Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Dr. Charles David Spivak

Dr. Charles David Spivak: A Jewish Immigrant and the American Tuberculosis Movement

Jeanne E. Abrams
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 264
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Dr. Charles David Spivak
    Book Description:

    Part biography, part medical history, and part study of Jewish life in turn-of-the-century America, Jeanne Abrams's book tells the story of Dr. Charles David Spivak - a Jewish immigrant from Russia who became one of the leaders of the American Tuberculosis Movement.   Born in Russia in 1861, Spivak immigrated to the United States in 1882 and received his medical degree from Philadelphia's Jefferson Medical College by 1890. In 1896, his wife's poor health brought them to Colorado. Determined to find a cure, Spivak became one of the most charismatic and well-known leaders in the American Tuberculosis Movement. His role as director of Denver's Jewish Consumptives' Relief Society sanatorium allowed his personal philosophies to strongly influence policies. His unique blend of Yiddishkeit, socialism, and secularism - along with his belief in treating the "whole" patient - became a model for integrating medical, social, and rehabilitation services that was copied across the country.   Not only a national leader in the crusade against tuberculosis but also a luminary in the American Jewish community, Dr. Charles Spivak was a physician, humanitarian, writer, linguist, journalist, administrator, social worker, ethnic broker, and medical, public health, and social crusader. Abrams's biography will be a welcome addition to anyone interested in the history of medicine, Jewish life in America, or Colorado history.

    eISBN: 978-0-87081-973-5
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    Thomas J. Noel

    Although more people probably came to Colorado for their physical health than for mineral wealth, the armies of “lungers” and “chasers” pursuing Colorado’s renowned climate cure for tuberculosis, asthma, and other lung disorders never captured the attention that chambers of commerce and historians have lavished on gold and silver rushers. Yet these people spurred Colorado’s growth and its emergence as a national leader in health care. Jeanne Abrams, a nationally recognized scholar and conservator of Western Jewish history, is a professor at Penrose Library at the University of Denver (DU). She also directs DU’s Rocky Mountain Jewish Historical Society and...

  5. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    “Anything my father needed for his patients … he got somehow. He was their miracle man, that’s all I can say about my father.” Although undoubtedly not an impartial observer, this is how Deena Spivak Strauss, the ninety-three-year-old daughter of Dr. Charles David Spivak,¹ recalled his life and work in a 1988 interview.² Charismatic, ambitious, highly intelligent, and articulate, but prone to pursue idealistic schemes, the reddish-blond-haired Spivak attracted followers wherever he went. In the first decades of the twentieth century he was a national leader in the crusade against tuberculosis as the executive secretary (director) of Denver’s Jewish Consumptives’...

  6. 2 Out of Russia
    (pp. 15-32)

    Turbulent Tsarist Russia, home to the largest number of Jews in Europe in the late nineteenth century,¹ provided a heady atmosphere for reformers and revolutionaries. As Orthodox Jewish customs and institutions came under assault by liberal Haskala, or Jewish Enlightenment, ideology filtering in from Western Europe and Russian officials offered limited opportunities to Jews to promote selective integration into Russian society, some young Jewish men and women distanced themselves from traditional Jewish life. Many whose native tongue was Yiddish learned the Russian language, became admirers of Russian literature and culture, and were drawn to competing political movements such as socialism,...

  7. 3 The Philadelphia Story
    (pp. 33-58)

    If the streets of New York, the textile mills in Maine, and the agricultural colonies in New Jersey provided Charles David Spivak’s “elementary” education in America, the ten years he resided in Philadelphia served literally and figuratively as the time of his “higher” education—the location in which he developed his leadership skills, refined his political views, and launched his career in medicine. During Spivak’s stay in Alliance, he became acquainted with the well-known New York City supporters of the East European Jewish community, Myer Isaacs and Michael Heilprin,¹ and their influence facilitated his being hired as the librarian of...

  8. 4 Heading West to “Chase the Cure”
    (pp. 59-82)

    Today, most people in the United States consider tuberculosis a disease of the past and view it with clinical detachment. Others may be vaguely aware that tuberculosis still affects a number of U.S. citizens, mainly those who are impoverished, elderly, or have compromised immune systems. It also continues to pose a considerable threat in underdeveloped countries. Yet at the end of the nineteenth century tuberculosis, or consumption and the “White Plague,” as the disease was also commonly known, was the leading cause of death in the United States. The word “tuberculosis” alone was enough to invoke fear in the hearts...

  9. 5 The Genesis of the JCRS: Creating a New Type of TB Institution
    (pp. 83-108)

    This is how Dr. Charles David Spivak began his chronicle of the modest origins of the Jewish Consumptives’ Relief Society (JCRS) in his secretary’s report, published in the JCRS’s First Annual Report of 1905

    Spivak’s close friend and colleague, JCRS president Dr. Philip Hillkowitz, described the progress of this small group of Jewish “poor dwellers of the Ghetto,” as it enlarged its base to include prominent local doctors such as himself, the Russian-born Dr. Adolph Zederbaum, and Charles Spivak. Both Spivak and Hillkowitz were drawn to the new JCRS institution through a shared commitment to democratic socialist principles, as evidenced...

  10. 6 Becoming a Westerner
    (pp. 109-132)

    The early discovery of gold in Colorado and the coming of the railroads were central to the transformation of Denver from a wilderness to a burgeoning metropolis, but the pivotal impact of tuberculosis on the area should not be underestimated. The search for health that focused on tuberculosis and other respiratory ailments was critical to the economic and population growth of the Mile High City in the first decades of the twentieth century, perhaps nowhere more visible than in the Jewish community. Although a handful of cities in the United States established specifically Jewish sanatoriums, Denver was the only city...

  11. 7 Overseas Mission to the European Front and the Final Years
    (pp. 133-160)

    In the early 1920s Dr. Charles David Spivak took a leave of absence from the Jewish Consumptives’ Relief Society (JCRS) and his private medical practice to step onto the international stage on behalf of the American Jewish community in the role of special medical commissioner to Poland through the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC). The JDC was a powerful Jewish relief agency created during World War I that aided destitute European Jews, and Spivak spent six months in war-torn Poland dispensing humanitarian assistance and collecting data about the precarious situation of Polish Jews. In the process, he also played an important...

  12. 8 Conclusion: The Spivak Legacy
    (pp. 161-178)

    Dr. Charles David Spivak approached his final illness in the same manner in which he had faced the many vicissitudes of life: with determination to rise above his challenges and move forward, buttressed by the company of family and friends. Indeed, adaptability and versatility, coupled with a quest for knowledge and empathy for others, were the fundamental elements of his personality. Even in his last days—ill with terminal liver cancer—Spivak’s sense of humor, philosophical stoicism, and calm acceptance surfaced in a letter in which he informed a friend of his disease:

    Well, you may just as well learn...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 179-210)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 211-218)
  15. Index
    (pp. 219-226)