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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Lutheran hospital's gift horse

Norwegian deaconess drove a clever bargain

Turn of the century patients in Brooklyn, N.Y., could take this horse-drawn ambulance to the Lutheran Norwegian Deaconess Home and Hospital, a predecessor of today's Lutheran Medical Center. Could this be the horse that Sister Elisabeth Fedde bought at a profit?

 

A horse and driver outside the Lutheran Norwegian Deaconness Home and Hospital
A horse-drawn ambulance in front of the Lutheran Norwegian Deaconess Home and Hospital.

Fedde, the savvy young Norwegian who founded deaconess homes and hospitals in Brooklyn and Minneapolis, actually made $5 on a $53 horse. The story goes that Fedde helpfully pointed out to the horse's owner that ambulance service was necessary in large part because of accidents caused by his transportation business. Then she kindly facilitated his $55 contribution to the hospital's work as well as a $3 price reduction in the cost of the horse.

Fedde was 32 when she came to the U.S. in 1883. Her persuasive powers must have been amazing, but everyone wasn't as responsive as she would have liked. Warring factions on the Brooklyn board argued about fundraising, how to train deaconesses and whether Fedde should send ill people to hospitals run by other denominations. Meetings from 1886 to 1887 were so contentious that a beleaguered Fedde wrote in her diary, "I have the whole board against me and everything is wrong and I wish I were dead." After some board members were voted off, things improved.

In 1889, Fedde took up the challenge of launching a deaconess home and hospital in Minneapolis. But she returned to Brooklyn in 1891 after a dispute with the Minneapolis board. In 1895, she returned to Norway and married her sweetheart, Ola Skettebø, happily living out the rest of her days. She was an honored guest at the 1904 dedication of the deaconesses' new 90-bed hospital in Brooklyn.

Elizabeth Feddee (front row, center)
Elisabeth Fedde (front row, center)

Over the years the New York deaconesses' social service work grew to include a day nursery and Camp Norge, a 40-acre farm in Rockland County, N.Y., where children living in poverty could spend three weeks of summer vacation. The deaconesses also kept many poor families alive during the Great Depression.

In 1956, the Lutheran Norwegian Deaconesses' Home and Hospital and Lutheran Hospital of Manhattan became the Brooklyn-based Lutheran Medical Center. Today the ELCA-affiliated institution provides a 462-bed academic teaching hospital, community health care, rehabilitation, senior housing and more.


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