Meet the Deaconesses S-Z
Clara Louise Schodts entered St. Faith’s House (NY Deaconess Training School) in 1910. Originally from Peekskill, she trained as a nurse, graduating from Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan. She was head nurse in the surgical department at Good Shepherd Dispensary on the Lower East Side for eleven years and was an active member of the St. Bartholomew’s Girls’ Club. Schodts was set apart as deaconess on 9 May 1902 at the age of 40 at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and accepted an assignment to St. Thomas’ Mission in Manhattan. She lived at St. Thomas’ House at 229 East 59th Street during her tenure at St. Thomas’ Parish.
In 1913 Schodts organized the “Mothers’ Meeting” group at St. Thomas. There she designed activities for groups of mothers and children, numbering from 125 to 150. She also arranged for groups of mothers and children to spend time away from the sweltering city in the summer. The Sunday School at St. Thomas', which was also under her care, served from 50 to 75 children at any given time. The children were often taken to the large public parks in the Bronx on Saturdays for fresh-air outings.
Deaconess Schodts served the people of St. Thomas' until 1925, and then, in 1926, at the beginning of her retirement, she accompanied Deaconess Susan Knapp on a journey to France and England. The two later traveled to Switzerland and London where they visited old friends in the British Deaconess Movement and attended a reception given by the Archbishop of Canterbury for returning Missionaries. On her return to the United States, Schodts moved to Astoria, Queens, N.Y. She served at St Thomas Church in Manhattan where she led the Girls' Friendly Society, and at St. James Madison Avenue, where she served in a similar capacity. She later served at St. George’s Church in Manhattan and at St. James on Madison Avenue. She was active in the Alumnae Association of St. Faith’s, serving at various times as editor of the bulletin (1917), Board member (1918), Treasurer (1914) and President (1919-1920). While president of the Alumnae Association, Schodts raised funds to establish the first scholarship to the school. She also served on the board of the Retiring Fund for Deaconesses from 1928-1941. Schodts retired in 1935 and lived in Astoria, Queens, NYC. She died on October 27, 1941, a few weeks before the passing of her mentor and friend, Deaconess Susan Trevor Knapp. (see G-L) [research of Deacon Geri Swanson]
Evelyn Elizabeth Seymour was born in Stamford, CT. She graduated from the New York Training School for Deaconesses and Scarritt College. She was ordained deacon in 1938 and priest in 1977. Ms. Seymour was the first woman priest in the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast. She served as a missionary in the archdeanery of the Blue Ridge in Virginia, 1938-45, worker in the Diocese of Eau Claire, 1945-49, worker-in-charge of St. Faith's House, Salina, KS, 1949-54, librarian in the overseas department at Church Mission House, New York, NY, 1954-62, missionary, Diocese of Eastern Oregon, 1962-67, assistant at All Saints', Wichita Falls, TX, 1967-69; director of religious education, Incarnation, Dallas, TX, 1969-70; assistant at St. James', Fairhope, AL, 1971-79. After her retirement, Ms. Seymour 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, 1980-83. She died Jan. 15, 1999 at Thomas Hospital, Fairhope, AL and was survived by a brother, Alan. (from her obituary in “The Living Church” 14 March 1999)
One of the most colorful deaconesses, both sponsored by and serving at St. Bartholomew's, Manhattan, NYC, was Jessie Carryl Smith. Smith was an amateur actress in New York of some note. She had received good reviews for her role in The Dowager in 1894. "As the Dowager Countess of Tressillian, Miss J. Carryl Smith was graceful and winning."
At the age of thirty, Smith entered the NY Deaconess Training School; she graduated in 1902 and returned to St. Bartholomew's as a lay church worker. She was made a deaconess at Holy Trinity Church in Paris in 1906 by the Bishop of New York. In Paris she ran a small hospital infirmary. During World War I, Deaconess Smith served on the frontlines in France at various field hospitals including one that cared for a segregated unit of wounded Senegalese soldiers, serving at St. Raphael with the Third Army of France. For her gallant work on the battle frontlines, Deaconess Smith was awarded the “Croix de Guerre” with the “Médaille de Reconnaissance” by the Government of France (Military Cross, Medal of Recognition).
After her work in Europe, Smith accepted a new challenge and, in 1920, traveled to Fort Yukon in Alaska to serve in the mission field, returning in 1921 to New York, where she served the parish of St. Simeon in the Bronx and was also manager of the St. Paul's Chapel Lunch Club, located at 29 Vesey Street in Lower Manhattan. In 1922 she took a position at St. Mary's Pro-Cathedral in Philadelphia where she taught a course in Church History at a private girls' school. She died unexpectedly on July 3, 1923 at the age of 53.
Julia Stephenson, the sister of an Episcopal priest named John Stephenson, was thirty-seven years old when she entered the deaconess program at Grace Church in 1904. She was set apart as deaconess on May 18, 1906 and served her entire tenure as deaconess at St Margaret's School in Red Hook New York. St Margaret's had been founded with funds from the Astor family in 1851.
It was also known as Mrs. Astor's Orphan Asylum in the Town of Red Hook. The Episcopal parish of Christ Church in Red Hook had been associated with the school since its inception. It became known as St. Margaret's around 1875. The facility housed twelve girls and two teachers. The primary goal was to prepare girls for domestic service. Stephenson worked at the residence from the time of her setting aside as deaconess through the late 1920's. In 1930 she went to work at a residence for girls in Cohoes, NY. She remained there until her death in March of 1951.
Adeline Blanchard Tyler (1805-1875), deaconess and first lady superintendent of Boston's brand-new Children's Hospital, wrote to her sister in Baltimore: "My little family [of patients] numbering twenty-two are all to be served with a Xmas dinner from Mrs R. C. Winthrop. So the work on hand for me is to make all things agreeable to our Patrons & put them in order for the comfort of our little ones...How changed are our Xmas congratulations since the last anniversary so many gone to rest. While we toil on in the sad enjoyment of the blessings and trials that beset our way... I hope my dear Sister you are well & are enjoying this festive season in its beauty, its successive festival & joyous congratulations certainly bring before us in vivid thought that day when in truth a Saviour was born for us." from Boston Children's Hospital Archives
For an historical account, read Adeline Blanchard Tyler: The First Deaconess, by Deacon Daphne Noyes.
Clarine Woodward and her sister Sallie were both graduates of the New York Training School when it was at Grace Church, but Sallie did not become a deaconess. She remained an active member of the church, and she and her sister remained close.
Deaconess Woodward served at St. James' Fordham for close to thirty years. She presided over a Sunday School that served over 400 children in the early 1920's; she also lead Bible Study groups at St. James, but also at St. Mary's Manhattanville. In 1907, she founded the Evening Guild at St. James to give women who were too busy to meet during the day, opportunities to offer service to their parish.
In 1913 Woodward left Saint James' for a year to work in the Chinese Missions, and with her support a church was built in Wu Sing, a suburb of Shanghai, named after Saint James' Fordham. She also visited France several times, once on a sabbatical in 1930, when she studied French in the Normandy region. Unbeknownst to her at the time, in her absence the Alumnae Association of St. Faith's House elected her President. In prior years she had always been able to decline the nomination, but since she was not in town to protest, her election was carried out without a hitch.
Her tenure at St. James' Fordham was long enough for her to witness the neighborhood's transformation, from being a quiet semi-rural community far from the bustle of the city, to an urban area of newly built apartment houses accessible to growing families via New York City Transit System's IRT and IND subway lines.
She noted in 1921 that: "In spite of the many changes there is a large nucleus of permanent residents, (sic) many of our Sunday School teachers grew up in the parish." Woodward retired to Palo Alto California in 1937. She remained there until her death.
Sister Priscilla, the Last Deaconess, Still Active at 87
The Living Church, March 2022
Sister Priscilla Wright is the last of the deaconesses. Referring to the friends of St. Paul, she joked “Phoebe and Lydia were in the class before me.” In 1962, she studied at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary, now known as Bexley Seabury Seminary, for her training as a deaconess.
We share the sad news that Sister Priscilla Wright "slipped into eternity" on Sunday, Sept. 11, 2022. The Sisters of the Transfiguration mourn her passing, as do many of us.
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