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Deaconesses in Europe and their Lessons for Americ

The Marthashof offers us a lesson well worth our learning


Berlin are a good many deaconess institutions. Among them is the Marthashof, a training-school for servants, and a home for those out of employment.

The first impulse to care for the girls who come to large cities to obtain work, and to provide them a home where they can have respectable surroundings, came from Pastor Vermeil, the founder of the deaconess house at Paris. When Fliedner visited the Paris house his heart was touched by what he saw. He thought of the thousands of girls coming annually to Berlin from the provinces, and of the exposures and temptations to which they were subjected. He knew that many of them in their ignorance and inexperience were ruined body and soul in the lodging-houses to which they resorted, and drifted away on the streets of the city, only to find a place eventually in the hopeless wards of the great hospital, La Charite.

He determined to do what he could to provide a remedy, and, as was his wont, "without money and without noise" he set to work. In the north of Berlin, at quite a distance from the railroad stations, he hired a small house on a street then called "The Lost Way"--a street well named, as it was unlighted and unpaved, and so poorly kept that when the queen came to visit the home, shortly after it was opened, her carriage, in spite of the strong horses, got stuck in the mud.

By the aid of some ladies in the city the home was furnished

with twelve beds; three deaconesses were put in charge, and after perplexing difficulties the authorization to open a registry for servants was obtained. The idea at first met with derision. It was said that such an institution was rightly located on "The Lost Way," for no one would ever come to it. But they came. In two years the number of beds increased to twenty, and the same year Fliedner purchased the entire court in which the house stood, containing five houses and a fine garden. Queen Elizabeth of Prussia became the patroness of the institution, and it grew in favor with the people. A training-school was added in which the girls were taught to wash, iron, cook, and sew, and also to work in the garden and to care for cows, the last two branches of domestic service being required of servant-girls in Germany. Later an infant school was added in which nursery girls were practiced in taking charge of children, a pleasant, helpful demeanor being made one of the requisites. Over two hundred children, mostly coming from the poorest and gloomiest homes, are in daily attendance. About three hundred and fifty more attend the girls' school for children of the working classes. In the home and training-school for servants about eight hundred girls are received annually, and sixteen thousand have been sheltered and taught during the years it has been open. They readily secure situations, over two thousand applications being annually received for the servants of the Marthashof. They remain in friendly relation to the home, receive good counsel and advice, and are encouraged to spend their free Sundays there.

The Marthashof has had a beneficent influence over the moral and spiritual welfare of servants throughout Germany. In nearly all the cities similar homes are now established, while in the larger cities Sunday associations are formed to provide suitable places of meeting for the entertainment and instruction of those who are free Sunday afternoons and evenings. So far as I am aware, no similar work has been attempted for servant-girls in the United States. It is true that training-schools exist, but not with religious supervision, and with the moral and religious instruction of the inmates made a prominent feature. The Marthashof offers us a lesson well worth our learning.

The deaconess house, "Bethanien," in Berlin, was founded by King Frederick William IV., who as the Crown Prince took a warm interest in Fliedner's undertakings.[44] It still remains under the protection of the emperor, and is one of the most important mother-houses. Over three thousand patients are annually admitted to the hospital connected with the house, and five hundred children are treated at a dispensary devoted solely to cases of diphtheria. Outside of the city it has thirty-three stations. There are also the Lazarus Hospital and Deaconess Home, the Paul Gerhardt Deaconess Home, provided for parish deaconesses, and the Elizabeth Hospital and Home, which started independently but is now allied to Kaiserswerth.

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