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In 1888, the General Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in North America held its convention in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Taking advantage of this situation when so many pastors were in the city, the Rev. Falk Gjertsen of the Norwegian Danish Conference invited several men to his home to discuss the possibility of starting deaconess work in Minneapolis.
Soon afterward, Sister Elizabeth Fedde visited Minneapolis on vacation. She had come from Norway in 1883 to found the Norwegian Hospital in Brooklyn and began deaconess work there. Dr. Gjertsen invited her to talk with several influential men about deaconess work, including one who offered a house he owned. The men insisted that she must stay to start deaconess work in Minneapolis. Although she was reluctant because she was expected back in Brooklyn, Fedde and two women who wanted to be deaconesses moved into the new deaconess home on November 2, 1888 and the hospital opened in four rooms of the home a few days later.
In May 1889, Sister Elizabeth Fedde returned to Brooklyn to finish her work there. When she returned to Minneapolis in July, she found that the board of trustees had resigned and there was a large debt on the home. Professor Georg Sverdrup of Augsburg Seminary, whose wife had been a deaconess in Norway, organized a new board, serving as its president until 1903. The Norwegian Lutheran Deaconess Institute was incorporated on August 17, 1889 and by the end of the first year, there were eight sisters in the home.
Fedde resigned in January, 1891, after a dispute with the board and took seven of the new deaconesses with her. With four sisters left, the board arranged for instruction for the deaconesses, and bought new property which could house a larger home and hospital. The need for a sister superior was met with the installation of Sister Ingeborg Sponland in 1891. Sponland was a Norwegian deaconess who had come to America to bring her parents back to Norway. She served in Minneapolis until 1904. Deaconesses served not only in the Minneapolis hospital, but in orphanages and hospitals all over the upper Midwest, Washington state, New York, and overseas in Madagascar.
After a dispute with the board in 1903, she felt that a new, larger, and more modern hospital and home was needed, but the board did not agree and Sister Sponland eventually resigned. Later, in 1906, a new hospital was begun and it was completed in 1910. In 1911, the Sisters’ and Nurses’ Mission Society was formed to support deaconess work at home and abroad. In 1912, the number of deaconesses related to the Minneapolis home reached a peak of 52 sisters. Until 1921, the position of superintendent of the hospital had been held by the sister superior. Sister Lena Nelson continued in the latter position until 1946, but Sister Marie Folkvard was appointed superintendent of the hospital in 1921. She was succeeded by Sister Anna Bergeland in 1928, serving until 1960. Sister Anna also served as sister superior, 1946-1960.
Until 1920, both the corporation and the hospital had been known as the Norwegian Lutheran Deaconess Institute. The name of the corporation changed in 1923 to “The Lutheran Deaconess Home and Hospital” (LDHM). The Lutheran Home and Hospital in gradually faded into obscurity. There were several reasons for its demise, including among others, the changing status of women who found new opportunities. Sister Anna Bergeland, who had entered the home in 1912, served as a deaconess for more than 40 years, but she was never consecrated. With her death in 1979, the Minneapolis deaconesses were gone. Adapted in 2007 from an administrative history compiled by Sister Marilyn Stauffer, Archivist Intern, March 2007.