The history of this Deaconess Community can be located in four places: Kaiserswerth, Germany; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Baltimore, Maryland; and Omaha, Nebraska.
In 1836, in Germany Pastor Theodor Fliedner and his wife
They were part of a movement called the Inner Mission, which aimed at re-activating the ancient role of men and women to serve the lost, the crushed, and the poor.
By 1884, there were 56 deaconess communities in Germany, France, Switzerland, and Scandinavia with a total of 5,653 deaconesses. They ministered with vagrants, epileptics, those in prison, those recently released from prison, the sick, orphans, and anyone in need.
Florence Nightingale trained in nursing in Kaiserswerth with the deaconesses.
Throughout the latter half of the 19th century, pastors and deaconesses came to America from Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and various parts of Germany.
They began hospitals and other institutions of mercy, and motherhouses in which to train deaconesses for service. In 1894 the close ties between these groups became official with the organization of the Lutheran Deaconess Conference in North America, the first inter-Lutheran agency in the land.
Before the summer of 1884, John Lankenau’s friend and fellow hospital board member, the German Consul in Philadelphia, Charles H. Meyer, traveled to Germany to inquire about the availability of deaconesses from Kaiserwerth motherhouse and other motherhouses to staff the German Hospital.
No deaconesses were available.
Consul Meyer heard about the deaconesses at Iserlohn, and Lankenau later wrote to their directing sister and convinced them to come to America to take over the German Hospital, of which he was president.
He finally found seven deaconesses from a small sisterhood in Iserlohn who agreed to come.
These seven women literally cleaned up the Hospital, and with Lankenau’s financial help, entered into parish work, started a school for girls and a kindergarten, began a convalescent home for the aging, and established a Motherhouse for deaconesses, all within a decade of their arrival in Philadelphia.
The Motherhouse was eventually moved to Gladwyne (outskirts of Philadelphia) in 1953, a building donated by the Pew family of Philadelphia.
In 1889, just five years after the arrival of the Philadelphia sisters, the General Synod of the Lutheran Church (USA) created a Board of Deaconess Work, designating deaconesses as persons holding an “office of the church”.
They opened a Motherhouse in Baltimore in 1895; the School was opened in 1910. They entered the nursing field, but not in hospitals. They were sent into the homes of the sick – as their German sisters still do.
They went to parishes to complement the pastor’s work, and entered the ‘foreign mission field.’ This action by a Lutheran Church in instituting a Deaconess Community was a first for Lutheranism worldwide.
The School was for all women church workers, offering courses for parish workers, church educators, church secretaries, and pastors’ wives, as well as deaconesses and missionaries.
It continued operating until 1965, by which time deaconess candidates were attending seminaries across the country.
The Immanuel Deaconess Institute, Omaha, 1910 Orphan’s Home (left), Hospital, Parsonage, Deaconess home and Nazareth House.
The Evangelical Lutheran Immanuel Association for Works of Mercy was founded at Omaha, Nebraska in 1887 by the Rev. Erik Alfred Fogelstrom. In 1890 Pastor Fogelstrom created the Immanuel Hospital and Deaconess Mother House after sending women to Philadelphia and Sweden for training as deaconesses.