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Frances Wisebart Jacobs

JACOBS, FRANCES WISEBART (1843–1892), known as Denver's "Mother of Charities." Frances Wisebart Jacobs was born in Harrodsburg, Kentucky, on March 23, 1843. Her parents, Leon, a tailor, and Rosetta Wisebart, emigrated from Bavaria and later moved to Cincinnati, where Frances and her six siblings attended public schools. In 1859, Frances's brother Benjamin Wisebart and his friend Abraham Jacobs journeyed to the west, settling in what was soon to become Denver. Abraham Jacobs returned to Cincinnati in 1863 to marry Frances Wisebart. He and his new bride, now Frances Jacobs, made their first home in the mining town of Central City, near Denver, where Abraham operated a general store. The family relocated to Denver in 1870, where Frances was to have a profound influence on the development of benevolent charity work within both the Jewish and larger community, while Abraham became a prominent merchant and active in local politics. In 1872, Frances Wisebart Jacobs helped organize, and soon served as president of, the Hebrew Ladies' Benevolent Society, and in 1874 she helped found the nonsectarian Denver Ladies' Relief Society, primarily to aid Denver's ill and impoverished, and served as the organization's first vice president. By 1885, largely through her efforts, the first free kindergarten was opened in Denver. Frances Jacobs was also one of the three primary founders of what would become the early United Way of America, which originated in Denver in 1887 as the Community Chest.

During the last years of her life, Jacobs had been particularly attuned to the plight of tuberculosis victims, who frequently came to Denver in search of better health, without funds or medical assistance once they arrived. By the 1880s, Denver had earned the nickname of the "World's Sanitorium," and hundreds of consumptives began to pour into Colorado. The Jewish community was the first to step forward with aid, and Jacobs served as the impetus behind the founding of National Jewish Hospital for Consumptives. At the dedication of the hospital in 1899, some years after Jacobs' death from pneumonia in 1892 at the age of forty-nine, Denver's mayor observed that "out of her efforts has grown an institution national in scope and dedicated to the humane and charitable work in which during her lifetime she so earnestly engaged." In 1900, when 16 portraits of pioneers were selected to be placed in the windows of the dome of the Colorado state capitol building, Jacobs was chosen as one of the small elite group and the only woman.

Jacobs' unswerving commitment to the sick and indigent, and her amazing ability to work with men and women from a variety of ethnic and religious groups, earned her the epitaph of Denver's "Mother of Charities." Although she had no formal training, she was the prototype of the early social worker, frequently making personal visits to those who were ill and poor, freely dispensing advice, medication, and funds. The funeral of Frances Wisebart Jacobs was attended by nearly 2,000 people and served as a testimony to her impact on the development of philanthropy in early Denver.


A. Breck, A Centennial History of the Jews of Colorado (1960); Denver Republican, July 14, 1900; S. Friedenthal. "The Jews of Denver," Reform Advocate (October 31, 1908); M. Hornbein, "Frances Jacobs: Denver's Mother of Charities," in: Western States Jewish Historical Quarterly (January 1983); Memoirs of Frances Jacobs, 1892; I. Uchill, Pioneers, Peddlers, and Tsakikim (1957).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.