Elisabeth Fedde was born at Feda, Flekkefjord, Norway, December 25, 1850. When she was considering what was to be her life calling, deaconess work was suggested to her. “What is that? Do you mean those women we see on the streets wearing the peculiar dress? No, thank you, I shall not join them.” But she did not forget the suggestion, and in 1873 she entered the deaconess motherhouse in Christiania. Five years later she was sent to Tromso, where for almost four years she pioneered in the new field of public health nursing/social work under very primitive conditions. It was a region of three-month summers and nine-month winters, where nature was unrelenting in its harshness, disease was rampant, the hospital had scarcely basic equipment, and people were totally unaware of the Christian service of the deaconesses.
Sister Elisabeth arrived in Brooklyn in April 1883. Within ten days, with the assistance of pastors and laymen, she had rented three rooms out of which she began to operate an outdoor relief program, which was called the Norwegian Relief Society. Sister Elisabeth, a trained nurse and spiritual guide, “became a beloved messenger of mercy bringing release from pain and suffering, consoling the dying, delivering babies, arranging baptisms and funerals, comforting unwed mothers, finding foster homes for abandoned children and lecturing the drunk and shiftless.”
When supplies were needed, she formed a Ladies Sewing Society to make bed linens and under-clothing and collected contributions. When she needed more personnel in her efforts and her request for a deaconess from the motherhouse in Norway was denied, she set out to establish a society to train its own deaconesses. When her goal was to build a deaconess hospital, she set out to raise funds. She called upon prominent citizens and businessmen such as Cornelius Vanderbilt and John D. Rockefeller for funding. As a result, in 1889, a 30-bed hospital was erected and the Norwegian Relief Society reincorporated as the Norwegian Lutheran Deaconesses’ Home and Hospital.
Sister Elisabeth was truly an example of selfless service to those in need. Her mission to help the urban poor is perpetuated in the health and human services provided today by Lutheran HealthCare and her personal activities have grown into today’s clinical departments and programs. It is in her spirit and memory that the Sister Elisabeth Fedde Medal for Service has been established to recognize individuals who continue her legacy of service and commitment to the community.