DEACONESSES, in the time of the apostles, were usually widows who assisted in the solemn baptism of women (by immersion), instructed female catechumens in the doctrines and usages of the Church, visited those of their sex who were sick or were in prison for the faith's sake, dispensed the alms of the faithful, i and kept order in the women's part of the as sembly room during the liturgical service. That the deaconesses were in the earliest times widows, and not maids or married women, ap pears from the curious fact that Saint Ignatius. disciple of Saint John the evangelist, speaks of ((virgins who are called widows)); as clear a proof of the original custom of choosing widows only to be deaconesses, as would be the formal declaration that such custom existed. For a long time it was required that the deaconesses should be not less than 60 years old; by the councils of Chalcedon and in Trullo the age of 45 years was made the minimum; by the Coun cil of Chalcedon deaconesses were forbidden to marry; and no widow who had married a sec ond time was ever admitted to the rank of deaconess. The institution of deaconesses was extinct in the Western Church in the 10th cen tury and in the Greek Church in the 12th; but it survives in churches of the Syrian rites.
The work done by the deaconesses in the early centuries is performed now, in the Roman Catholic, and in many of the Protestant Episco pal, churches by the nuns. (See SISTERS). In
the 19th century the order of deaconesses was revived in several of the Protestant churches. Theodore Fleidner (1836), of the United Evan gelical Church of Prussia, founded a home for deaconesses, in Kaisersworth, Prussia. Ger many has several homes, and in 1855 the order was established in Baltimore, Md. The Gen eral Convention of 1889 adopted a canon regu lating the order and providing that members should have adequate preparation both tech nical and religious, extending over a two-year period. Training schools are maintained in New York and Philadelphia. The Methodist Episcopal Conference in 1:: provided for the establishment of an order of deaconesses, and this church now has many homes in the United States. The Lutheran Church also maintains several homes, the first being established in New York in 1852. In 1891 the Presbyterians insti tuted the order. Consult Golder, (History of the Deaconess Movement) (Cincinnati 1903); Nutting and Dock, (History of Nursing) (New York 1907) ; Potter, (Sisterhoods and Deacon esses) (London • (Year Book) of the New York Training School for Deaconesses (New York 1892-1915).