Humble Beginnings: The Concordia Ladies' Aide Society

October 18, 2011

In the early 1900s, living in an orphanage or old folks home was often an austere and desperate existence. Overcrowding, a lack of food, and overall wretched conditions prevailed at many such institutions in the Pittsburgh area and across the country.

Although Concordia's forerunner, the Evangelical Lutheran Concordia Home for Orphans and the Aged, would have never tolerated such bleak conditions, its uncertain finances often barely covered the basics, let alone any amenities.

But thanks to a special group of women throughout Concordia's history, the organization was able to provide comfort and companionship unmatched by other places.

Immediately after the Home's inception, many people contributed food, goods, and gifts of cash for the residents' welfare. Among these were various women and women's groups at the member churches. It didn't take long for the individual groups to realize that they could make a greater impact by combining their efforts.

Thus, in the fall of 1915, the Concordia Ladies' Aid Society of Pittsburgh was formed. The group had a dual purpose: first and foremost, their mission was to provide aid for the Home in Marwood. Second, and important in its own right, they wanted to "promote interchurch sociability among Lutherans who are one with us in faith."

Unfortunately, we don't know much about the women themselves who initially organized the Society, although later records state that the Ladies' Aid Society was organized with 400 members. In the Home's 50th Anniversary commemorative booklet, the Ladies' Aid Society's presidents up to this point in 1932 were listed as Mrs. E. Conrad, Mrs. J. Henry Sundermann, Mrs. A. B. Eberle, and Mrs. J. F. W. Eversmann. The booklet also related that while the entire group met four times a year, the executive board met every month. The women also formed a co-operative committee that met with the executive of the Board of Directors of the Home.

It was at these co-operative meetings that the women learned about the most pressing needs at the Home. Often, these related to physical plant improvements, equipment, and furnishings. Sometimes, the need was immediate, such as when the Home needed to hire extra help (such as a maid or male orderly), but had no funds to pay the salaries. Many times, the Ladies' Aid Society committed themselves to pay for these monthly salaries. Just as frequently, however, it could involve some future plan that the Board was wishful to put in place, such as when it was considering the building of the new cottages and later, the infirmary. The Ladies' Aid Society donated $10,000 towards the approximately $33,000 cost of the cottage project. In the case of the infirmary, they paid for all the bed linens, towels, and wash cloths for the infirmary in addition to furnishing one complete room in the new project at a cost of $500. They also paid for the paraments for the chapel.

But they were also touched by the social and emotional needs of the residents as well. For this, there could be no other substitute for actually spending time at the Home, visiting with children and later with the aged. Yearly, they sponsored a "bus trip" up to the Home where they would spend the day enjoying a picnic, devotions, entertainment, and refreshments with the aged. Various members of the Society would also regularly visit the Home, bringing gifts and treats with them. Holidays were especially joyful, as the women would bring gifts at Christmas and baskets at Easter. In the 1970s and 1980s, they would try new things such as celebrating resident birthdays with a monthly group party.

By 2001, however, the Concordia Ladies' Aid Society was facing the same problem as many other volunteer groups?too few active members. At the same time that younger women were unable to volunteer because of family and work commitments, the ranks of older women were dwindling as well, through illness, disability, or death. When the Ladies' Aid Society dissolved, its numbers were down to 40 members (from the 400 who initially organized the group in 1915), with rarely more than 20 attending the three annual meetings.

The Concordia Ladies' Aid Society was an unfailing source of support for the Home, whenever and wherever it was needed. Whether it was manning the kitchen during the annual summer Festival or coming to the rescue when unexpected bills cropped up, the Ladies' Aid Society was faith in action and a vital force in shaping Concordia Lutheran Ministries into the respected and well-beloved organization it is today...

For more information on Concordia's various services, locationsand background, visit our website or feel free to e-mail us here.

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