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The Spirit of National Jewish - a Brief History

 

Following the discovery of gold near Pike’s Peak in 1858, fortune seekers began arriving in Colorado in droves.  Many of these Colorado pioneers were of German-Jewish origin and were part of a larger immigration of Jewish people seeking a more favorable way of life.  These hardworking and respected community members took leading roles in civic, cultural, philanthropic and political affairs.

By the late 1800s, Colorado and the American Southwest had become famous for the health benefits of a dry, sunny climate.  Hundreds of people with tuberculosis (TB) descended upon Denver in hopes of finding a miracle cure for what was then the nation’s leading cause of death.  Consequently, many TB sufferers spent the last of their savings coming to this region.  In Denver , victims of TB were literally dying in the streets.  Boarding houses often banned “lungers,” as they were called.

 

One of the first people to conceive of a free hospital for medically indigent TB victims in Denver was Frances Wisebart Jacobs. (1843-1892). Also, known as the “Mother of Denver Charities,” Frances was the President of the Hebrew Benevolent Ladies Society, known today as Jewish Family Service of Colorado, and an officer of the nonsectarian Ladies' Relief Society. In 1887 she spearheaded the creation of the Charity Organization Society, which became a federation of charities that coordinated fundraising and other efforts and shared the proceeds. This was the model that led to the creation of today's United Way , which recognizes Frances as its founder. Frances also founded Denver 's first free kindergarten to help poor children and in 1994, Frances was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

 

 

Frances Wisebart Jacobs

Her philanthropic works were so respected and appreciated that her stained glass image, adorns the dome of Colorado ’s state capitol in the company of 15 other prominent Colorado pioneers.

Frances left her must enduring mark in the area of tuberculosis relief.  No facilities existed to provide treatment or shelter to these victims. Unafraid to touch the ill, Frances would help them when they fell on the street, get them to a physician and pay for treatment.  However, as there was no place for tubercular individuals to stay during treatment, many were transported to the local jail.

It was obvious that the Denver community at large was not very sympathetic to the plight of needy TB sufferers, and many argued that “we can’t blacken the name of the city” by making it a TB refuge.

Rabbi William Friedman

Nevertheless, a resolute Frances found an ally in a young, enthusiastic rabbi, Rabbi William Sterne Friedman.   During a sermon in 1889, Rabbi Friedman emphasized the need for a hospital for destitute consumption victims.  Consumption is an old name for TB that describes how the highly contagious illness wastes away or consumes its victims. Rabbi Friedman and Frances’ determination caught the attention of several leading Jewish Denverites.  Within a year’s time Articles of Incorporation were formally filed with the State of Colorado to create a new hospital.

Although her vision was on its way to becoming a reality, Frances did not live to see the hospital built. She became ill with pneumonia. Instead of following her physician’s advice to stay home and recuperate, Frances kept to her calling and continued to provide assistance for the medically indigent of Denver . Frances died in the spring of 1892, at the age of 49.  She was widely mourned, and over 4,000 people attended her funeral.  The memorial service, which was open to all faiths, was presided over by Rabbi Friedman and three leading Christian clergyman.  Guest speakers also included the governor of Colorado , the mayor of Denver , and other prominent Denverites.  The laying of the hospital’s cornerstone on October 9, 1892 drew huge crowds.  It was decided to name the hospital “Frances Jacobs Hospital ” in memorial to Frances .

Rabbi Friedman’s speech during the ceremony stressed the non-sectarian nature of the new hospital and its wide-reaching goal of providing relief to the indigent suffers of TB.  Unfortunately, due to the combination of the “Silver Crisis of 1893” and a national depression in the 1890s, the hospital did not open and sat vacant for a number of years.

 Given the economic situation in the late 1800s few people had the financial means for private care and it was unthinkable to Rabbi Friedman that a newly constructed medical building remain empty.  He found support from local members of B’nai B’rith, a philanthropic arm of the Jewish Community. In 1895, Louis Anfenger, the district president of B’nai B’rith lobbied for the organization to adopt the TB institution as a national project. The focus of the institution became larger then just Denver itself.  Their plan was to accept patients from all parts of the nation and eventually the world.

 

Louis Anfenger

When it did open on December 10, 1899, it had a new name -- National Jewish Hospital for Consumptives. 

While a project of the B’nai B’rith, the renamed National Jewish Hospital was non-denominational. The first patient was a Protestant Swedish woman from Minnesota. To reflect its openness to the impoverished of every background, National Jewish adopted the motto:

"None may enter who can pay -- none can pay who enter” 

Until 1968, the institution only accepted patients without insurance and all care was free.  In keeping with this philosophy, we still provide millions of dollars of free or heavily subsidized care each year to ensure that patients who need our services can get them.

© Copyright 2007 National Jewish Medical and Research Center

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