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At Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Chicago, November 3, 1885, a sermon delivered at a meeting of Norwegian women inspired the founding of the Norwegian Lutheran Tabitha Society. The purpose of the organization was to perform “deaconess work.” Two points of view about service developed within the society, with one group wanting to build a hospital and the other a deaconess home. Charter members who favored a deaconess home withdrew from the society. These members soon organized another society called the Original Norwegian Lutheran Tabitha Society, with an objective to establish and maintain a deaconess home and hospital.
On June 7, 1892, members of these two societies and person interested in the reunion of the two societies met and a committee was elected to settle differences. The recommendation was to organize a new society. The original name, the Norwegian Lutheran Tabitha Society was used for the new group. Soon the Tabitha Deaconess Home and Hospital was built in 1893.
The Norwegian Lutheran Deaconess Society of Chicago was incorporated on September 17, 1896. The organization rented two houses to serve as a hospital, which opened on May 22, 1897. In 1898, the deaconess training school was instituted. On November 1, 1902, the Norwegian Lutheran Deaconess Home and Hospital, Chicago (LDHC), was completed and occupied by deaconesses and patients. In 1904, property of the society was deeded to the UNLCA, and the church assumed the debt. By 1910, a new wing brought the hospital’s capacity to 100 beds. A year later, in 1911, a kindergarten began to care for children whose parents worked. It expanded three years later into a day nursery.
By 1960 when the Evangelical Lutheran Church, the American Lutheran Church (ALC) and the United Evangelical Lutheran Church merged to form The American Lutheran Church (TALC) in 1960, support in the church for the deaconess movement was waning. The last consecration in Chicago was in 1956, although deaconesses continued to serve, but there were no new students.
In the early 1950s, the Deaconess Hospital board recognized that the physical plant of the hospital was deteriorating and the neighborhood where it was located had changed. Its board asked permission of the church in 1954 to sell the property and relocate the hospital to the northwest in Park Ridge, Illinois. Both Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge and Lutheran Deaconess Hospital in Chicago continued to operate until the latter closed in 1968.
During its lifetime, more than 115 deaconesses were consecrated at the LDHC. Thirty-one deaconesses served in the mission field in China, Madagascar, Africa, India, and Alaska. Others served in parish work, care of the aged, family welfare, care of dependent children, kindergarten and day nursery, Jewish missions, and as instructors in deaconess and nurses’ training schools. The last remaining sister, Olive Hanson, was still living in 2008.
Adapted in 2008 from the administrative history compiled by Sister Marilyn Stauffer, Archivist Intern, April 2007.