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Jewish Pioneers

historical photo

Isabella (Fanny) Brooks

Julius and Fanny Brooks

The first family

Isabella and Julius Brooks and their children were the first Jewish family to settle in Utah.

It couldn't have been easy to feel included when they arrived in Salt Lake City in 1864, among all the Mormons. But they stayed and became respected members of the community.

Isabella--or Fanny, as she was known---was largely responsible for her family's growing prominence in the city. Outspoken and energetic, she ran a boarding house and millinery shop and added a personal touch to her customer service.

How they got together

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Julius Gerson Brooks

As a young man, Julius Brooks left his village in Germany, Frankenstein, to live in the United States for five years. When he returned to Frankenstein in 1853, his stories made a big impression on 15-year-old Fanny. Or maybe he himself made the biggest impression.

So she rather brazenly asked if he would take her back to America with him. That conversation ended with a marriage. In 1854 the newlyweds boarded a ship to New York City. Fanny later told her children that she entertained the immigrants on the boat with French and German folksongs that she played on her guitar.

Coming to Utah

Julius and Fanny joined a wagon train West and had many adventures on their journey.

They spent the winter in Salt Lake City and liked it very much but decided to find their fortune in California. During the next ten years Julius and Fanny tried to make a life in several places.

But in 1864 they decided to return to Salt Lake City.

The small adobe house at Third South and Main Street where the Brookses lived was one of the noisiest spots in town. The home was sandwiched between the stables of the Pony Express Company and a gambling saloon. But they adjusted to the unusual environment.

Fanny cooked breakfast for the bullwhackers (oxen team drivers) from a nearby camp. The children became involved in neighborhood activities and even attended an LDS Sunday School until the first Jewish synagogue was built in 1875. Eveline, the oldest daughter, recalled playing jump-rope with Brigham Young's children.

The boarding house and Brigham Young

As the family settled into the community, Fanny decided to establish a boarding house. Julius expanded the dining room to seat up to forty people at a time. They had a successful business with several rental properties--which soon became threatened by political events in the city.

Mormons and non-Mormons had continuing conflicts. In fact, at times non-Mormons feared for their lives. In 1868 Brigham Young forbade Mormons from doing business with non-Mormons. Mormon merchants were advised to place an all-seeing-eye sign with the legend "Holiness to the Lord" on their buildings to indicate their religious affiliation.

The Brooks's Mormon tenants all left. Other non-Mormon merchants began to sell out and leave town.

But the unstoppable Fanny Brooks requested a personal interview with Brigham Young to ask him to buy their property. Young explained that some non-Mormon merchants had come to Salt Lake with the aim of running the town. But Fanny and her family were valuable members of the community. He said, "We would hate to have you leave." He told her not to worry.

Soon, the Brookses had again filled up their rooms with tenants.

The hat shop and Julius's insult

From that day on, the church leader remained friendly with the Brookses and supportive of their Jewish faith. As a symbol of his good will he offered to donate land for a Jewish cemetery in 1869.

As a successful businesswoman, Fanny decided to open a millinery shop. Julius purchased the hats for the store, and Fanny managed the accounts and ran the store. They hired Hiram Parson as a clerk because they knew knew that his family of seven children was very poor.

Fanny adopted an attitude of service. She treated customers well because she knew that personal attention would encourage them to come back. Her daughter Eveline recounted a story that demonstrates her mother's professional approach. On one occasion, a lady fussed around the store, unable to find a suitable hat. Julius responded to her by saying, "My dear lady, if I had hats to make ugly ladies look pretty, I would be a millionaire and live in New York." The woman was insulted and about to leave the store when Fanny returned from an errand. She assured the customer that her husband had not been serious and then sold her three hats with the promise that she looked lovely in each.

The Brookses did well with the millinery business. According to Eveline, by the end of the second year the family had earned $40,000 from the shop. In 1879 Julius constructed an elegant European-style shopping mall called the Brooks Arcade.

From crossing the plains to European vacations

The couple spent most of their later years traveling in Europe and visiting relatives and friends. In 1885 Julius died in San Remo, Italy. Fanny continued to run her millinery shop in Salt Lake City. As her health deteriorated, however, she made more frequent trips to her home town of Wiesbaden, Germany. She died there on August 21, 1901, leaving behind a unique legacy as a  skilled and determined businesswoman and an active Jewish citizen in the early history of Salt Lake City.

Both Julius and Fanny Brooks are buried in the Jewish section of the Salt Lake City Cemetery.


Taken from a History Blazer article by Ivette D. Isom and from Frontier Reminiscences of Eveline Brooks Auerbach, by Eveline Brooks Auerbach (the only surviving child of Julius and Fanny)