Wednesday, October 21, 2015

1920s and 30s: Memories from National Jewish

 B'nai B'rith Building.  This was the east part of the campus on the opposite
side of Colorado Boulevard as the 7-Goodman Building that I was in.  This
building was for the most severe asthmatic kids during the 1930s.  By the
1980s when I was a patient, this building stood empty.  It appears,
however, that it is no longer empty.  I'm surprised it still stands. And, a
part of me is happy it still stands.
Between 1899 and 1999 there were thousands of children with a chronic breathing disease, mainly tuberculosis and asthma, who benefited from a prolonged stay at the Jewish Hospital in Denver.  In 1999 they were all invited back for a reunion. I was among them. However, due to my place in life, was unable to attend. 

As part of the reunion we were all asked to tell our stories and mail them in. I did not do this, but many others did. They were since compiled into a little booklet that I was able to get my hands on.

I would like here to share some of these stories.  Even though these stories were submitted for the public, I will not share any names here.  My only goal is to give you an idea of what it was like to live in a sanatorium or asthma institution for several months, or years, away from your family and friends. 

Fannie E. Lorber Breaking Ground at the Denver Sheltering Home for Jewish Children
1920s:  Denver Sheltering Home for Jewish Children

I have a story from a lady who's family members suffered from tuberculosis, and she and her three siblings were staying at the shelter because her family couldn't take care of her for a time.  Her father paid $40 a month "for the keep of us four children in our family."  Her recollection was taking dancing lessons.  She adds:  "In sharing these notes I can say 'Thanks' for the shelter and the care I was given while my mother laid in a bed in the hospital with tuberculosis."  I would imagine the hospital she's referring to was National Jewish Hospital for Consumptives.  

Mending clothes was one of the routine chores preformed by the girls.
1930s:  National home for Jewish Children

It was just a simple name change, although the home was the same as the one mentioned during the 1920s.  One guy talked of he and his group of friends having boxing matches "because we had gloves our dad gave us.  He writes how some of the guys "hitch hiked -- got a ride on a cement truck," and one of the kids fell off and was run over and killed.  He remembered running through the tunnels under the hospital -- "especially to escape from Mr. Cohen!  Or hiding in the engine room or the locker room.  And various of us getting beaten up in the locker room by the Boss.'

1930s:  National Jewish Hospital for Consumptives

An unidentified woman reads a story to a group of children in
the nursery at the National Home for Jewish Children at Denver. 

 On back of photograph: ''Story hour in the nursery National
Home for Jewish Children at Denver 1931 (2)
(Resident August 1934-January 1936)  At the time of my admission to National Jewish I had been living in Colorado Springs.  My family had moved from Ohio because of my father's health.  He was tubercular and eventually was a patient at National Jewish also.

At a very early age I had typhoid fever,which left me in a weakened condition from which I never fully recovered.  As I grew older, I failed to recover satisfactorily.  Because my father was tubercular, our family doctor thought it best that i be admitted to National Jewish.

A friend of a friend arranged to have me driven to Denver.  I arrived and was admitted to National Jewish on the 23rd of August 1934.  I was 12 years old.  I was assigned to the Heinemen building for a short time and then transferred to the Hofheimer Preventorium.  I was discharged in late January 1936.  

Dance Recital (2)
I remember the names of many of my fellow patients.  During the school year we went to one of the other buildings on the grounds for our classes.  Our teacher was Miss Mayme Smith.  She taught eight grades in one classroom.  She was taskmaster and a strict disciplinarian.  However, she was always fair. 

the doctors I recall are Drs Black and Cohen.  the nurses I remember are Miss Gresharn, Mrs. Sharam, Miss Elsie and Miss Nickey.  Miss Nickey was the night nurse.  

In addition to attending class, we went on many field trips.  Mostly we walked to the playground at City Park.  Once we walked to Cheesman park where we waded in the pool and I believe we had picnic supper there.  We also went to Elitch Gardens and rode all the rides and to the Schoenberg Farm where we spent the day roaming around the area and having a picnic lunch  At Christmas time the ladies of the Eastern Star took us around to see some of the houses that were very well decorated and lit up.

A group of children sit on an outside deck at the National Home for 
Jewish Children.Each child has a plate of food and an unidentified woman serves them.
 Most of the children are unidentified, however, Bertha Katzson, Doris
Greenstein and Reuben Levine are part of the group. The children
 are in the care of the National Home for Jewish Children
at Denver in Denver, Colorado. (2)
We had students from Denver university visit one afternoon each week.  We called them Club Ladies, one for the boys arranged a trip for a few of the older boys to attend a football game at DU Stadium.  

We used to get our hair cut at regular intervals.  A stool was set up in the nurses' station upstairs, we all lined up and had our hair cut.  All the boys looked the same and all the girls looked alike when the barber was through.  We each climbed on the stool in our turn and zip zip and you were through.  We left our dime for the barber and went our way.

As I recall, we were given some candy on Thursday and Sunday nights.  In the evening we used the dining room as a study hall.  On Sunday nights, while studying, we listened to Eddie Cantor, Ed Wynn, and Fred Allen's radio programs.  At some time a few of us discovered where the candy was kept.  We used to raid it once in a while.

(Resident 1936-1940) "50 Years Ago, They Gave me Back My Life."  Looking at the National Jewish Center for Immunology and Respiratory Medicine, the observers sees a campus composed of both time-honored and modernistic buildings uniquely set off from the busy intersection of Colorado Blvd. and Colfax Avenue.  In 1936, however, National Jewish was a very different place.  Ruth lived at National Jewish for four years during her struggle with tuberculosis between 1936-1940.

As Ruth looks back on her stay, she reflects, "They gave me back my life."  Ruth continued to tell us more about the Center as it was 50 years ago.  "The campus was divided into two parts by the Colorado Blvd.  I lived on the east side of the campus in the B'nai B'rith Building, and on the west side of Colorado Blvd. was the research building, the Pisko building for ambulatory patients, and a few other buildings.  The B'nai B'rith Building was for very ill patients.  After three-and-a-half years, when my tuberculosis was at last brought under control, I was able to move to the west side of the campus into the Pisko building.  In this new setting there was an air of triumph and a sense of camaraderie for we were able to dress and walk to the communal dining room and share meals together.  Also, we could take part in the activities and entertainment wisely planned for our benefit."

Ruth came to the National Jewish Hospital from Arkansas in 1936 after struggling for six years with tuberculosis while living in an Arkansas sanatorium.  she described the mood she prepared for her trip to Denver.  "My father explained to me that I was so ill, the doctors were not sure I would survive the trip to Denver and perhaps I should just stay in Arkansas."

However, Rush is indeed a fighter, and in her heart she felt that the doctors in Denver could help her.  She was prepared to take the risk.  She traveled by ambulance to the train, by train to Denver, and again by ambulance to National Jewish.  The trip required a total of 36 hours.

After being released from National Jewish in 1940, Ruth decided to make Denver her home.  She married soon after her release.  Her battle with tuberculosis had lasted ten long years, and had robbed her of her twenties, yet added a new dimension of perseverance, patience, and compassion to her life.  With the help of the wonderful staff at National Jewish, in particular, Dr. Gugenheim, she was victorious.  Since the, her health has remained stable, and her life has been fulfilling and productive.

In July of 1986, on the 50th anniversary of her entry into National Jewish, Ruth came back to the Center.  It was indeed a  very emotional visit as she toured a different, yet familiar, campus.  today the National Jewish Medical and Research Center is world renowned for only for work with tuberculosis, but for research in respiratory and immune system disease, model patient care programs, and excellent educational training for doctors and patients nationwide.

Rush acknowledged the fifty year anniversary of her admittance into National Jewish my making a gift to the Center in the form of a National Jewish Gift Annuity.  This very special gift from the heart, given with deep thanksgiving, will help National Jewish to progress and grow during the next 50 years.

  1. "Our Memories," National Jewish Medical and Research Center Patient and Resident Reunion," July 30-August 1, 1999, National Jewish Medical and Research Center, Denver, Colorado, Memories is a packet put together for former patients who visited the institution for the reunion.  
  2. "Jewish Story at the National Home for Jewish Children at Denver," Penrose Presents, University of Denver, accessed 11/8/12

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