100 Years of Service – Deaconess Uniforms

One of the most hotly debated issues in the history of the LDA was deaconess uniforms.  Following is the text of a letter sent to all deaconesses on October 30th, 1935 from Reverend H.B. Kohlmeier, Director of the Deaconess Association, regarding Deaconess uniforms:

To our Deaconesses,
Your Committee of Conference made recommendations of minor changes in the uniform. The Uniform Committee of the Board has discussed these suggestions and other matters pertaining to the question and has taken the matter up with the Executive Committee of the Board. The following regulations are the result and we ask all our Deaconesses conform to them willingly and so help us to arrive at an established uniformity in garb.

Naturally, we cannot satisfy the taste and whim of every one of all our deaconesses, to try to do that would lead to an ever-increasing diversity of opinion. Personal taste, vanity, and pride must not interfere with furthering the cause of our Deaconess work. And uniformity in the garb of our deaconesses is of greater importance than many of our deaconesses seem to realize. In any case, the Committee of the Board rules that the following shall be observed by all, and we expect all to abide by this;

The dark blue dress uniform shall be worn at all times whenever the deaconess appears in public. That applies also when traveling or when on vacation. When in the home of parents or of immediate relatives a plain dress may be worn, but before others, the deaconess should always appear in uniform. This applies also to outings, etc., in fact to all occasions on which the deaconess may meet strangers. And the uniform must be worn complete as supplied by the Association. Minor changes as suggested by your Committee of Conference are being made: semi-soft collar and white cuff bands.

For hospital duty and in other institutions where this is demanded, the white uniform may be used, but it must be the deaconess uniform, ordered from the Office, not a self-chosen style.

Upon request, blue chambray or the former lighter shade blue uniforms for work in institutions and for other occasions where neither the blue dress uniform nor the white would be serviceable will be furnished, and also white aprons which may be worn over any one of the uniforms. With the blue dress uniform, only plain black shoes – not the high-heeled – and stockings of dark gunmetal shade or similar color shall be worn.
A small plain navy blue hat is to be worn by everyone. The Committee had sample hats from a firm specializing in uniforms but felt that the price might be too high for our deaconesses. The cost of these hats is $4 and $5. If anyone should wish to have a hat of that kind she may write directly to the firm: McHenry Inc., 1417-1421 Prospect Ave., Cleveland, Ohio. Not wishing to burden the deaconesses unnecessarily, however, it was decided to permit the deaconesses to buy their hats at any hat shop hoping that the difference in style will not be so great as to interfere with uniformity if all aim to wear a small plain navy blue hat.

The Committee has also agreed on the coat. We do not insist that everyone must immediately discard her coat which may still be good but ask each one that whenever she needs a coat after this to get the coat agreed upon. It is made by a reliable firm specializing in women’s uniforms, of dark blue material, tailored to measurements and of high quality in every respect. Enclosed is a cut of the style No. 5700. The price seems a little high but the committee thinks the coat is worth the price. It costs $27.50. The board is willing to assist the deaconesses in buying this coat by offering to advance the money for payment of same if the deaconess will agree to pay for it in monthly installments within the next three months after ordering the coat. A sample of cloth and measurement slip may be had by writing to the Office. Spring coats may also be bought from the same firm through our office.

The Committee agrees to the change of a pin to be worn instead of the tie. In connection with this, it was suggested to inaugurate a contest for design of a deaconess emblem, a $10 prize to be given to the person who sends in the winning design. The plan was to use the deaconess cross in the pin and to have the design indicate in some way that it is the emblem of our Deaconess Association. This emblem was then to be used on our stationery, in our publications, for the deaconess pin and for an embroidered emblem on our deaconess uniforms. The question is however whether the coat would not make it prohibitive. We are inquiring what a pin of that kind and the embroidered emblems would cost. Meanwhile, we shall be glad to receive your opinion on this matter and designs.

When in need of uniforms please try to order in good time. Other orders may happen to be just ahead of yours and so it may take a little more time than you expected to fill your order. So order somewhat ahead of time if possible.
And now let all abide by these rules, please. Wear the uniform! It is one of the conditions under which clergy rates are granted our deaconesses by the railroads. It means so much for the future of our cause and our Church. It should mean much to you as an expression of the fact that you are sister- deaconesses to each other. Let no one be ashamed to show herself also by the uniform as one of our Lutheran deaconesses. The uniform is neat and becoming, there is nothing outlandish about it, it is a help to you in your work, and it is a constant means of making our deaconess cause and deaconess work known. So please wear the regulation uniform!

May God preserve unto us the spirit of harmony and cooperation and grant us that under His blessing we may grow and prosper and be a blessing to Christ’s Kingdom!

With kindest good wishes,
Yours in Christian service,
H.B. Kohlmeier

P.S. We are also informing the Boards of Directors wherever deaconesses are stationed of the contents of this letter.

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