FLIEDNER, THEODOR (1800-1864), German Protestant divine, was born on the 21st of January 1800 at Epstein (near Wiesbaden), the small village in which his father was pastor. He studied theology at the universities of Giessen and Göttingen, and at the theological seminary of Herborn, and at the age of twenty he passed his final examination. After a year spent in teaching and preaching, in 1821 he accepted a call from the Protestant church at Kaiserswerth, a little town on the Rhine, a few miles below Düsseldorf. To help his people and to provide an endowment for his church, he undertook journeys in 1822 through part of Germany, and then in 1823 to Holland and England. He met with considerable success, and had opportunities of observing what was being done towards prison reform; in England he made the acquaintance of the philanthropist Elizabeth Fry. The German prisons were then in a very bad state. The prisoners were huddled together in dirty rooms, badly fed, and left in complete idleness. No one dreamed of instructing them, or of collecting statistics to form the basis of useful legislation on the subject. Fliedner, at first singly, undertook the work. He applied for permission to be imprisoned for some time, in order that he might look at prison life from the inside. This petition was refused, but he was allowed to hold fortnightly services in the Düsseldorf prison, and to visit the inmates individually. Those interested in the subject banded themselves together, and on the 18th of June 1826 the first Prison Society of Germany (Rheinisch-Westfälischer Gefängnisverein) was founded. In 1833 Fliedner opened in his own parsonage garden at Kaiserswerth a refuge for discharged female convicts. His circle of practical philanthropy rapidly increased. The state of the sick poor had for some time excited his interest, and it seemed to him that hospitals might be best served by an organized body of specially trained women. Accordingly in 1836 he began the first deaconess house, and the hospital at Kaiserswerth. By their ordination vows the deaconesses devoted themselves to the care of the poor, the sick and the young; but their engagements were not final - they might leave their work and return to ordinary life if they chose. In addition to these institutions Fliedner founded in 1835 an infant school, then a normal school for infant school mistresses (1836), an orphanage for orphan girls of the middle class (1842), and an asylum for female lunatics (1847). Moreover, he assisted at the foundation and in the management of similar institutions, not only in Germany, but in various parts of Europe.
In 1849 he resigned his pastoral charge, and from 1849 to 1851 he travelled over a large part of Europe, America and the East - the object of his journeys being to found "mother houses," which were to be not merely training schools for deaconesses, but also centres whence other training establishments might arise. He established a deaconess house in Jerusalem, and after his return assisted by counsel and money in the erection of establishments at Constantinople, Smyrna, Alexandria and Bucharest. Among his later efforts may be mentioned the Christian house of refuge for female servants in Berlin (connected with which other institutions soon arose) and the "house of evening rest" for retired deaconesses at Kaiserswerth. In 1855 Fliedner received the degree of doctor in theology from the university of Bonn, in recognition rather of his practical activity than of his theological attainments. He died on the 4th of October 1864, leaving behind him over 100 stations attended by 430 deaconesses; and these by 1876 had increased to 150 with an attendance of 600.
Fliedner's son Fritz Fliedner (1845-1901), after studying in Halle and Tübingen, became in 1870 chaplain to the embassy in Madrid. He followed in his father's footsteps by founding several philanthropic institutions in Spain. He was also the author of a number of books, amongst which was an autobiography, Aus meinem Leben. Erinnerungen und Erfahrungen (1901).
Theodor Fliedner's writings are almost entirely of a practical character. He edited a periodical, Der Armen und Kranken Freund, which contained information regarding the various institutions, and also the yearly almanac of the Kaiserswerth institution. Besides purely educational and devotional works, he wrote Buch der Märtyrer (1852); Kurze Geschichte der Entstehung der ersten evang. Liebesanstalten zu Kaiserswerth (1856); Nachricht über das Diakonissen-Werk in der Christ. Kirche (5th ed., 1867); Die evangel. Märtyrer Ungarns und Siebenbürgens; and Beschreibung der Reise nach Jerusalem und Constantinopel. All were published at Kaiserswerth. There is a translation of the German life by C. Winkworth (London, 1867). See also G. Fliedner, Theodor Fliedner, kurzer Abriss seines Lebens und Wirkens (3rd ed., 1892). See also on Fliedner and his work Kaiserswerth Deaconesses (London, 1857); Dean John S. Howson's Deaconesses (London, 1862); The Service of the Poor, by E.C. Stephen (London, 1871); W.F. Stevenson's Praying and Working (London, 1865).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)