Activities of Deaconesses Nurses in Latvia 1862-1940
In the history of the Baltic states several associations of nurses are known, for example, Begine or grey nurses; charity nurses of priest Vincent (1575 – 1660) from Paula (France) which was founded in November 29, 1633 in Paris; deaconesses nurses; medical nurses. Each association has its own history as well as deaconesses have and these associations played an important role in profession’s history and in the history of taking care of ill people in Latvia.
The diaconesses nurses as a movement was supported in such countries as Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Switzeland, Slovakia, the Baltic states (in Latvia) due to the activity of German priest Theodor Flidners (1800 – 1864). He gave the possibility to women to renew the occupation of the deacon in the Christian church and to help ill, old and poor people. Schools and hospitals of deaconesses were founded in many towns of Latvia: Riga, Yelgava, Ventspils and many others. The diaconesses had a rather wide range of responsibilities: care of ill people, work in hospitals, asylums, they educated people on hygiene problems and so on. The aim of this article is to review and analyze the activities of the deaconesses beginning from 1862 when they started their work till 1940 when they stopped it because of political repressions in Latvia. In order to show wider the activities of deaconesses and the range of their responsibilities the work of deaconesses in big Latvian towns was analyzed in this article.
Revival Time of the Peofession of Deaconesses
In ancient times the women who prepared people for christening, educated them in religious questions and helped the bishop during the christening were called ”deaconesses”. Diaconesses also helped poor and ill people. (Брокгауз Ф., Эфрон И., Энциклопедический словарь, том
20, Ляйпциг – С.-Петербург, 1893, 735)
The deaconesses movement was supported especially by the Protestant church due to the mission achievements in the second part of the 19-th century. Thus, in September 23, 1848 in Vitenberg (Germany) Heinrihs Vicherns (1808 – 1881) proclaimed his programme for the mission in which he used the word ”deaconia” (from Greek word ”to help”) and he meant to help people for Christ’s sake. The speech of Heinrihs Vicherns found a big understanding in the society, the council of the mission was organized and from this time Heinrihs Vicherns was considered to be the founder of deaconia. Firstly, Heinrihs Vicherns thought of deaconia as the work place for men. However, the renewal of the deaconesses’ ocuupation belogs to Theodor Flidners (1800 – 1864) who gave women the possibility to renew this occupation of the ancient church. He founded the perfect deacon House in Kaizersvert (Germany) in 1836 renewing the old activities such as poor and ill people care and spreading it in the society. Based on charity, deaconesses movement got big support not only in Germany in Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Switzeland and Slovakia, but in Latvia,too. (Freudenfelds K. Iekšmisija. Rīgā (LV), Ev. – Lut. Baznīcas virsvalde, 1939, 22)
In the Baltic states and in Latvia the hospitals and schools of deaconesses were in Riga, Yelgava, Ventspils and other towns of Kurzeme and Vidzeme. Joining the deaconesses nurses was held according to the certain demands, during studies and work they had to follow association uncial. (Vīksna A., “Pelēkās un citas māsas”, Veselība, Nr.9, septembris 1988, 28)
German Maria Deaconesses Evangelist Association in the Capital, Riga
In 1862 in the capital of Latvia, Riga when the territory of Latvia belonged to the Russian imperia (till 1918) the Russian imperator Maria supported the foundation of deaconesses association “Mari”. The aim of the association was to educate Christian Evangelist women in taking care of ill people and children, helping them, to provide women with a temporary shelter. On this purpose in 1866 the deacon House was founded in Riga. It was called Maria deacon
House – it was founded by Georgs Loesevitz who was also its first rector. (Heinrich W. Die Anfänge diakonischen Wirkens in Livland im 19. Jahrhundert. Beitrage zur őstdeutschen Kirchengeschichte Folge 5. Die Anfänge der Diakonie im őstlichen Europa, (Mȕnster, 2002) 24 -28. The deaconesses were taught in the deacon House. The deaconesses founded a hospital and an asylum for maids and servants, they had their own personal seal with a cross and the date of the foundation and the name of the association. The fund of the association was made by donations from volunteers and from the money earned by the work of deaconesses nurses. Women aged 18 and not older than 40 could become deaconesses, they should be widows or unmarried women belonging to Evangelist Lutheran confession. ( Statuten des Evangelichen Marie – Diakonissen – Bereins in Riga, 1864 30 October, Latvian State archives, ser. 2587, box 1 mape 5, page 113 – 15)
To join the deaconesses association and to gain the profession of the nurse candidates had to apply the inspector of the deacon House and to have the following documents: certificate of baptizing and confirmation, certificate from a priest confirming high moral qualities and moral life-style of a candidate, certificate from a doctor describing the condition of health, a written permission of parents or foster parents, personal ID, and education certificate. (Marien – Diakonissen – Anstalt in Riga, Bedingungen der Aufnahme zur Aiusbildung fȕr den Diakonissen – Beruf, (Jahresbericht R: Drick von Haecker 1867)21- 24
To become deaconesses nurses they had to undergo a six months long test. Later to get the right to perform their nurses’ responsibilities they had to take a two – year course. (Statuten der Evangelichen Marien – Diakonissen – in Riga, 1864 30 Oktober, Latvian State archives, ser. 2587, box 1 mape 5, page 113 – 15)
Acceptance procedure was held with sanctifying of the deaconesses nurses. It was a congregation holiday when the nurses after a long time of preparation and in front of God were sanctified to be deaconesses nurses. In gaining the profession moral qualities and love for people were of high importance. Evangeliche - Marien – Diakonissen Anstalt in Riga, Bedingungen der
Aufnahme zur Aiusbildung fȕr den Diakonissen – Beruf, (Jahresbericht R: Drick von Haecker 1867) 21- 24
During the course the deaconesses had to participate in everyday praying, writing holly letters and if it was necessary to take part in religious studies and in studies in hygiene. They also had practical hours with doctors and working nights in asylums. After finishing the course deaconesses nurses had to work in this field at least for five years and they were allowed to do any other work, too. Nurses worked with poor families without taking any money for it. They might accept gifts only from wealthy persons or families. (Statuten der Evangelichen Marien – Diakonissen – in Riga, 1864 30 Oktober, Latvian State archives, ser. 2587, box 1 mape 5, page 113 – 15)
The rules of the deacon House were that every money amount earned by deaconesses nurses or by a hospital remained in the deacon House. (Weichaftsnermaltung des Bereins, 1864 17 September, Latvian State archives, ser. 2587. fonds, box 1 mape 13, page 104)
In case when the ill person needed nursing care at home it was necessary to ask permission for it from the inspector of the deacon House. The deaconisses nurses should be called a ”nurse” and they could not be treated as maids. It was forbidden to send a nurse home to take care of an ill person without permission of the inspector of the deacon House. (Evangeliche - Marien – Diakonissen Anstalt in Riga, Bedingungen der Aufnahme zur Aiusbildung fȕr den Diakonissen – Beruf, (Jahresbericht R: Drick von Haecker 1867) 21 -24
In 1909 there were 56 nurses in the association “Mari” and it became an independent association. (Marijas vācu diakonisu biedrība Rīgā, 1910 20 February, Latvian State archives, ser. 2587, box 1 mape 13, page 11– 12)
Maria association of deaconesses nurses gained big respect of the society due to its great charity work. It was mentioned even by the Russian imperator and in February 8, 1917 the two nurses
Milli Kenker and Adama Peldika were awarded with silver medals wearing on Anna’s ribon for ”hard-working”. ( Diakonistu māsu apbalvošana, 1917 10 June, Latvian State archives, ser. 4
box 1 mape 1, page 12)
The Deacon House in Yelgava
In Yelgava (the previous name Mitava) the deacon House was founded by countess Medema. When travelling in Germany she learnt about the movement of deaconesses nurses and became its supporter. She interested other persons it it, too, and they united to support women deaconesses in Kurzeme. The first women to become deaconesses nurses were women from Drezden (Germany) sent by deacon House, priest Frelihs. He himself came together with them to Yelgava and in June 2, 1865 sanctified the House. Countess Medema gifted a house and used her own money to maitain it.
In 1869 priest Ludvigs Katterfeld (1843 – 1869) became the head of the deacon House in Yelgava. He taught the nurses. He defined the aim of the deacon House in the following way,” The establishment considers its first aim to serve, to contribute into flourishing of the association and accept that nobody wants to be out of the church, that the activities of the House are closely connected with charity, love, sympathy. The House belongs to powerful people, but work belongs to the church and it is performed by the girls of the association who do not want anything else but to be useful for the association.” L.Katterfelds wished the House teach and educate the deaconesses nurses. One of the nurses explored the art of the church and in 1891 she began uniform designing. The House also got orders from other churches of Latvia. L.Katterfelds wanted to involve new women into the movement and to improve the life of the nurses, their work direction. He involved them by renewing traditional values for the Baltic people and did not insist on German steriotypes. (Neuberg K. Mācītāja Ludviga Katterfelda dzīves ilgums un Tabora iestādes dibināšana, mašīnraksts, (Stradinya Museum of History of Medicine, mape 44714 – 1, Rīga (LV), 1936) 65 - 66
L. Katterfelds marked his work with three main activities: firstly, deaconia spread through the country reaching the country-side; secondly, improving medical care of epileptics and mentally ill people; thirdly, care of unemployed people. The deacon Houses were established in other
Latvian towns of Kurzeme ( Liepaya, Tukums) , however, deaconesses nurses were invited from Yelgava. In 1887 in Yelgava the deacon House ”Tabors” was established and sanctified for curing epileptics and mentally ill people. (Neuberg K. Mācītāja Ludviga Katterfelda dzīves ilgums un Tabora iestādes dibināšana, mašīnraksts, (Stradinya Museum of History of Medicine, mape 44714 – 1, Rīga (LV), 1936) 76
In comparison with Maria German deaconesses Evangelist association ”Mari” the number of nurses in Yelgava deacon House was less – about 30 – 40. (Vīksna A. No Jelgavas medicīnas pagātnes (1573 – 1941), 12.daļa (Rīga – LV, 1974) 66.
Deacon Hospital in Ventspils
Evangelist Lutheran hospital in Ventspils was established before World War I (1914 – 1918). The heads of the hospital were a priest, Obierenies (head nurse), seven persons elected by the full assembly to work during a year. (Ventspils evenģēliju ticības luterāņu diakonisu iestādes Statūti, 1936 20 January, Latvian State archives, ser. 4157, box 1 mape 1, page 1)
The deacon hospital belonged to the private association. (Vīksna A. No Ventspils medicīnas pagātnes (1563 – 1941), 6.daļa (Rīga – LV, 1975) 67.
In this town there was deacon association ”Ventspils German Hospital Association”. The aim of the association was to maintain Ventspils hospital with gynaecological and surgery departments. The language used for documentation was German. (Ventspils evanģēliju ticības luterāņu diakonisu iestāde. 1920 11 Decembris, Latvian State archives, ser. 4157, box 1 mape 13, page 9)
The aim of the work of the deacon Evangelist Lutheran hospital in Ventspils was to educate young Evangelist Lutheran people and widows according to the religious curriculum. Though the
deacon hospital was in Ventspils they helped people in other Evangelist Lutheran parts of the region. Ventspils deacon association possessed all legal rights, and it meant that it had the rights to possess estate and land, to establish kindergartens, schools, orphanages, asylums and so on, to
establish German establishments which were in the frames of the mission.The association had different tasks: management of establishments, employing deaconesses nurses and giving them
vacation, taking care of mentally ill people. The deaconesses nurses who worked in the hospital had the right to earn a pension. (Ventspils evenģēliju ticības luterāņu diakonisu iestādes Statūti, 1936 20 January, Latvian State archives, ser. 4157, box 1 mape 1, page 5)
In January 27, 1936 the uncial of Ventspils Evangelist Lutheran hospital was adopted, later some additions were written down. From that moment only a doctor could be a head of the hospital and that doctor had to be affirmed by the Health department. (Ventspils evenģēliju ticības luterāņu diakonisu iestādes Statūti, 1936 20 January, Latvian State archives, ser. 4157, box 1 mape 13, page 10.)
The hospital was specialized in curing surgeon diseases and child birth delivery. In the 20-30 –th it was the only hospital with maternity wards. (Vīksna A. No Ventspils medicīnas pagātnes (1563 – 1941), 6.daļa (Rīga (LV) 1975) 67
The number of deaconesses nurses was not big, thus, in 1934, 1936 and 1937 there was only one nurse, but in 1935, 1938, 1939 there were two nurses. (Ventspils vācu slimnīcas statistika, 1939 15 August, Latvian State archives, ser. 4157, box 1 mape 3, page 1. - 5.)
The movement of the deaconesses nurses appeared in Latvia due to flourishing of human and Christian charity in the beginning of the 19-th century. The deacon associations established both hospitals and asylums. The deacon Evangelist association ”Mari” in the capital of Latvia, Riga, the hospital and asylum for epileptics and mentally ill people ”Tabore” in Yelgava and other deacon associations in other Latvian towns were founded with the same aim.
The deaconesses nurses movement had a regional character. Any female person belonging to the Evangelist Lutheran confession could become a deaconess nurse, and belonging to this confession made the movement spread mainly in the region of Kurzeme (for example, in Yelgava and Liepaya) and Vidzeme, and Riga where the number of Lutherans in comparison to
the other religion confessions was bigger. For instance, in 1935 in the region of Vidzeme there were 347710 Lutherans, 16467 Catholics, 34321 orthodocs, 2808 old-believers (Vaivods J.
Katoļu Baznīcas vēsture Latvijā, (Rīgas Metropolijas Kūrija, 1994) 268
The activities of the deaconesses nurses were under protection of the church and were done by the ”girls from of the association who do not want anything else but to be useful for the association.”. (Neuberg K. Mācītāja Ludviga Katterfelda dzīves ilgums un Tabora iestādes dibināšana, mašīnraksts, (Stradinya Museum of History of Medicine, mape 44714 – 1, Rīga (LV), 1936) 66
Analyzing the education of nurses it can be mentioned that their education was organized by the deacon Houses in Riga and Yelgava. Basing on the primary and secondary sources of information we can draw a conclusion that in spite of having practical hours with doctors the theretical corse for nurses consisted mainly of religious theory (praying in the deacon Houses, learning basis of folk healing, deaconesses course), their education didn’t content any medical subject.
The data show that the nurses had a rather wide range of work: ill and old people care, children care, they worked in hospitals and asylums, educated women and people in hygiene problems). The nurses supported people also morally praying for them in the diffucilt and crisis times. However, the main tasks of the deaconesses nurses were to take care of ill people in hospitals and at home, educational and social work.
The deaconeses nurses worked mainly in the establishments for the German people (the working language was German, too). In the second half of 1939 political repressions took place in Latvia.
It was decided that all the German populations living out of Germany including Latvia to return back to Germany. Thus, moving of the Germans back to their ethnical homeland was also in the Baltic states. (Šilde Ā. Latvijas vēsture 1914 – 1940, (Daugava, 1976) 679.
In connection with it the movement of Latvian deaconesses nurses stopped its activities.
(Heinrich W. Die Anfange diakonischen Wirkens in Livland im 19. Jahrhundert. Beitrage zur ostdeutschen Kirchengeschichte Folge 5. Die Anfänge der Diakonie im őstlichen Europa, (Mȕnster, 2002) 24 - 28