Melville Jacobs was an anthropologist known for his research on Northwest Coast languages and folklore. Prior to his death in 1971, Melville and his wife Elizabeth (known to friends as Bess) made plans to establish an anthropological research fund as part of their estate. After the death of Melville in 1971, Bess Jacobs began making small grants to scholars who were working on projects that she believed Melville would have supported. She subsequently appointed a board to advise her.
A trust fund established by Melville's mother Rose Jacobs was eventually combined with the fund established by Mel and Bess, becoming the Jacobs Research Funds. In accordance with Bess Jacobs' wishes, the (combined) fund is administered by the Whatcom Museum Foundation of the Whatcom Museum.
The endowment was considerably increased by the bequest of M. Dale Kinkade, a linguist known for his work on Salishan languages. Kinkade served on the advisory board of the Jacobs Research Funds for many years.
The Jacobs Research Funds gratefully acknowledges a generous donation from Kay French, who chaired the advisory board for many years. The research of anthropologists Kay and David French focused on the Native American peoples of Oregon, beginning work at Warm Springs soon after moving to Portland after World War II. From 1990 on, Kay French was often employed as a researcher and consultant with Archaeological Investigations Northwest, working on a range of studies of traditional resource use and resource management by the native peoples of Mount Hood and surrounding areas.