This sister, one of the six original sisters of the Baltimore Motherhouse, was called Jennie L. Christ in all the records which were kept by the Motherhouse, but she signed her letters to her family “Jane” or “Janey.” She was born on July 10, 1872, and was a resident of Peabody, Kansas. She had three brothers, Harry, Chas, and Ted, and a sister of whom she said, “My life’s work was made possible by my self-sacrificing sister, Emma, whose devotion to the parental home was unsurpassed.”
When the Board of Deaconess Work (BDW) of the General Synod advertised for young women who would like to become deaconesses, Jennie Christ responded. On January 1, 1894, she entered the Philadelphia Motherhouse of Deaconesses for three months training. Her work was primarily in the typhoid ward. Among her hospital duties were dusting, making beds, and mending; giving baths, taking temperatures, and writing letters; making “abdomenal bands,” and “binders,” poultices, turpentine stupes, and inhalations. She was fond of Frau Oberin Wanda von Oertzen, who comforted her when she was homesick, and with whom she was allowed to take a carriage ride through the park and down the main avenues of Philadelphia. On February 3, she learned that she would sail for Europe on March 28. She was told by G. U. Wenner of the BDW that “All your traveling expenses, your board, your clothing, everything will be paid by us. …We shall be glad to bear ALL your expenses.”
Jennie sailed on the Westerland along with another deaconess trainee, Emma Steen. They landed in Antwerp on April 8, 1894, and arrived at Kaiserswerth on April 11. Jennie’s first days at the Motherhouse were devoted primarily to helping in the kitchen; sewing; lessons in writing German script, Bible study, medicine, and other subjects; and going to church services and prayer meetings In July, she was moved to the hospital at Frohnberg where she nursed children as well as adults. It was apparently quite near the Motherhouse, because people from there visited her often, and she continued to have lessons with Pastor Fliedner. In October, the Motherhouse sent her to the hospital at Elberfeld, which was one of the finest ones. There she took temperatures, gave medicines, and assisted in the operating room. She also substituted for six weeks for the sister in the eye clinic.
Jennie found Germany “a land of emotion and song.” Though she enjoyed her stay, she was often homesick and was glad to return to America in July, 1895. She was eager to get to work, and arrived in Baltimore on October 14. The other five original sisters, Augusta Shaffer, Lucy Eyster, Magadalena Kasewurm, Emma Steen, and Sophia Jepson, had arrived a day or two earlier. The sisters were consecrated on October 23. This was followed by two more years of training, although Sister Jennie did some private nursing during this time, as well as afterward. In March 29, she was elected the second Head Sister of the Motherhouse, a job she left in 1903 to work in the field. For 22 years she was a parish worker at the Lutheran Church of the Atonement in New York City. She resigned on July 1, 1925, and on July 11, she married Dr. F.H. Knubel, the president of the ULCA.
Even after she resigned, Jennie remained interested in the Baltimore Motherhouse and its deaconesses. She attended and helped plan the 40th Anniversary celebration in 1935. She died on March 17, 1950, five years after her husband’s death.
There is a great deal more which could be said about Sister Jennie, because we have in the ELCA Archives her diaries of 1894-1896 (with a few later entries), her letters to her family while she was in Kaiserswerth, and other papers. If you want information on a deaconess or any aspect of our history, please call the ELCA Archives at (847) 690-9410.