Meet Miriam Kobey, “Denver’s Angel of Mercy”
An Orthodox Jewish woman from Suwalki, Poland, Miriam (Mary) Rachofsky (Kobey) was an unlikely pioneer on the western frontier. Her passion for helping others led to a successful career as a midwife in Denver at a time when very few women ran their own businesses.
At age 16, Miriam Rachofsky left her family’s small farm in Suwalki to marry Abraham Kubeski, a Yeshiva student. The couple stayed in Poland with their three children until economic hardship and pogroms pushed them to search for a better life in Manchester, England. There, Abraham found work as a rabbi. Miriam gave birth to three more children, before becoming a midwife, often earning as much as a pound for each delivery.
Miriam’s uncle Alexander Rittmaster found his way to Central City, Colorado, in 1860. He was one of a number of Jews who went West during the second half of the nineteenth century to seek their fortunes. Some had left Russia to escape being drafted into the Russian army. Others came for health reasons; those suffering from tuberculosis were often urged to settle in Colorado where the air was dry and clean.
Miriam’s brother joined their uncle in 1867 and became a successful businessman; he urged Miriam, Abraham, and their children join him. The Kubeskis were up for the adventure; they settled in Colorado sometime in the 1880s, and Americanized their name to Kobey.
Miriam and her family were Orthodox, but life in the mountains did not lend itself to observing traditional rituals. The Kobeys did try, however. At first, they had kosher meat shipped to them from Denver. Because it arrived spoiled so much of the time, the family simply became vegetarians. Before Abraham Rachofsky built the first mikveh in town, preparations for the Sabbath included a trip to the mineral baths in Idaho Springs, a short distance by mine tunnel but a 15-mile trip by road.
It was a lonely life for Miriam (now Mary) in Central City. In 1888, the absence of other Jewish women with whom to socialize and of Jewish brides for her sons prompted the Kobeys to leave the mountains for Denver, where Abraham helped establish Congregation Agudas Achim, where he served as rabbi.
Once the Kobeys were settled in Denver, Mary returned to her work as a midwife. She earned a reputation for having a “healing power.” Whether she worked alone or called in a doctor for a difficult case, Mary cared for her patients as if they were her own daughters. Many stories are told about her staying on after the delivery of a baby, caring for the newborn and mother and helping the father. This is how she earned the nickname, “Denver’s Angel of Mercy.”
Mary Kobey’s gemilut chasidim, or acts of kindness, did not end there. She did not charge people who could not afford her fee and was frequently seen collecting money and clothing for baby layettes from local merchants and bringing chicken soup to new mothers. Her granddaughter called her the “Pied Piper of West Colfax,” referring to the main street that ran through Denver’s immigrant neighborhood. She recalled that wherever Mary went, wearing her trademark white cap and a spotless apron and carrying a black bag packed for midwifery, she was trailed by a group of children—many of whom she had delivered—who loved her as they did their own grandmothers.
Mary Kobey’s reputation spread beyond the Jewish community. When one of early Denver’s leading obstetricians brought her to a meeting of a national group of his colleagues, he introduced her as “the most famous midwife in Denver.”
Mary Kobey died in 1921 at the age of 81.