Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Dreamer and Doer: Frances Wisebart Jacobs, “Mother of Charities”

March is National Women’s History Month. And at United Way, we have an especially strong connection to the powerful work of women in history. We wouldn't be here today without Frances Wisebart Jacobs, a woman who helped found the organization that became United Way.

Born in 1843 in Kentucky, Jacobs immigrated with her husband to Denver to open a clothing store. She quickly saw the needs in her new home and moved to take action. One of her big, early initiatives was helping tuberculosis (TB) patients get the care they needed.  Hundreds of TB patients moved to Colorado each year for its clean, unpolluted air. But the state didn't have the services to care for them and many ended up homeless, with no choice but to “roam the city coughing and hemorrhaging.”

Jacobs started a volunteer organization that helped them and later advocated for a free TB hospital in Denver. Her passion for change inspired others. The hospital’s research contributed to ending TB as an epidemic.

TB was only one of the issues that Jacobs worked on. She also founded a free kindergarten and a relief society that focused on women in need. In a time when people in poverty were often blamed for their condition or even considered to be a lesser order of human being, Jacobs saw them with empathy and compassion. She understood the connections between the various challenges in her community, saying “God never made a pauper in the world, children come into the world and conditions and surroundings make them either princes or paupers.”

In 1887, Jacobs joined with interfaith Denver leaders to start the Charity Organization Society, which brought together twenty-three charities to coordinate their work. Eventually the organization went nationwide and became United Way and our local branch was founded in 1920.

France Wisebart Jacobs was just one person but her work had a ripple effect that we can still feel today. Many women in our community are creating change and making history. In honor of Women’s History Month, thank you from all of us at United Way.

Sources: Wikipedia, unitedway.org, National Women’s Hall of Fame. Image courtesy Wikipedia.

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