Ida Van Zandt Jarvis, pioneer and civic leader, was born in 1844 in Washington, D.C., the youngest of the five children of Frances Cooke (Lipscomb) and Isaac Van Zandt, minister to the United States from the Republic of Texas. She was educated at Franklin College in Nashville, Tennessee, and graduated from Masonic Female Institute in Marshall, Texas. In 1866 she married James J. Jarvis, a Quitman attorney and newspaper publisher. The couple moved in 1872 to Fort Worth, which was not yet incorporated or accessible by rail, and their affairs prospered as the city grew. A district attorney, rancher, judge, and state senator, James Jarvis was also a philanthropist whose bequests owed much to his wife's inspiration. Together they founded an institute for educating Blacks in Wood County that became Jarvis Christian College, and they were benefactors of Add-Ran Christian University and its successor, Texas Christian University. Ida Jarvis gave the proceeds of her book, Texas Poems (1893), to finance the education of young ministers at Add-Ran and contributed $60,000 to the endowment fund at TCU.
As the wife of the president of the Add-Ran board of trustees, Mrs. Jarvis assisted in planning student activities and advised on disciplinary problems. She was the first woman trustee of TCU and served for twenty years on the advisory board. She provided the funds to establish the school of domestic science at TCU, and Jarvis Hall, a women's dormitory, one of the first buildings on the Fort Worth campus, was named in honor of her and her husband. She was a member of the executive committee of the Texas Students' Aid Association.
She was equally committed to civic work and social reform, an interest that crystallized after she heard Frances Willard give a speech in Fort Worth urging women never to neglect any opportunity for service. She joined the Woman's Christian Temperance Union in the late 1880s and served for thirty years, working for more humane conditions for female prisoners in the city jail and heading at various times local WCTU departments on "unfermented wines," scientific temperance instruction, and the franchise. She helped organize the Fort Worth YWCA in 1906 and served for twelve years as secretary of the Women's Rescue League. She was president of the Associated Charities of Fort Worth and of the city Federation of Women's Clubs and was a charter member of Baby Hospital.
Mrs. Jarvis was a member of the First Christian Church and worked actively for foreign missions. She became a life member of the Christian Woman's Board of Missions after a trip to Chicago in 1893 to learn about the organization firsthand. With the help of two missionaries from India, she established a Texas branch of the board and served as president for five years. She also presided over the Fort Worth Missionary Federation. She was a member of the Texas Women's Press Association and edited the missionary page of the Christian Courier, as well as writing on reform issues for local papers. She died on March 11, 1937, and was buried in East Oakwood Cemetery, Fort Worth.
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