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As a pioneer in Lutheran ministry of mercy, the Rev. William Alfred Passavant, Sr., established hospitals and orphanages from Pennsylvania to Illinois and Wisconsin, brought deaconesses from Germany to manage these enterprises, and chartered the Institution of Protestant Deaconesses (IPD) to manage them.
In 1849, Passavant opened the Pittsburgh Infirmary, later known as Passavant Hospital, the first Protestant hospital in America. At the request of Passavant, the Rev. Theodor Fliedner sent four deaconesses, Sisters Elisabeth Hupperts, Pauline Ludewig, Luise Hinricksen, and Elisabeth Hess, to work there. Passavant opened the Lutheran Deaconess Motherhouse, Milwaukee in 1893. Although Passavant was a strong supporter of deaconess service, his effort to establish a viable community is considered a failure. Three of the four original deaconesses Fliedner sent left by 1853 and at the time of Passavant’s death in 1894, only ten deaconesses had been consecrated.
In 1892, the Rev. Herman Fritschel, from the Iowa Synod became general director and rector of the LDMM. As the various IPD establishments grew and expanded during the first quarter of the twentieth century, it became difficult for one organization to manage such a large and far-flung group of institutions. In 1926, Fritschel proposed a division between east and west, recommending that the eastern institutions in Pittsburgh, Rochester, and Zelienople, Pennsylvania have a board of their own, retaining the name and charter of the IPD and that the board of managers be elected by the Pittsburgh Synod. The western institutions, the LDMM, the Milwaukee Hospital, and the Layton Home, would be the second corporation. An amicable division of the properties was then completed.
The plans for the eastern institutions to work together under the charter of the IPD did not work out, but they continued separately. A new charter for “The Lutheran Deaconess Motherhouse at Milwaukee” was completed in 1927. The hope was that the Iowa Synod would take financial and other responsibilities for the motherhouse, but in 1928, the Iowa Synod only recognized the motherhouse as an institution allied with the Synod. The Iowa Synod merged in 1930 with the Evangelical Joint Synod of Ohio and Other States and the Lutheran Synod of Buffalo to form the American Lutheran Church (ALC). The ALC gave the status of “charitable institution” to the LDMM.
By 1931, the hospital was given its own charter under the title Milwaukee Hospital, but the deaconesses were in effect the owners of the hospital, an arrangement which lasted until 1980. A new motherhouse building was constructed on the hospital grounds in 1957.
The last consecrations at LDMM were in 1977. An agreement was worked out with Luther Manor, a retirement and nursing home, for care of the deaconesses. An office was set aside to serve as the headquarters for the Lutheran Deaconess Motherhouse Corporation until all the members are deceased. In 2007, there are four living sisters.
Adapted in March 2008 from the Administrative History compiled by Sister Marilyn Stauffer, Archivist Intern, March 2007.