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History of National Jewish Health

National Jewish Health opened in 1899 in response to the great number of destitute individuals suffering from tuberculosis (then known as consumption) who flocked to Denver for the climate's supposed beneficial effects. At the time, no institution in Denver would admit penniless consumptives, and many poor victims of the disease lived and died on the city's streets.


Laying Our Foundation

Frances Wisebart Jacobs, a Denver philanthropist, was the first to conceive of a free hospital for homeless tuberculosis (TB)patients. Mrs. Jacobs was known as Denver's "Mother of Charities” in the late 1800s for her benevolent work that crossed religious, ethnic, racial and financial lines. She was known to carry a piece of coal, bar of soap and food in her handbag, and often stopped to help to the ill and less fortunate.

Mrs. Jacobs found an ally in a young Denver Rabbi, William S. Friedman. Together they garnered funding to build a nonsectarian hospital for the treatment of respiratory diseases, primarily tuberculosis. In October 1889, the Jewish Hospital Association was formed to create a hospital for sick indigents with funds from the people of Denver. In April of 1890, articles of incorporation were formally filed with the Colorado Secretary of State, and in June, the Association purchased a sandy tract of land at Jackson Street and East Colfax Avenue. The cornerstone of the hospital was laid on Oct. 9, 1892 and in 1893, the building was completed for $45,000, all but $10,000 was collected in Denver. 

The original hospital building was completed in 1893, but due to a nationwide recession, it did not open until 1899.Unfortunately, Mrs. Jacobs would never see the hospital open, she died of pneumonia a month after the cornerstone was laid. In an unfortunate coincidence, 1893 also marked the start of a nationwide recession prompted by the Panic of 1893, which was also called the Silver Crisis.

The hospital remained empty until 1899, when the national Jewish service organization, B'nai B'rith, was persuaded by Rabbi William Friedman and Louis Anfenger to undertake the opening and maintenance of the hospital. Mr. Anfenger was one of the incorporators of Denver's Jewish Hospital Association, a founding member of Denver's Temple Emanuel, founder of the Denver chapter of B'nai B'rith and one of the hospital's first trustees. Although funded by the Jewish community, the hospital’s services have never been limited to a specific religious denomination.

In December 1899, the first patients checked into the new National Jewish Hospital for Consumptives under its official motto: "None may enter who can pay—none can pay who enter.”

Over the last 125 years ago, National Jewish Health has become the only facility in the world dedicated exclusively to groundbreaking medical research and treatment of children and adults with respiratory, cardiac, immune and related disorders. Although economic realities have made it impossible to continue funding patient care entirely through philanthropy, each year the hospital still provides millions of dollars of free or heavily subsidized care to patients unable to afford total treatment costs.


Our Name

Throughout our history, the National Jewish Health name has evolved.

  • 1899: The National Jewish Hospital for Consumptives
  • 1925: National Jewish Hospital at Denver
  • 1965: National Jewish Hospital and Research Center
  • 1978: National Jewish Hospital/National Asthma Center
  • 1985: National Jewish Center for Immunology and Respiratory Medicine
  • 1997: National Jewish Medical and Research Center
  • 2008: National Jewish Health


Clinical, Research and Academic History

Our Mission since 1899 is to heal, to discover and to educate as a preeminent health care institution. Throughout the years, we have been committed to upholding this mission. Learn more about our: