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March 29: Mother of Charities

Lawrence Bush
March 28, 2017
Frances Wisebart Jacobs, who created Denver, Colorado’s nondenominational Charity Organization Society, the first federation of charities in the U.S., which evolved into the national Community Chest and then the United Way, was born in Harrodsburg, Kentucky on this date in 1843. She was a school teacher in Cincinnati, Ohio before she married Abraham Jacobs, her brother’s business partner, and traveled by wagon to Colorado, where the two men established stores in Denver and Central City. In 1872, with 300 Jews living in Denver -- including many with tuberculosis, who came to Colorado for the mountain air -- Jacobs founded the Hebrew Ladies’ Benevolent Society. Two years later, she founded and served as president for the Denver Ladies’ Relief Society, which served women in prison and homeless women, among others. The predecessor organization of the United Way was founded in 1887, and Jacobs served as its secretary until her death from pneumonia at 49. From these and other projects, she became known as “Mother of Charities.” Jacobs is memorialized as one of sixteen Colorado pioneers -- the only woman -- in a stained glass window in the Colorado state capitol. In 1994, she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. “I know that whenever women lead in good work, men will follow.” --Frances Wisebart Jacobs

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.