Emma Helena Carlsdotter was born on February 15, 1859 in Linkoepings, Sweden. By the time she was 16, she knew that she wanted to become a deaconess. Friends dissuaded her from entering the Stockholm motherhouse, and in 1881, she immigrated to the United States. After coming to this country, she received a letter from a pastor in Sweden, asking her to come back and enter the deaconess school there. She learned about the Philadelphia Motherhouse of Deaconesses, and wrote Dr. Adolph Spaeth, who was on the board of the German Hospital and the Deaconess Committee. She asked for “further information about the Deaconess Institute, whether the instruction is free and how long it would take to go through the entire course and also mention the subjects.” In a letter of recommendation to Dr. Spaeth, Rev. G.H. Trabert said that Emma’s desire to be a deaconess “to be not of recent date or because of the novelty of the thing, but a longfelt desire.” He added that after her training, “If the sisters find she has the right spirit and her heart is in the work, I would kindly request that the Oberin take pains to teach her so as to enable her to take charge of the work in our Bethesda Hospital at St. Paul.” He said that the hospital had failed because of “a lack of proper knowledge, and not having a proper person who understood the affairs of hospital management.” In those days, nurses not only cared for patients but were the administrators of the hospital!Sister Emma Helena Carlsdotter
Sister Emma Carlson entered the motherhouse on September 26, 1886 and was consecrated on May 24, 1896. She did not return to St. Paul; instead she worked in the German Hospital (now the Lankenau Hospital) in Philadelphia, where in 1899 she nursed John D. Lankenau, the president of the German Hospital and the founder of the Mary J. Drexel Home and Philadelphia Motherhouse of Deaconesses, the man who brought the deaconesses to America in 1884. On October 3, 1900, she became his personal nurse. There is a letter from the Convent of the Blessed Sacrament, where Lankenau’s niece, Katherine Drexel, was the Mother Superior, saying how glad they were to hear the “Reverend Mother’s dear uncle” was better, that they prayed for him frequently, and that they hoped he would soon be well enough that Sister Emma could leave him for a visit to the convent. However, Lankenau died twenty days later, on August 30, 1901. In his will, he left Sister Emma $2500. She remained in charge of his house until it was sold. She returned to the hospital and in 1902 nursed Charles Woerwag, treasurer of the boards of the hospital and the Mary J. Drexel Home and motherhouse and Lankenau’s good friend, until he died.
Sister Emma returned to the German Hospital until 1908. She then went to the Children’s Hospital which had been established with the motherhouse. She worked with the Dispensary Service, which we would call an outpatient clinic. She was especially interested in the poor and those in trouble, regardless of race and religion, and often visited in their homes and stood by until they received the help they needed. She died of pneumonia on February 9, 1933, just 6 days short of her 74th birthday. She buried in the sister’s lot in Woodlands Cemetery, Philadelphia. It was said of her, “she is a friend who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.”