Thursday, November 08, 2012

1907: Home for children afflicted by TB

Figure 1 -- Frannie E. Lorber breaking ground at the Denver Sheltering 
So in the late 19th century many people were becoming inflicted with a disease then called consumption (what we now call tuberculosis.)  The going trend at the end of the decade was to move to a place with cool, dry and sunny weather because it made breathing easier.  

Such victims from all over the United States, particularly from New York, flocked to Colorado, where it's high altitude provided such an atmosphere.  

There were ultimately so many tuberculosis victims, and their families, in Colorado, that the state became known as the "World's Sanatorium."  

Denver, Colorado, carried a huge number of such families, and many of them were without any money to pay for help, and many were also Jewish.  So this caused certain healthy members of the Jewish community to open up their hearts and their wallets to create a home for tuberculosis victims.  

And so the Jewish Community rose to the occasion and opened up National Jewish Hospital for Consumptives in Denver.  In 1899 National Jewish Hospital for Consumptives in 1899 opened it's doors and was quickly full of patients who had no money.  However, there still remained a need to take care of other people afflicted by the disease, mainly the children.  

With parents who were sick, or who had succumbed to the disease, their children had no where to go, no one to care for them, and no money.  So in the early 20th century the Jewish Community once again opened up pocket books and opened up a shelter for these children.  Ground was broke, and a shelter was open for business in 1907.  

Prior to this opening many of the children were transferred to the Cleveland Jewish Orphanage, but many members of the community were concerned by this.  So the new shelter was open on the West side of Denver.  The name of the shelter was the Denver Sheltering Home for Jewish Children. It was an 11 room frame house.

The home filled up fast.  Some of the kids staying in the home were orphans, but most had parents inflicted with tuberculosis, and many of whom were staying at the nearby National Jewish Hospital.

Figure 2 --From right to left: Joey Carsh, Barbara Blackmer, Joey Barret,
Ester Cash, and Alvin Uikon sitting in a garden at the National Home for 

JewishChildren at Denver in Denver, Colorado. The Home later became
 NationalAsthma Center, and in 1978 merged with  National Jewish
 Hospital.Back reads: Smiling Pals -- The Beginning of Life-Long Friendships, 
late 1930s (1)
Among the leaders in the drive to get this project completed was Frannie Lorber, Bessie Willens, and other women.

You can see a picture of Lorner breaking ground in figure 1.  The shelter was located at the corner of 19th and Julian Streets on the West side of Denver.

The home quickly grew in size, but in 1914 a fire destroyed.  By 1914 it was rebuilt so that it had much larger facilities, with separate dormitories for boys and girls. (3)

The base of the organization was expanded, and by the 1920s it was a national organization, with support coming from as far away as New York.  Also in the 1920s the campus was changed so the children were housed in small group homes, or what was also called the cottage plan. (3)

Each cottage had it's own live in matron in an attempt to recreate a more family-like structure.  And of the over 1000 children that passed through the home over the years, and the fear of tuberculosis, only six of the kids contracted the disease, and only three children at the home died. (3)

By 1928 the name was changed to National Home for Jewish Children in Denver, mainly due to the fact the home was sheltering more than just children affected by tuberculosis.

Lorner would spend the next 51 years working to raise money for this and other similar projects in Denver and across the United States.

In 1939 the home began taking in children with intractable asthma.  Throughout the 1930s and 1940s there was a rise in the number of asthmatic patients at the home, and by 1953 the name was changed to show the change in the type of customer at the Shelter.  This home would end up becoming one of the worlds most prominent asthma shelters in the United States, and in the world.
Figure 3 -- Children of Denver ShelteringHome for Jewish Children, 1907
(According to the Rocky Mountain Jewish Historical Society, ClaraGertz was an orphan at the shelter from ages 9-15 in the 30s and 40s.)  Gertz says life at the orphanage can best be described as “regulated.” everyone got up at 6 a.m., washed, then marched singlefile through an underground tunnel to the dining room to eat. The younger children walked together to nearby Cheltenham School. After school, the children were given a snack, then it was time for chores. Daily duties might include working in the dining hall, the kitchen, or the laundry. Gertz learned to use the sewing machine and mended clothes. Children who dusted had their work inspected by a matron’s white glove. Evenings were spent studying in the library until bedtime. “I think that living a regulated life was wholesome and beneficial,” says Gertz. “I never it looked at it as so terrible, having lived that kind of regimented life. You adhered to the rules. I mean there was no other way…” While a predictable daily routine may have had its benefits, the same philosophyapplied to cuisine made for a monotonous diet. What did Gertz think of orphanage dining hall fare? “I think in terms of sameness,’ to the degree that today I will not eat a sweet roll because we had them every day.” She ponders a moment recalling another dining hall memory: “If there’s something I dislike in this world it’s bread pudding. I would take the napkin and I’d put it on my lap and I’d drop the bread pudding on it and then I’d run to the bathroom and flush it down the toilet. I hate bread pudding!”
Mending clothes was one of the routine chores preformed by the girls. (2)
At the end of the school week, activities changed but were equally regimented. “There was always Friday night service. We always had chicken. We had Sunday school on Sunday morning, even if you had company or were going out.” (Sunday was visiting day.) Was Saturday a free day? Only “to a point,” said Gertz. That was the day when volunteer instructors came to teach music or dance lessons. One of her favorite Saturday afternoon activities was going as a group to the movies. In winter, children from the home ice – skated on Sloan’s Lake. 
 Discipline at the home was meted out in different ways, ranging from corporal punishment to loss of privileges. “The matron in the girls’ building had a radiator brush and she’d pound your bottom or you were restricted from going to the show on Saturday,” Gertz recalls, adding later, “I must also tell you I was a very bad child, I mean bad! At one point in the religious class at night I’d get all the kids to stare at the teacher and it made her very uncomfortable. And at one point the superintendent said to me, If you don’t behave, we’re going to put you out as a domestic!’”. (2)
Teacher Abe Kirschstein stands behind Sunday School
students seated at desks at the National Home
for Jewish Children in Denver (1)
There were various such shelters throughout the United States, and they provided a great opportunity for children.  From all the accounts I have read from the kids who were fortunate to have been taken up by the shelter, the experiences were really good.

During the 1980s the shelter was razed and there is now nothing left.  To hear some of these accounts you can click here.

For the rest of the story, check out: 1930-1950: The rise of the asthmatic institution

  1. Photo information from University of Denver, Penrose Library, Digitalized Collection,, accessed 11/8/12
  2. "Memories of the Denver Sheltering Home for Jewish Children," Rockey Mountain Jewish Historical Society, University of Denver,
  3. Abrams, Jeanne,"For a Child's Sake: Denver Sheltering Home for Jewish Children in the Progressive Era," American Jewish History, Winter 1989-90, Volume LXIX, No. 2, University of Denver

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