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On Christmas Day, 1882, Sister Elizabeth Fedde, a deaconess in Norway received a letter from her brother-in-law, Gabriel Fedde in New York City. He told her she was needed to “take up the work here among the poor and lost Norwegians,” and “could come immediately if you dare, can, and will take on this work.” Sister Elizabeth arrived in New York on April 8, 1883.
Soon after Sister Fedde’s arrival the Norwegian Relief Society was formed. The original idea had been to bring a deaconess to America to help the ill and poverty-stricken in their homes. But Sister Elizabeth found so much need in homes, hospitals, ships in the harbor, and even the streets, that she soon persuaded leaders of the Relief Society to start a deaconess home and hospital. By 1886 the society was incorporated and a house was rented at 441 Fourth Avenue.
In 1887, an American friend contributed a fund of $64,000 from which the home and hospital could receive $3,840 interest annually. The president of the board, Mrs. Anna Børs, wife of the Swedish-Norwegian Consul General, convinced New York businessmen, including Charles Vanderbilt and John D. Rockefeller, to become donors for a new hospital. A thirty-bed hospital at Fourth Avenue and 46th Street was dedicated in 1889.
In 1888 Sister Elizabeth, while vacationing in Minneapolis, Minnesota, after discussions, agreed to begin a deaconess home and hospital there. She returned briefly to Brooklyn in 1889 and then again permanently in January 1891, after a dispute with the board in Minneapolis. The following year, the Norwegian Relief Society re-incorporated as the Norwegian Lutheran Deaconesses’ Home and Hospital. In April 1892, the first two deaconesses were consecrated in Brooklyn. On November 1, 1895, Sister Elizabeth resigned and returned to Norway.
A motherhouse for the deaconesses was dedicated on April 19, 1908. Over the years, beds were added to the hospital, a nurse’s home built, and several adjoining houses purchased to provide houses for the Welfare Office, clinics, and hospital personnel. The majority of the deaconesses worked in the hospital, while several served in parishes and as missionaries in Sudan and China.
The institution had started as a society for poor relief, a service that never completely stopped. In 1929 the Norwegian Lutheran Church in America’s, Norwegian Lutheran Welfare Association, turned the association’s properties over to the deaconess home and hospital, and agreed to subsidize the work as much as possible. During the Great Depression many poor Norwegian families were supported through these efforts.
In 1956, Lutheran Norwegian Deaconess Home and Hospital merged with Lutheran Hospital of Manhattan, and the name changed to Lutheran Medical Center. The last deaconess was consecrated in 1946 and by the time of the merger, only four were still living. When Sister Aasta Foreland died in 2001, the Brooklyn motherhouse came to an end.
Adapted in 2008 from LDMNA 6 Lutheran Medical Center and School of Nursing, Brooklyn, New York compiled by Sister Marilyn Stauffer, Archivist Intern, February 2008.