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Deaconesses in Europe and their Lessons for Americ

When Elizabeth Fry first visited Kaiserswerth


There

is, at the present time, only one of the original Kaiserswerth sisters left, and that is Sister Elizabeth, the head deaconess at Rochester. Dr. Passavant still continues to labor at forming a complete organization on the basis of the Kaiserswerth system, and, to quote the words of Dr. A. Spaeth, "As he succeeded forty years ago in bringing the first sisters over from Kaiserswerth to Pittsburg, I have no doubt that now, when the Church is at last awakening to the importance of this work, he will succeed in the completion of his undertaking."

A more recent development of the deaconess work in the German Lutheran Church has arisen in connection with the German hospital in Philadelphia. The hospital was well equipped for its work, but there was much dissatisfaction with the nursing, which was inefficient and unskillful. In the fall of 1882 the hospital authorities turned for advice and co-operation to Dr. W. J. Mann, Dr. A. Spaeth, and other clergymen of the denomination in Philadelphia. It was determined to secure German deaconesses as nurses. Several attempts were made to induce Kaiserswerth, or some other large mother-house in Germany, to give up a few sisters to the hospital, but on all sides the applications were refused. The deaconesses were too greatly needed in the Old World to be spared for work in the New. At length, through the unremitting efforts of Consul Meyer, and of John D. Lankenau, president of the board of managers, a small independent

community of sisters under the direction of Marie Krueger, who had herself been trained in Kaiserswerth, acceded to the proposal, and the head-deaconess, with six sisters, arrived in Philadelphia June 19, 1884. They left the field of their self-denying work in the hospital and poor-house at Iserlohn, in Westphalia, sadly to the regret of the authorities and citizens of the place, but to the hospital at Philadelphia they gave invaluable aid. From the first their good services met with appreciation. The efficiency of the hospital service was greatly increased; and from physicians and hospital authorities there was only one testimony, and that a most favorable one, to the value of deaconesses as trained nurses. Mr. Lankenau, who has ever been the wise and munificent patron of the institution, determined to insure a succession of these admirable nurses for the service of the hospital, and, at an expense of over five hundred thousand dollars, he built an edifice of palace-like proportions, and made over this munificent gift to the hospital corporation. It was accepted by them January 10, 1887. The western wing of the building is used as a home for aged men and women; the eastern wing is a residence and training-school for the deaconesses, the chapel uniting the two, and the whole being known as the Mary J. Drexel Home and Philadelphia Mother-house of Deaconesses.

A visit to the Home convinced me that the regulations of the house, the work of the sisters, and the devotion to duty that characterize the mother-houses in Germany rule also in this home in the New World. The imposing entrance hall with the great stair-way, the floor and stairs of white marble, the wide halls and spacious reception-rooms and offices seemed at first almost incongruous surroundings for the modest active deaconesses, some of whom were busy in the hospital wards, others hanging clothes on the line, and others occupied in duties within the building. But place and environments are only incidental matters; the spirit within is the determining quality; and a conversation with the _Oberin_ (head deaconess) and the rector left me with the persuasion that the spirit of earnest devotion to God and humanity is the main-spring of duty in this house.

The arrangement of the rooms for the sisters is similar to that at Kaiserswerth; each consecrated sister has a small apartment simply furnished for her own use. The older probationers are divided two and three in a room. Those who have recently entered are placed in two large rooms, but here every one has her own four walls--even if they are only made by linen curtains. When Elizabeth Fry first visited Kaiserswerth, among the arrangements that she at once recognized and commended was that by which each deaconess was given the privacy of her own apartment. In the deaconess houses that are so rapidly springing up in different parts of the United States this provision ought to be guarded with care, for a life that is so constantly drawn out in ministrations to others should have some moments of absolute privacy upon which no one can intrude.


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