Jane Holmes Historical Marker
Backstory and Context
The city of Pittsburgh known today was not the same Pittsburgh of the early 19th century. Our city of cultural integration and beautiful architecture once consisted of nothing more than a few houses, unpaved roads, and air pollution from burning coal. This was the Pittsburgh where a Miss Jane Holmes made her home and began her legacy of giving. Jane Holmes quickly became one of the philanthropists that helped make the city what it is today. Because of her and people like her, Charity Navigator deemed Pittsburgh the most “charity-conscious” city in 2010.
The legacy of Jane Holmes is often misunderstood as there were actually two separate women by the same name who sometimes are merged into one. The two Janes were first cousins with one being born in Baltimore and the other being born in Ireland. They are remembered as “Pittsburgh Jane” and “Baltimore Jane” and together they donated at least $1.5 million (equal to $43 million in today’s dollars). Here, the legacy of Pittsburgh Jane will be discussed.
She moved to the Pittsburgh of the 19th century from Ireland with parents Nathaniel and Eleanor Kerr Holmes. She was one of at least five children with her brother William, who eventually helped her in her endeavors. In 1833, Miss Holmes converted her family’s home in the country to The Protestant Home for Incurables where lifetime care would be provided for the elderly and those society deemed “incurable”. This was a population often abandoned and overlooked during Ms. Holmes’ time. Following the opening of The Protestant Home for Incurables, Jane and her cousin raised money to build a home for aged women in Wilkinsburg and named it the Home for Aged Protestant Women. In 1984, the name was changed to the Rebecca Residence. Nine years later the two cousins joined forces again, this time with a Mrs. Felix Brunot to create The Home for Colored Children. It lives on to this day as Three Rivers Youth in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 1881, Jane created the Home for Aged Protestant Men and Couples which was eventually renamed to Jane Holmes Residence and Gardens. The Protestant Home for Incurables has since been turned into a shopping center.
Sadly in 1885, Miss Jane Holmes died. Having never married nor having any children, she continued her generosity in her will. In her will she established the School for Blind Children and left $50,000 to found a home for working Protestant boys up to the age of 21. Jane asked that this institute be a shelter for young boys and men who came to Pittsburgh to work or be educated. It was renamed Holmes Hall for Boys in 1915. After its closing, the fund Jane left for Holmes Hall continues to support similar organizations. In addition to the School for Blind Children and Holmes Hall, she bestowed over a dozen organizations that crossed racial lines including homes for the sick and elderly, hospitals, orphanages, and schools.
Although Jane Holmes’ life ended during the 19th century, it is clear her impact has lasted long after her death. In 2004, several agencies joined forces to establish the Jane Holmes Legacy Council. The council created an internship in her name funded by the Buhl Foundation at four institutions as well as lobbied for a historical marker in her name. The historical marker is located outside the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children in Pittsburgh's Shadyside area. In 2006, the YMCA gave Jane Holmes a retrospective Leadership Award.3 UPMC Children’s Hospital created a society of giving in honor of Jane where they are geared toward giving care to every child regardless of the family’s ability to pay. Regardless of financial ability, everyone can take a page out of Jane Holmes’ book and treat our fellow people better.
Children’s Hospital Staff. “Story of Jane Holmes.” UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, June 30, 2017. http://childrenspgh.org/story-of-jane-holmes/.
“Holmes Hall.” Allegheny West. Allegheny West Civil Council, 2020. https://alleghenywest.org/holmes-hall/.
“Jane Holmes Fund for Elder Care.” The Pittsburgh Foundation. The Pittsburgh Foundation, April 24, 2008. https://pittsburghfoundation.org/node/25487.
Lowry, Patricia. “For Jane Holmes residence, a tag sale marks end of an era.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), Jan. 12, 2008.
Lowry, Patricia. “Remembering Jane(s): Two Women Who Shared Name and Good Works Changed Pittsburgh.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), Apr. 9, 2008.
“Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission Approves Two New Historical Markers; Musician Art Blakey, Philanthropist Jane Holmes to be Honored.” PR Newswire (2006).
“Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania – History of Philanthropy.” https://www.afpwpa.org/shared/afpwpa/files/webfm/admin/chapter-docs/Pittsburgh%20philanthropy%20timeline.pdf.
Rendell, Edward G. “Legendary Ladies: A Guide to Where Women Made History in Pennsylvania.” Pennsylvania Commission for Women (Philadelphia, PA).
Vondas, Laura Baccelli. “A Legacy of Giving.” Pittsburgh Tribune (Pittsburgh, PA), Apr. 17, 2005.
Various Articles from the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children. https://www.wpsbc.org/.
http://childrenspgh.org/story-of-jane-holmes/ Copyright ©, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 2017, all rights reserved.