Frances Wisebart Jacobs (1843-1892)

Honoring the People Who Created What We've Inherited

Frances Wisebart Jacobs earned the title of the "Mother of Denver Charities" during her too-short life in Denver (1870-1892). Her contributions were considered so important that one of the sixteen stained-glass windows in the dome of Colorado's 1894 state capitol honors Frances Wisebart Jacobs.

Frances Jacobs window in Colorado State Capitol In 1863, Abraham Jacobs of Mountain City — which became part of Central City in 1869 — went back to Cincinnati to marry Frances Wisebart, to whom he had been betrothed in 1857.

In 1859, Abraham Jacobs had moved to Auraria, Colorado, from Cincinnati, Ohio. From there he moved to Mountain City, where he opened a clothing store. Frances Wisebart Jacobs had been born in Harrodsburg, Kentucky, on March 29, 1843. She and her husband remained in Central City until 1874, when their clothing store was destroyed by fire. Frances and Abraham Jacobs had three children, one of whom died in childhood.

Caring for People with Tuberculosis

In 1872, Frances Wisebart Jacobs, 29, organized and was president of the Hebrew Ladies' Benevolent Society while she was still living in Central City.

In 1874, she and her husband moved from Central City to Denver, where he established the OK Clothing Store at 15th and Larimer. Mrs. Jacobs — a native of Harrodsburg, Kentucky — became a leader of the Denver Ladies Relief Society as well. She would later earn the title "the Mother of Denver Charities."

Frances Jacobs was particularly concerned about critically ill Jewish immigrants from eastern Europe who were poor and malnourished, with everything made worse by their unsanitary living conditions. She focused her efforts on the people who lived in the camps on the banks of the Platte River — the "bottoms" — which may have been the most dangerous part of Denver because of both crime and lack of sanitation.

Tuberculosis was the principal problem facing these immigrants, along with the diseases associated with Denver's infamous water and sanitation disposal problems. Frances Jacobs personally cared for homeless people with tuberculosis down in the Platte River bottoms and out on West Colfax. She brought physicians to treat them, gave them soup, clothing, soap, and coal, and she didn't hesitate to take care of people who had collapsed in the streets, hemorrhaging from tuberculosis.

The Free Kindergarten Association and the Charity Organization Society

In October, 1885, Frances Wisebart Jacobs founded the Denver Free Kindergarten Association, which continued until 1894, when the Denver Public Schools — under pressure from the women of the Free Kindergarten Association — began to add kindergartens to its schools.

In 1887, Frances Wisebart Jacobs, Reverend Myron W. Reed of the First Congregational Church, Dean H. Martyn Hart of Denver's Episcopal Cathedral of St. John's in the Wilderness, and Monsignor William J. O'Ryan of St. Leo the Great Catholic Church founded Denver's Charity Organization Society — a.k.a. the United Charity Organization and Associated Charities — which was the first community charity solicitation fund of its kind in the United States.

The Society coordinated the charitable activities of ten of Denver's Jewish, Congregational, and Catholic communities. Led by Frances Jacobs, its executive secretary, the Charity Organization Society raised $21,700 in Denver in 1888. By the time the Society was formally established in January 1889, 22 charities were members.

Over the years, the organization evolved into "United Charities of Denver" (1911), "the Community Chest" (1922), and "Mile High United Way" (1957). The Denver organization is sometimes said to have been the origin of the national organization called "the Red Feather Drive," "United Fund" — and since 1964 "United Way" — with more than 1,400 independent local affiliates nationally.

National Jewish

In 1890, Frances Wisebart Jacobs — a longtime advocate for people with tuberculosis and promoter of the idea of a free hospital for poor people with the disease — collaborated with Rabbi William Sterne Friedman of Denver's Temple Emanuel and the others who incorporated the Jewish Hospital Association of Colorado on April 8, 1890.

On October 9, 1892, the Jewish Hospital Association of Colorado laid the cornerstone of its new hospital on East Colfax Avenue.

During the ceremonies, Rabbi William Sterne Friedman's remarks included this:

"The idea of the Hospital had its birth in November 1889, and the desire of its founders was to rear a Temple unbounded by any creed. This Association is not sectarian, as the name might indicate. As pain knows no creed so is this building the prototype of the grand idea of Judaism, which casts aside no stranger no matter of what race or blood. This institution was inaugurated for the treatment of consumption mainly, and particular attention will be paid to those cases. We consecrate this structure to humanity, to our suffering fellowman, regardless of creed."

Frances Wisebart Jacobs (1843-1892)

On November 3, 1892, Frances Wisebart Jacobs died of pneumonia at age 49 — less than a month after the Jewish Hospital Association of Colorado laid the cornerstone of the hospital for which she had worked so tirelessly.

Frances Jacobs' funeral, conducted by Rabbi William Sterne Friedman and three prominent Christian clergymen, was attended by more than 4,000 people including Governor John Routt and Denver Mayor Platt Rogers. The Jewish Hospital Association of Colorado named their new sanatorium, still under construction, the Frances Jacobs Hospital for Consumptives.

The Denver Medical Times for November 1892, under the heading "Mrs. Frances Jacobs," had this:

"Mrs. Jacobs, though not a physician, has for the past twenty-five years been closely identified with the physician in the noblest part of his work — charity, benevolence, philanthropy. The true physician is always a philanthropist, and nearly all of the older physicians of Denver have accompanied Mrs. Jacobs not once but many times to the poorest haunts of poverty for sweet charity's sake.

In her long and busy and checkered career her 'milk of human kindness' never turned sour or dry within her bosom, and in her death the 'submerged' public lose a faithful friend and benefactor. We speak for the medical profession of Denver when we offer condolence and sympathy to the family and friends of the departed."
Frances Jacobs died during prosperous times for Denver and Colorado, but when the Panic of 1893 wrecked Colorado's economy about seven months after her death, the organizations she had founded were needed more than ever.

The National Jewish Hospital for Consumptives

In 1893, the Jewish Hospital Association of Colorado completed its new $42,000 tuberculosis sanatorium — the Frances Jacobs Hospital for Consumptives.

Although the building had been completed in 1893, the depression that began that year delayed its opening until 1899. Because Rabbi William Friedman and Louis Anfenger — founder of the Denver chapter of B'nai B'rith — had persuaded the International Order of B'nai B'rith to adopt Denver's Jewish Hospital Association as a national project, when it finally opened, the hospital's name had been changed from the original "Frances Jacobs Hospital" to National Jewish Hospital for Consumptives.

Beginning on Sunday, December 10, 1899, the 60-bed National Jewish Hospital for Consumptives — Denver's first tuberculosis treatment center — was dedicated at Colorado Boulevard and Colfax, with Colorado Governor Charles S. Thomas, Denver Mayor Henry V. Johnson — who paid tribute to the late Frances Wisebart Jacobs — and clergy from various denominations in attendance. The ceremonies lasted for three days.

The Legacy of Frances Wisebart Jacobs

Frances Jacobs took the Colorado pioneer tradition of neighborliness to a completely new level by seeking out Denver's most neglected residents in the roughest part of town. She was a community organizer, but she was also very much a hands-on caregiver.

No one ever did more to create Colorado's humanitarian healthcare tradition than Frances Wisebart Jacobs. She not only initiated the Jewish healthcare tradition in Colorado, she also — along with others including hospital founders Sister Joanna Bauer, Mother Baptist Meyers, and Sister Huberta Duennebacke — was one of the co-founders our state's original humanitarian healthcare tradition.

Contact book [at] coloradohealthcarehistory [dot] com or @ColoradoHealth on Twitter with additions, corrections, suggestions, or for more information. Thank you!

Bibliography

The quote from Rabbi Friedman's remarks at laying of the cornerstone of National Jewish is from Milton Louis Anfenger: Birth of a Hospital: The Story of the Birth of the National Jewish Hospital in Denver, Colorado. Denver, 1942, pages 17-18. This book is a helpful collection of primary documents and commentaries on them by the son of one of the founders of National Jewish.

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