Elizabeth Ferard (1825-1883)

Last updated Fri Jul 17 2015 6:33 PM by Dominic

Elizabeth Catherine Ferard (22 February 1825- 18 April 1883) was the middle child of Daniel Ferard, between Charles b.1823 and Bingham b.1830. We do not know whether she and her mother moved with her brother Charles into Ascot Place which he inherited in 1850, but at any rate after her mother's death in 1858 she travelled to Germany to stay at Kaiserworth where a new order of Deaconesses had been established in 1836 for nursing and teaching, and although the trip was unsatisfactory in many ways she was determined that something similar could and should be done in London. She had caught the zeitgeist - the idea of creating an order of Deaconesses in the Church of England was being discussed in the same year at the Convocation of Canterbury.

Upon her return Elizabeth evidently secured the support of the Bishop of London and, perhaps equally importantly, managed to get funding from a relative the Revd. Thomas P. Dale. (Dale, by the way, had an eventful later ecclesiastical career, becoming a determined proponent of High Church Ritualism which led to his arrest and imprisonment in 1880 for a few months. Elizabeth however does not appear from her 1858 diary to have held High Church views.) Her brother Charles was very wealthy and yet is nowhere mentioned as a benefactor - one wonders about the sibling relationship.

In 1861 Elizabeth was able to open the North London Deaconess Institution at North London Deaconess House in Burton Crescent near King’s Cross - and on 18 July 1862 she became, by the laying on of hands by Bishop Tait, the Bishop of London (and subsequently Archbishop of Canterbury), the first deaconess in the Church of England. She is reported to have been very unwilling to take a leading role in this way but her determination and faith, and perhaps encouragement from others, overcome her shyness.

Because of ill health Elizabeth had to retire in 1870, but she later ran a convalescent home for children in Redhill. She died at 16 Fitzroy Square in London on 18 April 1883. Her legacy remains to this day; through her efforts were founded two Church of England institutions: the Community of St. Andrew (the final name (1943) of the North London Deaconess Institution which in 1868 had become the London Diocesan Deaconess Institution), and Order of Deaconesses. Although the Order was closed to new entrants in 1987, this was because women were then admitted to the order of deacon, and subsequently priest (1994) and bishop (2015). One wonders what Elizabeth would have made of these developments for which she blazed an early trail. In some branches of the Anglican communion other than the Church of England the Order of Deaconesses remains open to women.

More information about Elizabeth Ferard is given below with attribution.

George Maddock writes:


On 18 July the Church of England commemorates Elizabeth Ferard. So why is a woman whose death in 1883 did not merit any mention in the Times of Church Times now remembered each year by the church?

In 1858 Elizabeth Ferard went to stay at Kaiserworth in Germany where the order of Deaconesses had been revived. There she shared the work of ministering to the sick and poor and teaching girls while living in a community. She wished to do something of the same kind in England and fortunately, a relative, Thomas Dale, was able to help establish the North London Deaconesses’ Institution in King’s Cross London, where Elizabeth was one of the first members who dedicated themselves as “servants of the church” and in 1862 Elizabeth Ferard was “set apart” by Bishop Tait as the first deaconess in the Church of England.

Like its German model the Institution concerned itself with the care of the sick and poor and the education of the young and eventually became the Deaconess Community of St Andrew and moved to Tavistock Crescent.

Elizabeth was not the easiest person to get on with, being described as “a strict disciplinarian, with an indomitable will and strong love of justice. She was generous and affectionate, but intensely reserved, with a shy manner that gave her an appearance of haughtiness” but she also “had an intense belief in the cause she represented, and a faith in its future which enabled her to lead what must often in those early days have seemed a forlorn hope”.

In fact the order of Deaconesses prospered and remained the only order of ministry to which women were admitted by prayer and the laying on of hands by the bishop until 1987 when the order was closed to new recruits and women admitted to the order of Deacon – and later priest. So Elizabeth Ferard is rightly commemorated as an important part of a movement which would eventually lead to the vote in 2008 accepting the consecration of women as bishops in the Church of England.

Ormonde Plater writes:


Elizabeth Ferard, first deaconess in the Church of England, founder of the Community of St. Andrew, died 18 April 1883.

The Lutherans were the first denomination to revive the order of deaconesses, a deaconess institution being founded at Kaiserwerth by Pastor Theodor Fliedner in 1836. His idea was to train and send two women to each parish—one to nurse and one to teach. But his two successive wives had different ideas and realized that such deaconesses needed a “home” for community structure. The Bishop of London, Archibald Campbell Tait, visited the Kaiserswerth community of deaconesses. In 1858 the recently revived Convocation of Canterbury discussed a revival of the order in England.

Elizabeth Catherine Ferard was descended from an old Huguenot family and had been awaiting an opportunity to serve God in the Church of England. After the death of her mother in 1858 she went to Germany to stay for at least three months (her journal has been published) at Kaiserswerth. Much of this trip she found frustrating, especially since she could not understand their dialect of German. She worked in the orphan house, observing and learning nursing skills and commented, “I again heard of the continual spreading of the Deaconess work in every direction except in England, and more than ever wished we could have something of the kind in England, where the materials for it are so abundant, could we but found a Deaconess House on the right principles” which would “minister to the necessities of the Church.” She heard of the Ditchingham Sisters when she was at Kaiserswerth, and so she visited the Anglican Community of All Hallows in Suffolk.

Then, in 1861, Elizabeth offered to begin the deaconess training in England. She and two other women began the Community of St. Andrew at a house in Burton Crescent, just south of King’s Cross. The community observed a common rule and was dedicated to worship and to works of mercy. On St Andrew’s Day 1861 the institution officially began as the North London Deaconess House. On 18 July 1862 Bishop Tait of London admitted Elizabeth as the first deaconess in the Church of England, receiving license No.1. The sisters worked in the local parish and the slum area of Somers Town (just west of King’s Cross), were in charge of nursing at the Great Northern Hospital, and taught in the local Infants and Girls’ schools. The new order began to flourish as more dioceses began to admit women to the order. St Andrew’s began to train independent diocesan Deaconesses as well as ones for its own Community. Some women and dioceses disliked the concept of sisterhoods and preferred the parochial model pioneered by Isabella Gilmore in Rochester diocese.

The Metropolitan Railway opened the station of Westbourne Park in 1866 which resulted in more people moving into this area. The clearance of Somers Town for St Pancras railway yards led to the move of the institution, by then called the London Diocesan Deaconess Institute, to this site in 1873. Later that year Elizabeth’s health failed and she resigned her leadership role. But she lived for a further ten years, dying on Easter Sunday 1883. In the Church of England her day is July 18, her ordination date, because her death date often occurs in Holy Week or Easter Week.
[research by Revd. Dr. Sr. Teresa Joan White, CSA]

Reprinted from The Churchman, May 4, 1907


In 1861, Bishop Tait, afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury, set apart Elizabeth Catherine Ferard as the first Deaconess of the Church of England. Elizabeth Ferard came of an old Huguenot family. She had always desired to give her life to some definite Church work; and having been much impressed by a visit to the institution at Kaiserwerth, where the Germans had already begun the training of women, she came home and offered herself to the bishop. She was very loth to assume the post of Head Deaconess, but, as no one else could be found, was finally persuaded to accept it.

The work grew slowly. Some of its best friends hindered its progress by accepting a low ideal. All was new and untried. The right women were hard to find; and those who first started had to feel their way and buy their experience. An elementary school was undertaken in the neighborhood of King's Cross, London, for the poor children of the neighborhood; and here the first Probationers were taught. This little house was soon found too small, and a move was made to larger premises in Westbourne Park. Here a piece of land with two houses already built and sufficient ground to build a chapel was purchased through the generosity of a friend. At first, the second of the small houses, St. Gabriel's, was used as a Nursery Home for such of the sick poor as were not eligible for ordinary hospitals; in after years it was changed to an Industrial Home for Girls, and at present it is needed for the Sisters.

From St. Andrew's, the larger house, many Deaconesses have gone forth during these past years to found other houses, both in England and elsewhere; some with Community life, as in the Mother House, and some without. The work is mainly parochial. It is carried on in fourteen parishes in London, and in two workhouse infirmaries. Two Sisters are occupied in a Convalescent Home for Men and Women at Westgate-on-Sea. One is Superior of a Deaconess Community in Christ Church, New Zealand, and two are working among the Kaffirs in the diocese of Grahamstown, Cape Colony. The training includes the usual branches of parochial work, especially religious teaching, experience in nursing, and theological instruction. The desire is to give such training as shall enable the Sisters to minister wisely and sympathetically to the suffering, sinning people who shall be entrusted to their care. The Holy Eucharist is celebrated daily in the chapel, and the Day Hours are recited. Retreats and Quiet Days are held regularly, both for the Deaconesses and their Associates, who number over one hundred. A quarterly magazine, entitled "Ancilla Domini," gives most interesting accounts of the work.

An extensive extract from Elizabeth Ferard's diary of her time in Germany can be seen in “The beginning of women's ministry: the revival of the Deaconess in the 19th-Century Church of England” by Henrietta Blackmore, available for viewing online through Google Books.

The Revd Adrian Leak writes:


At first, Elizabeth Ferard wondered whether her stay at the Kaiserwerth Lutheran community in Germany was going to be a waste of time. The food was dismal; after her first meal, she felt dizzy and had to take some brandy. For some days, no one seemed to know what to do with her, and Pastor Fliedner, the director, ignored her. She found the dialect the sisters spoke quite different from the German she had learnt. But after some weeks things got better. She was not the first Englishwoman to be trained at Kaiserwerth. Florence Nightingale had been there a few years before, and so had Elizabeth Fry. Despite the evidence of these doughty women, Pastor Fliedner had misgivings. But Elizabeth persevered.

When she returned to London some months later, she had learnt much that would shape her work as a trainer of deaconesses. She also stayed with the Anglican nuns at Ditchingham. Later, it was the devotional life at Ditchingham rather than Kaiserwerth that influenced her when she drew up a scheme of prayer for her Community of St Andrew at King”s Cross.

During the early days, the basis of the deaconesses” devotional life was the BCP morning and evening prayer, with time for meditation and private Bible study. It was 20 or so years later that the Rule was altered to include the six daily Offices. Despite appearances (Elizabeth had been fussed one summer afternoon in Germany by the loss of her parasol), the first generation of deaconesses in the Church of England was not daunted by what Bishop Thorold, one of their champions, called the “filth and hideous darkness” of the slums. During the 1872 cholera epidemic in Bedford, it was a deaconess, Fanny Eagles, and her assistant, Miss Coles, who nursed the sick and dying, and helped to carry the corpses out to the carts for collecĀ­tion at night.

The North London Deaconess Institution was the first, but not the only establishment of its kind. In 1869, deaconesses were appointed in Liverpool and in Bedford. There had been earlier initiatives. In 1857, Mrs L. N. Raynard had recruited “Bible Women” to work in the Seven Dials district of London. In 1861, the Revd W. C. Pennefather and his wife had founded the Female Missionary Training Home in Barnet. What characterised the development of the work of deaconesses, and secured their place in the Church of England, was their integration into the diocesan and parochial system. It was that, and the deliberate absence of life-vows, that distinguished them from the Anglican sisterhoods. It was intended that theirs was to be a serving, not a leading, part. At the Office for the admission of a deaconess, the Bishop exhorted the candidate “to set aside all unwomanly usurpation of authority in the Church.” But it soon became clear that many women who had been blessed with a talent to serve were also possessed of a vocation to lead. Someone who knew Elizabeth Ferard said of her: “She was a manager of decision and power, and not inclined to brook interference especially on household matters.” She saw what was needed, and got it done.