Frances Wisebart Jacobs
1843 – 1892
There are sixteen stained-glass windows in the dome of Colorado’s state capitol, each one illustrating a pioneer who was an important influence on Colorado’s development. Among them is one woman, Frances Wisebart Jacobs.
Frances Wisebart Jacobs was born in Harrodsburg, Kentucky, on March 29, 1843, the first daughter and second child of Leon and Rosetta Wisebart, who had emigrated from Bavaria. During Jacobs’s early childhood, the family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where Leon Wisebart worked as a tailor. Frances, with her six siblings, attended public schools. There she met Abraham Jacobs, a friend of her brother Benjamin.
Abraham Jacobs and Benjamin Wisebart traveled to the West in 1859 and settled in the area that would soon become the frontier town of Denver. Both men were active in the political and Jewish life of the community. Abraham Jacobs started a general store and operated a stagecoach that rode to Santa Fe, New Mexico. In 1863, he returned to Cincinnati, where he and Frances Wisebart were married on February 18. The couple had three children: Benjamin, who became a lawyer; Evelyn, later a schoolteacher; and another child who died young.
The Jacobses’ first home was in Central City, Colorado, a thriving mining town about thirty miles west of Denver. In 1870, they moved to Denver, and Frances Jacobs’s contributions as a volunteer social worker were first recorded.
In 1872, Jacobs organized and became president of the Hebrew Ladies’ Relief Society. However, she soon realized that the problems of poverty, sickness, malnutrition, and unsanitary living conditions were not limited to the Jewish community. Accordingly, she broadened the scope of her work, and through her leadership, the Denver Ladies’ Relief Society was established in 1874. Jacobs was vice president and acted as the group’s public speaker.
In 1880, Jacobs was instrumental in setting up Denver’s first free kindergarten for children of poor parents. In 1887, Reverend Myron Reed of Denver’s First Congregational Church, Monsignor William O’Ryan of the Catholic archdiocese, and Frances Jacobs formed the Charity Organization Society, the forerunner of the community chest. Jacobs became known as Denver’s “mother of charities.” She was a magnetic and compelling speaker and addressed many national conferences of the Association of Charities and Corrections.
Because Colorado’s dry air and sunshine were considered to be a cure for tuberculosis, hundreds of sufferers, among them many Jews, came to Denver. As part of her work, Jacobs regularly visited impoverished homes to bring food, coal, clothing, and soap. She was not afraid to touch an emaciated body, and she did not flinch at the sight of blood. She often stopped to give aid to someone who had fallen on the street from a hemorrhage. A woman of great compassion, Jacobs began intense work to establish a sanatorium.
On April 8, 1890, articles of incorporation of the Jewish Hospital Association of Colorado were filed. The association bought land east of the city, and on October 9, 1892, the cornerstone of the hospital was laid. Less than one month later, on November 3, Frances Wisebart Jacobs died in her Denver home. The sanatorium for which she had worked so diligently was named after her: the Frances Jacobs Hospital. In 1900, under the sponsorship of B’nai B’rith, it became the National Jewish Hospital.
Anfenger, Milton L. Birth of a Hospital (1942); Breck, Allen D. Centennial History of the Jews of Colorado 1859–1959 (1960); Hornbein, Marjorie. “Frances Jacobs: Denver’s Mother of Charities.” Western States Jewish Historical Quarterly (January 1983); NAW; Smiley, Jerome, ed. History of Denver (1901); Smith, Joseph Emerson. “Jewish Pioneers of Colorado.” Denver Jewish News, September 15, 1939; Uchill, Ida. Pioneers, Peddlers and Tsadikim: The Story of Jewish Colorado (1957).