SARAH J. ELLIOTT (June 19, 1852-Jan. 3, 1908)
Born in Pottsville, PA, Sarah Elliott had an active and varied career. After her parents died, she became a public school teacher at age 15; some years later she and Sarah S. Hill founded the S.S.S.S. Women’s Club (Schuylkill Shakespeare Student Society). After the death of her twin sister Emily, she attended the Women’s Medical College in Philadelphia, but left before receiving a degree because of health issues. Energized by the needs of those afflicted by the Johnstown Flood, she worked so hard to bring comfort to those in need that Dr. William S. Rainsford, the “revolutionary” rector of St. George’s in New York, asked her to work at his mission as a “medical deaconess.” Two years later she moved to Utah, where she worked with Native Americans, taught, served as a medical resource, and founded a second club–The Busy Women’s Club. She was consecrated as the first deaconess in Utah on Oct. 15, 1899 by Bishop Abiel Leonard. After serving for several years in Salt Lake City, she returned to St. George’s in New York, traveling widely to lecture about the status of women. When her health declined, she moved to her brother’s home in Oxnard, CA, where she was active at All Saints until she died.
“Church People See Mission Exhibits.” San Francisco Chronicle, Oct. 6, 1901, p.15.
“Ministers Oppose Roberts.” Washington Times, Dec. 4, 1899, p. 1
“Most Estimable Lady Taken from Us.” Oxnard Courier, Jan. 10, 1908, p. 8.
SGCS at 200: The Revolutionary William S. Rainsford.” St. George’s Choral Society.
CLARA ENID ORWIG (Jan. 5, 1893-Jan. 5, 1976)
Deaconess Clara Orwig, who served at the Nevada Ft. McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone Reservation, was set aside as a deaconess in 1936. Described as an “individualist” and “a very faithful worker in the mountains,” her 1943 report mentions a congregation of 106 for the Christmas Day service, as well as a pump house explosion that fell within 15 feet of the Chapel and a “siege of whooping cough” that postponed the Easter celebration. In 1946 she moved to Chicago, undertaking City Mission work in place of Deaconess Katherine Putnam, who had transferred to China. Her memorial service took place at St. James Cathedral; she is buried in Toledo, Ohio.
“Deaconess Clara Orwig,” in “Deaconesses at Work.” The Deaconess, June, 1943.
Obituary. Chicago Tribune, Jan. 8, 1976, p. 12.
Rima Lunin Schultz, “Deaconesses in Twentieth Century Chicago.” Anglican and Episcopal History, 73.3 (September 2004), pp. 335-362.
HARRIET BEDELL (March 19, 1875 – January 8, 1969
Remembered in the Calendar of Saints, Harriet Bedell is known for her missionary work among the Cheyennes at the Whirlwind Mission in Oklahoma and in Alaska, where she was set aside as a deaconess. During the Great Depression, she served in Florida at the Mikasuki-Seminole reservation. For mor information about her life, see resources below.
ADELINE BLANCHARD TYLER (Dec. 8, 1805-Jan. 9, 1875)
After her husband John Tyler died, Adeline Blanchard, raised as a Congregationalist, was set aside as an Episcopal deaconess in 1853. She received nursing training at the Deaconesses’ Institute in Kaiserwerth, Germany; then, in 1856 she was called to establish an infirmary for the destitute in Baltimore, where she became head deaconess at St. Andrew’s Infirmary. Four years later, in keeping with the sentiment of the times, she was replaced by a man appointed to take charge of the infirmary’s finances.
Her involvement in the Baltimore riots of April 1861, when she braved the displeasure of the guards on duty to help the wounded, and her insistence on feeding the hungry prisoners regardless of their political stance defined her personality. Health problems forced her resignation from head nurse at the Naval School Hospital in Annapolis, and after a vacation in England, she returned to become “Lady Superintendent” at the Boston Children’s Hospital. Retiring three years later, she died of complications from breast cancer in 1875.
Hay, Thomas Robson. “Tyler, Adeline Blanchard.” Notable American Women, 1607-1950: A Biographical Dictionary, Vol. 3, pp. 491-493.
Photo (between 1861 and 1865) by Matthew B. Brady, from the Liljenquist Family Collection of Civil War Photographs. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress).
EDITH CHARLOTTE SMITH (Sept. 18, 1871-Jan. 11, 1942)
After graduating from the New York Training School, Edith Smith was set aside as a deaconess on Oct. 4, 1896, at Grace Church. From 1902-1909 she served at the socially active Church of the Apostles, where she was joined by Deaconess Alice J. Knight and Pauline L. Neidhardt in residence at the Deaconess Home and shelter for young working girls. By 1918, she was serving at St. Peter’s Church in Morristown, NJ and had become active in the Girl’s Friendly Society, whose meeting that year was postponed because of the influenza epidemic. Once she herself recovered from the flu, she offered her services for four months to help set up GFSA camp training sessions; she then went to Dover, NJ, to determine the needs of girl working in a munitions factory. In 1922 she became a member of the groundbreaking commission that specified an ordination rite as well as the ministry of a deaconess. Three years later she applied for a passport in January 1925, = traveled to England, and returned in October of the same year. By 1938 she was active in the Retiring Fund for Deaconesses, serving as a treasurer and offering her home in Morristown to those who attended the meeting. She died on Jan. 11, 1942 and is buried in Green Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.
(More information about her service in New Jersey is forthcoming.)
“Bishop’s Address.” Journal of the One Hundred and Fourteenth Convention of the Diocese of New York. NY: J. J. Little & Co., 1897.
The Churchman. Vol. 74, 1896, p. 421, 434, 668.
Edelblute, Lucius A. The History of the Church of the Holy Apostles. New York: 1949. (Courtesy of The Church of the Holy Apostles.)
G.F.S.A. Associates’ Record. Feb. 1918, pp. 4, 22, 133.
“Marriage No Bar to Deaconess’ Rank.” The Brooklyn Standard Union, Aug. 18, 1922, p. 5.
“The Mid-Winter Meeting of The Retiring Fund for Deaconesses.” The Deaconess. Feb. 1938.
MERCEDES GORE (Feb. 15, 1879 -Jan. 13, 1944)
Mercedes Gore, who graduated from the Church Training and Deaconess House in Pennsylvania in 1911, volunteered to join Deaconess Frances B. Affleck at the Settlement House in Mexico City. Deaconess Gore, who was fluent in Spanish, was described as “just the sort of capable, energetic, devoted, Christian woman” who was needed. By 1915 she was working with the coal miners at the St. Thomas mission in Glen Carbon, Illinois, where Bishop Edward Osborne praised her for winning “respect and affection” for her work. As he writes, “Her clubs for the big girls are a very great influence for good.” At her death, which took place after a period of ill health, she was described as “a devout person . . . always proud of her profession as a Deaconess.”
“Deaconess Gore Found Dead in her Home.” The Cuba Review (Cuba, MS), Jan. 20, 1944, p. 1.
“In Memoriam: Deaconess Mercedes Gore.” The Deaconess. May 1944, n.p.
“Mercedes Gore.” Ancestry.com.
“Some of Our Representatives: Deaconess Mercedes Gore. The Spirit of Missions, Nov. 1911, p. 922.
“Work Among Coal Miners.” Annual Report of the Board of Missions for the Fiscal Year September 1, 1915, to September 30, 1916, p. 111.
LEONORA MARIE KELTON (May 16, 1875-Jan. 14, 1946)
Deaconess Leonora Kelton began her work as a missionary to Cuba, where she had family roots, after serving as an instructor in music at the Darlington Seminary in West Chester and training at the Philadelphia Deaconess School (1905-1907). She left for Guanatamo on the steamer Seguranca on Sept. 6th, 1907.
In Cuba she became head of the school at the Mission of Constancia, ten hours from Havana near Cienfuegos. he school, built on the plantation estate of the Colonial Sugar company, was initially housed in decaying Army barracks.Her article in the Feb. 11, 1911 issue of The Spirit of Missions describes the way the first group of poorly prepared children were taught to read bilingually and count, and given clothing and a religious education. Returning to New York, she spent time at Holy Trinity Chapel and then moved to Sacramento, where she was set aside as a deaconess by Bishop Moreland on May 16, 1917. She was the moving force behind the establishment of the St. Barnabas Community House, where she headed the first Interdenominational and Interracial Sunday School. She was also involved in the revival of the Home of the Merciful Savior for invalid children.
“In Memoriam.” The Deaconess, June 1946. Project Canterbury.
Kelton, Leonora M. “The Island of Sugar.” The Spirit of Missions, 76.2, Feb. 1911, pp. 133-135.
Letter. Journal of the Fourth Annual of the Church in the Missionary District of Cuba Held in Havana, Oct. 11, 1909, p. 69.
“A Nurse for the Phillipines.” The Spirit of Missions, 72.11, Nov. 1907, p. 906. (Photo)
EVELYN ELIZABETH SEYMOUR (1907?-Jan. 15, 1999)
Evelyn Elizabeth Seymour served a long life of ministry throughout the United States. She was born in Stamford, Connecticut in 1907(?). Ms. Seymour graduated from the New York Training School for Deaconesses and Scarritt College. She was set aside as a deaconess in 1938 and began her 39 years of diaconal ministry first as a missionary in the archdeanery of the Blue Ridge in Virginia in the years 1938 to 1945. Her next field of service took her to the Diocese of Eau Clair from 1945-1949.
Deaconess Seymour next journeyed to the Missionary District of Salina, Kansas where she was worker-in-charge of St. Faith’s House from 1949 to 1954. Then from 1954 to 1962 she became librarian in the overseas department of Church Mission House, New York, NY.
Deaconess Seymour returned to missionary work in the Missionary District of Eastern Oregon from 1962 to 1967. Her missionary work began in Wallowa County in northeast Oregon until October 1963 when she was transferred to the southern part of the state to St. Luke’s, Lakeview, Oregon, where she remained until 1966. That year, her bishop, Bishop Lane Barton, transferred her back to the eastern border of Oregon. She was to serve under the rector of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, Baker, and she was directed to lead interdenominational work between the Presbyterian churches and the Episcopal church. At the time there was a great influx of workers for the new Oxbow Dam and the new hydroelectric power generation, and she lived in a house courtesy of the Idaho Power Company.
Her next field of mission was assistant of All Saints’, Wichita Falls, TX from 1967 to 1969. She then became director of Religious Education at Incarnation, Dallas, TX 1969-1970. Deaconess Seymour returned to the east coast in 1971 where she served as deacon at St. James’, Fairhope, AL. In 1977, Bishop George Murray ordained Elizabeth Seymour as the first female priest in the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast.
The Rev. Seymour then retired in 1979 but did not remain idle. She served as chaplain of Mobile (AL) Hospital and visiting chaplain to the nursing home and hospital, and vicar of St. Mary’s by-the-Sea, Coden, AL from 1980 to 1983. The Rev. Seymour was 91 years old when she died on January 15, 1999, at St. Thomas Hospital, Fairhope, AL.
Cossell, Dorothy. “Tricks of the Trade Taught at Home Improvement Classes.” Times Dispatch, Sept. 7, 1941, p. 31.
“Deaconesses There and Here.” The Deaconess, Feb. 1953, p. 11.
The Deaconess And her Ministry in the Episcopal Church. Executive Committee of the National Conference of Deaconesses, 1949.
Kennington, The Rev. Albert. DIOCGC (The Episcopal Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast).
“Obituary—Evelyn Elizabeth Seymour.” The Living Church, March 14, 1999, p. 218.
The Oregon Trail Churchman, October 1963, 1966. Archives of the Episcopal Diocese of Eastern Oregon.
“Spartan Does Missionary Work in District; Entertains Vets.” The La Crosse Tribune, May 8, 1947, p. 17.
“Tricks of the Trade Taught at Home Improvement Classes.”
(Submitted by The Rev. Dcn. Georgia Giacobbe, Historiographer/archivist Diocese of Eastern Oregon)
EVA HAMMITT CRUMP (?-1941)
After graduating from the New York Training School, Deaconess Crump was set aside by The Rt. Rev. David H. Greer, Bishop Coadjutator of New York, at Grace Church on May 15th, 1907.
Deaconess Eva served in Spartanberg, where she was welcomed into the diocese by The Rev. W. H. Pendleton of the Church of the Advent. She was put in charge of St. John’s Mission and school in the Spartan Mill Village of High Shoals, North Carolina, where she served with her good friend Deaconess Mary Louise Kneeves. Both are described as “gentle Deaconesses” who “are loved by everybody for the good they do”; and in a newspaper article published in 1958, a family visitor to High Shoals remembers “how wonderful the deaconess was.” After retiring and living in England with Deaconess Kneeves, she returned to the United States. Because of a stroke in 1938, she moved to a nursing home until her death in 1941. She is buried in Dale Cemetery, Ossining NY.
The Deaconess, May 1941.
Journal of the 121st Annual Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church, 1911.
“Miracle of Prayer May Save the Church.” The Charlotte Observer, April 13, 1958, p. 14C.
“Parochial School Opens.” The Charlotte Observer, Nov. 20, 1907, p. 3.
(Photo: “St. John’s Mission School, High Shoals, N.C.” Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Collection.)
JANUARY BIRTH DATE
PAULINE WEIDENSEE WHIPPLE (Jan. 1869-?)
Deaconess Weidensee spent much of her career serving St. Mark’s in Minneapolis. After graduating from high school and studying music, she completed the Deaconess Training School in St. Paul in 1897 and was set apart by Bishop Mahlon Norris Gilbert. She then became trained in a kindergarten teacher at St. Stephen’s Mission, and in 1903 became a staff member at St. Mark’s.
She was called by the Bishop of Puerto Rico to serve as a missionary, where one of her accomplishments was teaching large class of Porto Rican children. At St. John’s she was in charge of the Spanish Sunday School classes as superintendent. secretary, organist, and treasurer, and increased the attendance three-fold. After she left Puerto Rico, she married George N. Whipple in Aug. 1907.
“A Year’s Work at San Juan, Porto Rico.” The Churchman, June 9, 1906, p. 940.
The Churchman, Jan. 21, 1899, p. 121.
Memorial Volume and History of St.Mark’s Parish, Minneapolis, Minn.
The Spirit Of Missions, Jan. 1906, P. 28.
EDITH A. BOOTH (Dec. 20, 1905-Feb. 2, 1997)
In 1913, at the age of eight, Edith Booth came to Everett, Mass. from Oldham in Lancashire, England. After working as a secretary with General Electric in Boston, she attended the New York Training School for Deaconesses and was set aside in 1933 by Bishop William Manning. After a number of posts, she became the missionary in charge at St. Mark’s 1n 1937, and then, in 1943, the director of the Handicraft Guild.
From 1954 to 1968 she was in charge of the Central House of Deaconesses in Evanston, IL. There she and Deaconess Amelia Brereton led the movement to revitalize the deaconess calling; their goal was to confirm “the joy of dedication and vocation in the grace conferred” by the order, a movement that eventually led to the decision to admit women to the diaconate (Schultz). In 1972 she relocated to St. John’s Episcopal Church in Kissimmee, FL.
Edith Booth. “Meet the Deaconesses A-F.” Fund for the Diaconate.
Shultz, Rima Lunin. “’To Realize the Joy of Dedication and Vocation in the Grace Conferred in Our Order’: Deaconesses in Twentieth Century Chicago.” Anglican and Episcopal History, Vol. 73, No. 3 (Sept. 2004), pp. 335-362.
“Experiences in Learning.” The McHenry Plaindealer, Aug. 8, 1969, p. 1. (Photo)
ANNETTE RELF (July 12, 1840-Feb. 16, 1915)
The first to become an Episcopal deaconess in Minnesota, Sister Annette Relf spent her life in charity work.
Set aside by Bishop Henry Benjamin Whipple at Gethsemane Church in Minnesota on Jan. 3, 1875,* she became the nurse at Cottage Hospital (which eventually became St. Barnabas Hospital in Minneapolis) and District Visitor for the parish. In 1882 she began work to found the Minneapolis orphanage Sheltering Arms, which she funded; two years later she began the Church Home for Babies. In 1894 she turned her attention to organizing what became the Episcopal Homes in St. Paul for children and older women. There she served as matron and nurse and in 1909 as resident.
“Charity Worker Passes.” Star Tribune, Feb. 17, 1915, p. 8. (*The obituary names Bishop Knickerbocker as presiding.)
Fotch, Marcia. “Episcopal Church Home Begins Its Second Century.” Ramsey County History, Fall 1995, pp. 22-23.
Prior, Brian N. “Sister Annette Relf Day.”
GERTRUDE BOUCHER MOSHER KNIGHT (Nov. 10, 1866- Feb. 20, 1948)
Set apart at Grace Church in New York on Oct. 4, 1896 by Bishop James Potter, Gertrude Mosher travelled with her brother, Deacon Gouverneur Mosher, to China. They left for London on Oct. 17th and arrived in Shanghai two months later. Both served under Bishop Frederick R. Graves, who ordained The Rev. Mosher to the priesthood in Hankow in 1898. While in China, the deaconess supervised St. Mary’s Orphanage in Shanghai until she was transferred to Wuchang, where she held weekly meetings for the women and visited them in their homes. She enjoyed writing, and on Oct. 30, 1897, published an article in The Churchman entitled “A Chinese Betrothal.” Ultimately, under her watch, a Woman’s Auxiliary was formed. In 1900 she returned to the United States and married The Rev. Franklin Knight, with whom she had four children. Her funeral services were held at St. Paul’s in Holyoke, MA.
Mosher, Deaconess Gertrude. “A Chinese Betrothal.” The Churchman, Oct. 27, 1897, pp. 556-557.
“Mrs. Hawley’s Legacy—the Deaconess and the Bishop.” Grain Once Scattered.
Obituary. “Mrs. F. J. Knight Dies at 81.” The Berkshire County Eagle, Feb. 25, 1948, p. 4.
ALICE JONES KNIGHT (Jan. 21, 1860-Feb. 21, 1919)
Alice J. Knight was born in Massachusetts on 21 January 1860. Her parents were Dr. Elan and Mary J. Knight, and she had a sister named Jennie. Alice was reared in New England. She first found service as a soldier of the cross in the Salvation Army but after nine years she found it limited and resigned. She lived in New York and became a member of the staff of the Church of the Holy Apostles, New York, NY. While there, she prepared for her studies as a deaconess, took her examinations, and was set apart as a deaconess at the Church of the Holy Apostles. After several years, she decided to follow the rector, Robert Paddock, who had become the new Bishop of the Missionary District of Eastern Oregon.
She was transferred to Eastern Oregon in 1908. By her own admission, the work given to her was far different than most deaconesses. She began her work in Cove Oregon, where she was to give church instruction particularly to the women and children. Her work in the district was a hard, vagabond life traveling from town to town when no services of clergy could be obtained. Traveling by stagecoach, she would arrive in a town giving lectures and if staying long enough, read Sunday service in a home, schoolhouse, or rented hall. If enough interest had been generated, she helped establish Guilds, Sunday Schools, and brought people to baptism and confirmation under her instruction. Additionally, Deaconess Knight served as secretary to Bishop Paddock. Deaconess Knight continued on her missionary work in Eastern Oregon until 1917, when she traveled to the east for the summer and applied for work overseas in WWI. She was given work in the Y.M.C.A. Canteen and later transferred to the Educational Department. She was stationed in a large camp near Tours when she was taken ill. Deaconess Knight was hospitalized and died of pneumonia on 21 February 1919 at Camp Hospital #43 at Gievres, France.
“Alice J. Knight.” Find a Grave.
Alumnae Bulletin, June, 1919. Issued by the Alumnae Association of the New York Training School for Deaconesses.
Deaconess Knight. “Eight Months in Eastern Oregon.” Spirit of Missions, August 1909, pg. 712-713.
Fargey, Kathleen M. “The Deadliest Enemy: The U.S. Army and Influenza, 1918-1919.” Army History, Spring 2019, pp. 24-39.
(Submitted by The Rev. Dcn. Georgia Giacobbe, Historiographer/archivist Diocese of Eastern Oregon)
KATE NEWELL [JONES] (1843-Feb. 21, 1914)
“Sister Kate,” as she was called, was in the first graduating class of the New York Training School for Deaconesses, along with Sarah K. Barker and Mary E. Greene. Before she became a deaconess, she was a patent lawyer; first employed in in Washington, she opened an office on Broadway in New York, becoming the only female patent lawyer in the city. The three graduates were set aside by Bishop Henry C. Potter at Grace Church on Oct. 2, 1892. Sister Kate served at Grace Church for twenty years. She also became the secretary to the new branch of the Girls’ Friendly Society, and along with Sarah Barker received in recognition for her work a gold medal from Bishop David H. Greer in Nov. 1912. She is buried in the Weed family plot in Kensico Cemetery, Valhalla, New York.
“Deaconess Kate Newell.” Frugal Geneology.“The First Deaconesses.” Pittsburg Dispatch, Oct. 3, 1892, p. 4.
“From Bar to Church.” St. Paul Daily Globe, Nov. 26, 1892, p. 7.
“Medals for Deaconesses.” The Churchman, Nov. 9, 1912, p. 632.
EMMA BRITT DRANT (?-February? 1932)
Emma Britt Drant was born in Cincinnati, Ohio. After she married at an early age, her husband abandoned her. After studying general nursing, she apprenticed with the most famous American obstetrician, became the head nurse in a Detroit hospital, and co-wrote one of the most widely published hospital cookbooks. She studied at the Philadelphia school for deaconesses where she was given special permission to work in one of the worst city slums. After being “set apart” as a deaconess on April 3, 1895 by Bishop Boyd Vincent at St. Paul’s in Cincinnati, Drant devoted herself to ministry in the Cincinnati slums. For health reasons, she went to Orlando where she taught in a Church school for African Americans, while rescuing the diocesan hospital from near bankruptcy. Returning to Cincinnati as the Bishop’s full-time secretary, she also worked with African Americans at St. Andrew’s Mission. She was eager to minister in Hawaii, and at the new bishop’s urging, raised her own money. In Hawaii, she studied Chinese and began a Chinese-speaking congregation, drawing in Daniel Ng (commemorated on the Episcopal Church calendar as Daniel Wu). Raising private money, she supervised the construction of several church buildings, and the group became a parish. Returning to Chicago for renewed health reasons, she discovered no active Chinese ministry in San Francisco, so she stayed and started one. At the time of the 1906 Earthquake and Fire, the Chinese were forced out of San Francisco, and Drant accompanied her congregation to a Chinese-only refugee camp in Oakland. There she started a local congregation, while maintaining the San Francisco group; she was the only non-Chinese known to be in a Chinese refugee camp. When one group returned to San Francisco, she raised the money and supervised the construction of a building for them, while also maintaining regular worship in Oakland. Needing help, she brought Daniel Ng from Hawaii and supported his admission to the local seminary and eventual ordination. Canonically, deaconesses were supposed to be under the supervision of a local priest; however, in most of her ministry Drant was free from that restriction because the Florida, Hawaii, and California bishops had no jurisdiction over her. Also, since she raised her own support, they had no financial responsibility for her. Following her time in California, Drant returned to work in the Cincinnati slums, a prison, and a tuberculosis hospital. Having no home, she went to live in the Presbyterian Guest House, in Brooklyn, New York, and died in a local hospital.
With many thanks to John Rawlinson, Diocese of California
Drant, Deaconess. “True Sunshine Chinese Camp, Lake Merritt, Okland, Cal.”Spirit of Missions, 1906, pp. 704-704.
Howe, The Rev. C. Fletcher. The First Fifty Years of St. Elizabeth’s Church.
“Retired Deaconess Dies.” The Cincinnati Enquirer, March 2, 1932, p. 3.
“Why Chinaman Wept.” Austin American-Statesman, Sept. 2, 1904, p. 5.
100 Years of History: Episcopal Church of Our Saviour (True Sunshine Mission). (Photo) See also Fund for the Diaconate, A-F.
JULIA ADELINE CLARK (March 7, 1889-July 2, 1951)
Julia Clark, the daughter of a well-known New England pioneer family living in Pasadena, California, was educated at Smith College and graduated from the Philadelphia Training School. She was set apart as a deaconess on Aug. 12, 1913 by Bishop Joseph Horsfall Johnson at All Saints Church. Shortly after, on Aug. 26, she sailed for Hankow, China, where she began her 37 years as a missionary. She learned Mandarin and so could serve as a translator; she became assistant principal at St. Hilda’s School for Girls, although she preferred her non-administrative work with Chinese women. The conflict she faced between the perception of Western imperialism and Chinese culture is discussed in detail in Foreign Exchange, which provides the perspective of one of the students who was eventually baptized and became a faithful Episcopalian. During the war years, Deaconess Clark writes of bombings and her work with American soldiers, which included siphoning medicine from container ships, nursing, and preparing bodies for burial. She was called upon to help in rescuing children whose parents had been attacked, and because of the large number of communicants at an Army base was asked to serve at the altar, which was not allowed for deaconesses; but as the Chinese bishop told her “You are a Chinese deaconess out here.” In 1950, shortly after the Chinese Communist Party took control of the country and expelled foreign teachers, she left for the United States, arriving after a four-month journey. Suffering from bronchial pneumonia, she died several months after her brother, Bishop Stephen Clark of Utah.
“Episcopalian Missionary Deaconess Clark Dies.” Los Angeles Times, July 4, 1951, p. 27.
Liu, Judith. Foreign Exchange: Counterculture Behind the Walls of St. Hilda’s School for Girls, 1929-1937. Lehigh UP, 2011.
“Missionaries: War Years of a Deaconess.” The Living Church, Nov. 14, 1943, p. 5.
Peterman, Cynthia. “Murder! Orphans! Escape! A Little-Known Story Uncovered in the Files of the American Consulate at Kunming, China.”
“Popular Girl Goes to China.” Los Angeles Times, Aug. 13, 1913, p. 17.
GERTRUDE STEWART (March 26, 1881-March 11, 1965)
Graduating from the Philadelphia Church Training and Deaconess House in 1904, Gertrude Stewart traveled to Hankow as a missionary. Four years later she was set aside as a deaconess in Wuchang and until 1927 worked at the Hankow mission (in 1949 Wuchang was merged with Hankow and Hanyang to become Wuhan).
While there, she adopted either two daughters; records show a third adoption. She left invaluable records of her work, not only through letters but also articles, like her account of the first Chinese Deaconesses in the Spirit of Missions, one of whom was Deaconess Han (see December Commemorations). In 1927 she returned to the United States to serve as the director of the Philadelphia Training House for four years, and then spent another ten years as the director of Bible Women’s Work in Hankow. Retiring as a missioner but not as a deaconess, in 1928 she served on the Commission on Adapting the Office of Deaconess to Present Tasks of the Church and held numerous positions, despite her ongoing health problems. Living at the Leamy Home in Philadelphia, she continued to volunteer at Grace Church and the Episcopal Hospital in addition to serving on the Chinese Christian Church and Center committee, founding the Windham House Alumnae Association, and editing the newsletter. She is buried at Evergreen Cemetery, in Vermont.
Multiple references to her status as a trustee and publications officer, as well as personal accounts of family and visits may be found here: Newsletter (Church Training and Deaconess House 1891-1938 and St. Mary’s House 1938-1952), May 1956.
“Gertrude Stewart Booklet” (Two letters describing her 1918 work in Hankow).
Donovan, Mary S. A Different Call: Women’s Ministries in the Episcopal Church, 1850-1920. (Photo, p.122).
ISABELLA MORRIS GILMORE (July 17, 1842-March 15, 1923)
Isabella Gilmore, the first Head Deaconess (Diocese of Rochester & Southwark) in the Church of England and sister of William Morris, spearheaded the deaconess movement under the auspices of Bishop Anthony Thorold, who ordained her on April 16, 1887. As Head Deaconess she instituted a rigorous training program in nursing, theology, and hands-on work with the poor and sick. She is remembered in a bas-relief at Southwark Cathedral as “A servant of the church” and “A succourer of many.” (See the complete listing in Ormond Plater, “A Calendar of Deacon Saints.”)
“Deaconess Gilmore: Memories Collected by Deaconess Elizabeth Robinson.” NY and Toronto: Macmillan, 1924.
Grierson Janet. Isabella Gilmore: Sister to William Morris. London: SPCK, 1962.
Hamey, Baldwin. “London Details: Isabella Gilmore.”
“Memorial to Deaconess Isabella Gilmore.” The Victorian Web. (Photo)
Sharp, Frank. “Isabella Morris Gilmore.” Morris Society.Hamey, Baldwin. “London Details: Isabella Gilmore.”
Maria Page Williams (Aug 11 1875–March 15, 1957)
Born in Lynchchburg, VA, Maria Williams, alumna of the New York Training School, was set apart as deaconess on May 11, 1911, by Bishop David Greer of the Diocese of New York.
She spent her career in the coal mining town of Dante, VA, where she served at St. Mark’s Mission and ministered to a disparate racial population of mountain people and Italians and Hungarians. The programs she initiated included children’s classes, including summer kindergarten, sewing classes, and ministry among the people of the area. She was highly regarded; at her retirement, over 1500 people signed a Book of Remembrance and contributed to a donation “an attempt to show how much they loved her and appreciated her many years of service and her many kind deeds.”
“Deaconess Williams Retirement.” The Deaconess, Feb. 1938.
Forty-five Years of the United Thank Offering. The Woman’s Auxiliary to the National Council. (Photo)
Obituary. The Living Church, April 21, p. 23.
LAURA MAY KNEPPER (Feb. 29, 1880- March 31, 1973)
Laura May was the daughter of George Knepper, Lewis-Clark State College’s first president. When she met with her classmates on the first day or courses in January 1896, she was just fifteen years old and had been living in Lewiston for only two months. During her time at the Normal, she was active in the Sunday school at the old Presbyterian Church once located at 1018 Main Street.
After graduation from the Normal in the first class, she moved to Moscow, Idaho, and began teaching while also enrolling in courses at the University of Idaho, earning a bachelor’s degree in music in 1903.After her father was unceremoniously dismissed from his office at LCSC that year, he moved to Kansas with his wife and younger children. Laura’s life took another path.
In July 1905, she applied for entrance at the New York School for Deaconesses, an institution operated by the Episcopal Church to prepare women for missionary and educational work. A cross between a nun and a nurse, “the Deaconess takes no vows beyond the vow ‘to endeavor faithfully to fulfill the duties of her office’ and to obey her Bishop and ‘those over her in the Lord.’” Deaconesses remained celibate and wore a distinctive blue habit.
Knepper was consecrated in 1907 and began service as an assistant at the House of Mercy in Washington, D.C., where her superiors remarked that “she was very much beloved by the girls and exerts an excellent influence over others.” Assigned to Provo, Utah, the diocese noted that her being in charge of an important project “probably accounts for a great deal of the success and happiness.”
In the following years, she worked at parochial schools in Idaho, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Hawai’i, where she and her sister Margaret served the St. Mary’s Home for Japanese Children in Honolulu.
Knepper retired in 1949 after a two-year assignment in New Orleans and eventually returned to Idaho, dying in a Twin Falls nursing home in March 1973 at age 93.
From The Words That Were Our Names. Spokane WA: Gray Dog Press, 2019, p.77.
Steven Branting, Institutional Historian
Lewis-Clark State College, Lewiston, Idaho
Donovan, Mary S. “Women Missionaries in Utah.” Anglican and Episcopal History, 66.2 (June 1997): 154-174.
“Knepper.” Times-News (Twin Falls, Idaho), April 5, 1973, p. 2.
Laura May Knepper.” Ancestry.com.
News of Deaconesses: From Hawaii.” The Deaconess, June 1945, n.p.
[Photo: 1944, courtesy of the Episcopal Diocese of Hawaii.]
ELIZABETH GEIST NEWBOLD (Feb. 22, 1877-March 31, 1965)
Elizabeth Newbold, who was born in Newport, Delaware, graduated from the Pennsylvania Deaconess House in 1907 having been appointed by The Rev. Dr. John McKim as a missionary in the District of Tokyo the previous year. She worked in Uramachi, Aomori, Japan, for eight years and then was set aside as a deaconess by Bishop McKim in 1915.
Two years later she returned to the United States for the second time. Invited to speak about her experiences, she was praised by The Rev. William Dorwart not only as “a lady of culture,” one who had “an intelligent grasp of conditions in Japan.” Among her publications are a 1912 book entitled the Honorable Little Miss Love: O Ai Chan, a 1921 article detailing mission work, and several articles in The Living Church (Sept. 29, 1917), including one about teaching a class of Japanese children and another about visiting the Leper Settlement in Aomori to assist in a confirmation ceremony. In 1924 she retired from Japanese mission work and took interim charge of St. Martha’s House in Philadelphia during Deaconess Colesbury’s leave of absence. She became involved in the movement to create an Associate’s branch in the Episcopal Church and held a number of positions, retiring in name only in October 1946, after which she taught Bible classes at St. Mary’s Hall in Burlington, NJ, and traveled weekly to Philadelphia to help with the Lending Library and the Auxiliary. She died after a fall and is buried at Greenwood Cemetery in Lancaster, PA.
“Announcements.” Spirit of Missions, July 1906, p. 592.
“Church Notes: Episcopal.” The News (Newport, PA), Nov. 13, 1917, p. 1.
“Miss Elizabeth G. Newbold is Ordered a Deaconess.” Harrisburg Telegraph, Sept. 30. 1915, p. 4.
Newbold, Elizabeth Geist. “Daily ‘Dendo’ in Dai Nippon.” The Spirit of Missions, June 1921, pp. 414-416. (Photo).
—. “Hill Village, et al., vs. Happy Rice Field, et al.” The Living Church, Sept. 29, 197, pp. 699-700.”\
—. Honorable Little Miss Love: (O Ai Chan). New York: Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, 1912.
—. “There Are Not Found That Returned to Give Glory to God Save This Stranger.” The Living Church, July 10, 1920, p. 367.—.
Newbold, Elizabeth Geist, and Sarah R. Thomas. “Corporate Devotions.” The Newsletter, Dec. 1959-May 1960, n.p.
“Rites Saturday for Deaconess Newbold.” Daily Intelligencer Journal, April 2, 1965, p. 2.
ELSIE WILHEMINA RIEBE (Feb. 21, 1887-March 31, 1959)
After teaching for three years in the Public Schools of North Dakota, Deaconess Riebe attended the New York Training School for Deaconesses, graduating in 1912 as the only one from North Dakota to do so. She worked for two years in the Diocese of Western Massachusetts and at the Church of the Holy Communion in New York. Set apart in October 1914 in the Chapel of Church Missions House by Bishop Lloyd, President of the Board of Missions, she traveled to China to work in the Missionary District of Hankow, China, serving the Church at Ichang in Hupeh.
In 1942 The Secretary of State wrote that she and The Rev. Walter Morse “were taken without explanation to Japanese headquarters where she was struck many times with bamboo pole and he was beaten for 2 hours with iron rod one-half inch thick. These acts of cruelty were committed in presence of commanding officer of Japanese police in Ichang.” The response five years later by the International Military Tribunal is that the charges had “no foundation in fact.” Deaconess Riebe was furloughed in the U.S for four years during the war, returning as soon as she could after the Japanese invasion. She helped many refugees to escape; she helped many Church people to be released when they were arrested on trumped-up charges. Finally, her buildings, her supplies and medicines were taken from her, forcing her to be returned to this country again. She retired in 1952 and lived in Jamestown, ND, until her death seven years later.
International Military Tribunal for the Far East, Jan. 9, 1947.
The Living Church, Sept. 13, 1942 (Photo).
Office of the Historian, Foreign Relations of the United States, Vol. 1.
“Only N.D. Episcopal Deaconess, 72, Dies.” The Bismark Tribune, April 1, 1959, p. 21.
ELIZABETH CATHERINE FERARD (February 22,1825 –April 18, 1883)
Elizabeth Ferard, founder of the Community of St. Andrew, was set aside as the first Anglican deaconess on July 18, 1862 by Archbishop Archibald Alexander Tait.
RUTH BYLLESBY (March 9, 1865-April 25, 2012)
Deaconess Ruth Byllesby was set aside as a Saint of Georgia on April 15, 2012, by Bishop Henry Louttit in a ceremony at Christ Church, Augusta.
Ruth Ellis Byllesby was born 9 March 1865 in Meadville, PA where her father, Marison Byllesby, was the rector of Christ Episcopal Church. She graduated from Meadville high school and then studied at Brooke Hall in Media, PA. From 1894-96 she studied at the Philadelphia Deaconess Training School She was set apart November 17, 1896 at Trinity Church in Pittsburgh by Bishop Whitehead, and began a ministry serving working class women and children in Pittsburgh. In 1904 she moved to Morristown, New Jersey, where she served as a parish deaconess for several years. From 1913-1922 she served as a parish deaconess in Detroit. She served as a parish deaconess for Christ Church, Augusta from 1927 to 1943, when she retired. Two members of her family had provided an endowment for Settlement House work, and that is what she created in Georgia, turning the Christ Church rectory into Neighborhood House to serve the mill families of the Harrisburg area. She provided basic needs for families and children throughout the depression, ran a Sunday School serving more than 200 children, started a young mother’s club and advocated for education for girls. For this work, the Diocese of Georgia has declared her a diocesan saint. In 1944 she spent the winter at St. Clare’s House in New York, then served at Ascension Parish in Pittsburgh from 1948-50. In 1950 Byllesby moved to Connecticut where her sister lived, but the next year she moved to Jacksonville, Florida. She died April 25, 1959 in St. John’s Florida. (With thanks to Joan Gundersen, Ph.D.)
MARY ELEANOR LIBBEY (? 1859-April 26, 1946)
Mary Eleanor Libbey spent most of her career in Boston, MA. Born in the South End of the city, she graduated from the New York Training School for Deaconesses in 1901 and was set aside as deaconess on Ascension Day, May 16, by Bishop William Lawrence. She was based at the Washington National Cathedral, returning to Emmanuel Church in Boston in October 1905. There she was given the duty to “work among the poor.” As she says, agreeing with social reformer Jacob Riis, hunger takes many forms; and so In 1906 she writes not only of providing much-needed items like shoes to impoverished members of the congregation, but also of offering the warmth of companionship in Welcome meetings, Mothers’ Meetings, and Bible classes. In 1907 she became the House Mother for the Students’ House (retiring in 1931), and over the years published many moving accounts in the Emmanuel Church Yearbook of the work that was accomplished there as well as at Fay Cottage, a summer home for mothers and children. She died unexpectedly on April 26th; her funeral was held in the Lindsey Memorial Chapel of Emmanuel Church, in Back Bay on April 29, 1946.
MAUDE TRUXTON HENDERSON (Dec. 4, 1866-April 30, 1956)
On Sept. 29, 1903, Maude Henderson arrived at Shanghai, returning home on April 17, 1946, via the S.S. Marine Phoenix. Originally serving in Soochow for two years after experience as a nurse in Boston and a New York tenement worker, she transferred to Shanghai, leaving the church mission to establish the orphanage called St. Faith’s House.
Known as the “Grandmother Many Babies” by her Chinese friends, she rescued foundlings from streets, refugee settlements, and war zones. Coming from a family well-known in military history, she is buried at Stonewall Jackson Cemetery in Lexington, VA.
Letters, papers, and images available at the University of North Carolina library.
“VA Woman Aids Babies in Shanghai.” The Bee, Dec. 10, 1937, p. 13.
“Virginian in China called ‘Grandmother Many Babies.” Richmond Times-Dispatch, Oct. 25, 1936, p. 8. (Photo)