National Jewish Health began serving patients 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 effect on respiratory diseases. 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
The institution’s founder, Frances Wisebart Jacobs, the "Mother of Charities,” was known in the late 1800s for her benevolent work in Denver, often stopping to offer food and medical help to the ill. She realized that the homeless consumptives needed more help than she alone could give, so Jacobs set out to raise funds to open a new hospital to treat them. She found support from the Jewish community, which, in November 1889, agreed to plan, fund and build a nonsectarian hospital for the treatment of respiratory diseases, primarily tuberculosis.
The hospital building was completed in 1893, a year after Jacob's death. In an unfortunate coincidence, however, 1893 also marked the start of a nationwide recession prompted by the Silver Crisis. When funds dried up, the hospital remained empty until 1899, when the National Jewish B'nai B'rith organization was persuaded by Denver Rabbi William Friedman and Louis Anfenger to undertake the opening and maintenance of the hospital. Although originally funded by the Jewish community, from its inception, the hospital’s services have never been limited to a specific religious denomination.
In December 1899 the first patient, a Minnesota woman, checked into the new National Jewish Hospital for Consumptives under its official motto: "None may enter who can pay—none can pay who enter.”
Since that first patient was admitted more than 100 years ago, National Jewish Health has expanded its scope to include many respiratory, immunologic and related disorders. And it has enjoyed a rich clinical, research and academic history. Although economic realities have made it impossible to continue funding patient care entirely through philanthropy, we still provide a very significant amount of free or heavily subsidized care to patients unable to afford total treatment costs.
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: