Frances Wisebart Jacobs (1843-1892) has been called Colorado’s “Mother of Charities.” Born in Kentucky, she married Abraham Jacobs and came with him to Colorado in 1862. Abraham and Frances’ brother opened a clothing store in Central City. When fire destroyed their shop, they moved to Denver and opened a new store. Frances and Abraham had three children, one of whom died in childhood.
Always deeply concerned with the well-being of poor and sick people, Frances became President of the Hebrew Ladies’ Benevolent Society. Her calling in life soon became caring for the growing number of Jewish immigrants coming to the Denver area with tuberculosis. (Then called consumption, “TB” was the nation’s major fatal disease at the time; many “lungers” came to the high and dry air of Colorado as a cure for the disease.) Frances regularly visited the squalid shacks of consumptives, many of whom were poor Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. She brought them medicines and bandaged their wounds, even though they carried many diseases and lived in high-crime areas. She quickly realized that others besides Jewish immigrants needed her services, so in 1874 she helped found the non-denominational Ladies’ Relief Society with herself as vice-president. She was called upon to address many groups and discovered that she was an excellent public speaker. Frances became the spokesperson for many of Denver’s charities. In 1887, through her efforts and those of four religious leaders from other faiths, several of Denver’s charity groups were consolidated under the Charity Organization Society (COS). The interfaith COS soon became the fundraising organization for 23 charities, and Frances was its secretary. By 1922 the COS evolved into the Community Chest, and many credit it with eventually becoming the United Way.
Frances organized the Denver Free Kindergarten Association and opened Denver’s first free kindergarten for the children of indigent parents.
In 1892 she worked with the Jewish Hospital Association to start a free hospital for tuberculosis patients in Denver. It was named the Frances Jacobs Hospital for Consumptives. However, she died of pneumonia less than a month before the hospital was to be dedicated; she was only 49 years old. The institution eventually became National Jewish Hospital, and it is still at its original location at Colfax Avenue and Colorado Boulevard. A sculpture of Ms. Jacobs still graces the entrance to hospital, which did not charge fees for most services until many years later.
In 1900 sixteen Colorado pioneers were chosen to have stained glass windows of their likenesses displayed in the state capitol rotunda; Frances was one of these, and she was the only woman to be chosen. A city park at Quebec Street and Tennessee Avenue was named for her, and in 1994 she was installed in The National Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, New York. She was buried in the Emmanuel Cemetery, the Jewish burial area just west of the main part of Fairmount Cemetery.
According to the National Jewish Hospital website, “No one ever did more to create Colorado’s humanitarian healthcare tradition than Frances Wisebart Jacobs.”
By Garry O’Hara