A Passion for Mental Health Care Becomes a Personal Legacy

Phyllis Jacobs at the Bunge Society

By Cheyanne Carter

Over the course of her 45-year career, Phyllis Clark Jacobs ’65 shaped the landscape of mental health care and psychiatric nursing. She used her strengths in leadership, research, and education to improve nursing education and community support surrounding mental health. Her passion for this field stemmed from her experience as a Badger; “Phyllis’ time as an undergraduate is what seemed to spark her interest in this field…the researching and exploring she was able to do there stuck with her forever,” said her husband, Louis (Lou) Jacobs. She had developed a vision of mental health care that is now at the forefront of national health care.  

Born and raised in Sugar Grove, Illinois, Jacobs graduated from the School of Nursing in 1965. She then went on to receive her master of science in nursing from Washington University’s St. Louis School of Nursing. Jacobs continued to pursue her passions for research and innovation through teaching at several esteemed institutions. Her career took her to Missouri Baptist Hospital School of Nursing, St. Louis University School of Nursing, and Millikin University. Most of it, however, was spent in Kansas at Wichita State University (WSU) School of Nursing. For 23 years Jacobs flourished in sharing her knowledge with future nurses and expanded her research in mental health nursing. During that time, she served as the director of the undergraduate nursing program for 11 years. 

Phyllis and Lou Jacobs
Phyllis and Lou Jacobs

Jacobs contributed so much to the field and within her specialty. She published numerous research papers and articles, and contributed several chapters to the Dimensions of Critical Care Nursing journal. She also worked in tandem with the National Council of State Boards of Nursing to curate and review questions for licensing exams. Jacobs’ hard work and passion didn’t go unrecognized. She is an honoree in WSU’s Plaza of Heroines, and she received the WSU President’s Award for Distinguished Service in 2000. 

Jacobs had a passion for service and giving back. She volunteered in her community and worked to support her neighbors within areas of mental health. From serving on the County Board of Mental Health in Wichita, Kansas, to leading bereavement support groups, to developing programs in high schools aimed at breaking down stigmas surrounding mental health, Jacobs combined her compassion and expertise to help everyone she could. She continued her passion for philanthropy after retiring in 2013 by establishing the Jacobs Scholar Program with her husband, Lou. The program supports graduate students at the WSU School of Nursing. 

While her career took her to a handful universities, her love for being a Badger lasted beyond her lifetime. “We both felt very strongly that our time as undergraduates in Madison had certainly prepared us very well for our professional careers and led to success we had in our lives,” said Lou, also a UW–Madison alumnus. He continued to express that, “the whole experience of [UW–Madison] and Phyllis’ dedication to mental health nursing” led him to establish the Louis J. and Phyllis Clark Jacobs Professorship in Mental Health. Phyllis Clark Jacobs was passionate about establishing the foundations to continue to research and treat mental health as a national priority. Her vision is lived out through the professorship, where her legacy will continue to be a model of excellence in breaking down barriers for mental health care.