the National Conference on Social Welfare, the Council on Social Work Education, the National Association of Social Workers, and the American Public Health Association.

He died on May 17, 1987, while in Seoul, South Korea, to attend an academic symposium on the cross-cultural aspects of aging. Memorial services were held in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Washington, D.C., and Austin, Texas. In August 1987 the federal government renamed the Health and Human Services North Annex in Cohen's honor, and in April 1988 the Wilbur J. Cohen Professorship in Health and Social Policy was established at the LBJ School of Public Affairs.

Austin American-Statesman, May 18, 1987. Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Who Was Who in America, Vol. 9 .

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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Vivian Elizabeth Smyrl, "COHEN, WILBUR JOSEPH," accessed May 27, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fcocf.

Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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