Pisco, Seraphine Eppstein

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PISCO, SERAPHINE EPPSTEIN (1861–1942), secretary and chief administrator of the National Jewish Hospital for Consumptives in Denver from 1911 through 1938. She should also be understood as a product of the late 19th century Jewish club women's movement, which transmuted traditional ideas about women's nurturing role into professional social work. Pisco was born in St Joseph, Missouri, to Max and Bertha Eppstein, who moved her and five siblings to Denver in 1875. In 1878, like so many women of her generation, she married a businessman many years older than herself, Edward Pisko, who was prominent in local politics, and had been president of the local B'nai B'rith lodge. Also like so many women of her generation she became active in Jewish women's charitable work, serving as president of the Jewish Relief Society and in 1896 helping Carrie Shevelson Benjamin found a section of the National Council of Jewish Women. She served on many Council committees, and when president she helped found a settlement house in the Colfax district, where she developed close relations with East European Jews and Italian immigrants. An excellent public speaker, in 1899 she represented the Women's Club of Denver at the National Conference of Charities and Corrections in Cincinnati, and also accepted a paid position as fundraiser for the newly opened National Jewish Hospital. Since most hospital officers did not live in Denver, when the secretary died suddenly in 1911, she was appointed his successor. She could assume this position with no medical training because sanitariums, treating a disease with no known surgical cure, lagged behind general hospitals as research-oriented teaching facilities whose medical staffs demanded control of budgets. When an audit revealed that her predecessor had embezzled funds, Mrs. Pisco used her reputation as leader of Jewish women's clubs to restore public confidence in the institution. She brought professional efficiency to the business office by removing it from her predecessor's law office to the hospital grounds, hiring women to replace men on her small staff, and using her network of female social work professionals at other Denver institutions to sustain her autonomy against the male medical staff. When nationally sponsored investigations of the hospital in 1912 and 1916 recommended that its administrative autonomy be subordinated to a citywide Jewish federation of charities, she persuaded Judge Julian Mack of Chicago that the hospital could best treat its patients by retaining its fundraising network and administration. Her correspondence with the president and treasurer of the hospital reveal extraordinary command of fiscal details, rhetorical irony when rebuffing the criticisms of male officers, and charm when persuading city officials to meet the hospital's needs. The hospital remained her life's work, and in 1925 the Women's Pavilion was renamed in her honor. When infirmities slowed her down she retired in 1938.


J. Abrams, "Seraphine Eppstein Pisco (1861–1942)," in: P. Hyman and D.D. Moore, Jewish Women in America, An Historical Encyclopedia (1997), 1077–78; M.A. Fitz Harris, A Place to Heal, The History of National Jewish Center for Immunology and Respiratory Medicine (1989); W. Toll, "Gender and the Origins of Philanthropic Professionalism: Seraphine Pisco at the National Jewish Hospital," in: Rocky Mountain Jewish Historical Notes (Winter/Spring 1991).

[William Toll (2nd ed.)]