“The Desire of Her Heart:” Sister Frieda Kaufman

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

We continue to feature fabulous women of Harvey County as part of Women’s History Month. Women were leaders in Harvey County health care.  Previous posts have featured Dr. Lucine Axtell at Axtell Christian Hospital and Sister Anna Gertrude Penner Harvey County’s first Public nurse.  At Bethel Deaconess Hospital, Sister Frieda Kaufman shaped the institution and influenced many lives.

Sister Frieda Kaufman, ca. 1930. Photo courtesy Newton Medical Center, Newton, Ks

On May 27, 1942, Sister Frieda Kaufman received the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from Bethel College for her lifelong work as a deaconess and ‘sister-in-charge’ of the Bethel Deaconess Home and Hospital in Newton, Ks. Sister Frieda was the first Mennonite woman to receive an honorary degree from a Mennonite institution of high learning. After the ceremony for the conferment of the degree, Sister Frieda returned alone to the sisters’ home and later that day “a friend found her on her knees washing the floor.”

Known to most people in the community as “Sister Frieda,” she was the driving force behind the Bethel Deaconess Home and Hospital and the deaconess program in the Mennonite Church.

Early Life

Frieda was born in Haagen, in Wiesental, Baden, Germany on October 23, 1883, the ninth child born to John and Marie (Egle) Kaufman and one of three that lived to adulthood.  As a child, Frieda attended a schools run by Lutheran deaconess and later Catholic nuns.  Years later, she recalled her childhood affinity with the deaconess and nuns, noting“the desire of her heart to become a sister did not disappear” as she got older.

At the age of 8, Frieda with her family migrated to the U.S.  After a long, difficult journey the Kaufman family arrived in Halstead, Ks on July 2, 1892. Their transition to life on the prairie was made easier by members of their extended family already living in south central Kansas. Frieda did not forget the “desire of her heart.”

“The Desire of Her Heart”

In the late 1890s, Rev. David Goerz, Newton, Ks, was exploring the possible ways for women to serve within the structure of the Mennonite Church. He was interested in the deaconess programs within Lutheran churches and considering such a program for the Mennonite Church. The idea of deaconesses was rooted in early Christianity as a way for unmarried women or widows to voluntarily care for the poor and sick in the community.  The word “deaconess” comes from the Greek word diakonia which meant “faith active in love and service to all.” In the late 1800s, the idea of deaconesses was popular among Protestant  churches.  Under the leadership of Goerz, the idea of deaconesses in the Mennonite Church gained popularity. In Frieda Kaufman, Rev. Goerz found the first young woman interested in dedicating her life to the work.

In August 1902, Frieda began at training  the Interdenominational Deaconess Home & Hospital in Cincinnati.  During training, she lived at the hospital and was expected to work twelve hour shifts in addition to attending classes and keeping up with assignments. She completed her training and returned to Kansas in 1904. She started working at Bethesda Hospital & Home in Goessel, Ks, and in private homes in the area.

Sister Frieda Kaufman

On June 11, 1908, the Bethel Deaconess Home & Hospital, located on south Pine in Newton, was dedicated and the first three Mennonite deaconesses in America were ordained, Sisters Frieda Kaufman,  Catherine Voth and Ida Epp. At the age of twenty-five, Sister Frieda was appointed deaconess mother and superintendent of the hospital in addition to her nursing duties. She also taught and oversaw the nurses’ training school at Bethel Deaconess Hospital.

Bethel Deaconess Home & Hospital, s Pine, Newton, Ks. 1908.

Throughout the early years most of the work at the hospital was performed by the deaconesses.  Although some were trained RNs, like Sister Frieda, all helped with housekeeping and laundry. As deaconess mother, Sister Frieda oversaw the day-to-day activities of the hospital.  The deaconesses lived at the hospital and they did not receive payment for their work.  Instead, the hospital met their needs and provided a small monthly allowance for personal items.

A Very Precise Individual”

Over the next twenty years, the administration of the hospital would take more of Kaufman’s time as the institution grew. Until 1943, Sister Frieda was a constant, driving force for both the hospital and home, as well as the deaconess cause within the Mennonite Church.

Sister Frieda was described as a “short and somewhat overweight” woman and “she had to puff a little upon excretion.  Her countenance was always very pleasant.” Sister Theodosia Harms, who lived and worked with Sister Frieda for years, noted Sister Frieda had a reputation as being a “very precise individual, anything that had to be done, had to be done perfect,” and she expected this of herself as well as others.  Nursing students remember that her office door was always open.

In the community, she was an active member at 1st Mennonite Church, 429 East 1st, Newton. Her influence can be seen in the stain glass windows of church built in 1932. She viewed the art-glass windows as a”reverential necessity.”

Interior 1st Mennonite Church, 429 East 1st, Newton, Ks, 2009.


On August 7, 1944, at the age of sixty, Sister Frieda Kaufman passed away due to complications from diabetes and a heart condition.  She was buried in the Bethel Sister Family lot at Greenwood Cemetery, Newton Ks.

With almost single minded purpose Sister Frieda Kaufman became a deaconess and spent the rest of her life encouraging other women to join her in the work.  She enjoyed people, which contributed to her success as a nurse. She could have been a nurse without becoming a deaconess.  She chose to become a deaconess —  she saw it as a way of life.


This post is condensed from a longer biography of Sister Frieda Kaufman by Kristine Schmucker, 1991.

  • Sister Frieda Kaufman’s papers which include correspondence, articles  written by Sister Frieda and diaries are located at the Mennonite Library & Archives, Bethel College, North Newton, Ks.
  • Sister Theodosia Harms, interview by Marilyn Schmidt, “Portraits: Theodosia Harms, Agnes Lorentz and Anna Marie Goertz.”  Kansas Collection, video cassette produced by the Newton Public Library, Newton, Ks, n.d.
  • Lamps on the Prairie:  A History of Nursing in Kansas complied by the writers’ program of the Works Projects Administration, State of Kansas.  Emporia, Ks: Emporia Gazette Press, 1942.
  • Barrett, Lois. The Vision and the Reality:  the Story of Home Missions in the General Conference Mennonite Church. Newton, Ks:  Faith & Life Press, 1983.
  • Dietzel, Ron and Robert Schrag, ed. Mission & Memory: 125th Anniversary First Mennonite Church of Newton, 1878-2003. Historical Committee, 2003.




Hundreds of Automobiles Were Assembled: The Klan in Harvey County

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

“Hundreds of automobiles were assembled in a circle . . .”

On Tuesday evening, September 12, 1922, a gathering was held on a rural property located in Section 3, Newton Township, Harvey County, “just northwest of where the new Santa Fe Trail leaves the railway track and turns north.”  A reporter for the Evening Kansan Republican described an event where

“hundreds of automobiles were assembled in a circle several hundred yards across with lights turn on a huge electrically lighted cross in the center.  White robed figures guarded the approaches to the circle  . . . it was stated that a class of several hundred initiates were received in the Klan.” -Evening Kansan Republican, 13 September 1922.

Participants came from Hutchinson, Wichita and “numerous other neighboring cities.” In addition to participants, the “public highways were jammed with sightseers.”

Notification of the event had occurred with handbills “distributed about the city last evening in some manner which recipients knew not of.” Many also received copies of a first edition of what was called the “official Kansas publication of the Klan.”  The small four page publication called The Jayhawker American.”

The Jayhawker American, Vol 1, No. 7, 19 October 1922, Newton Kansas.

Standard Atlas of Harvey County, Kansas, 1918 Newton Township, Sections 1-6 & 7-12.

Both the 1918 Standard Atlas of Harvey County and the Mitchell Map of Harvey County, 1926 show E.O. Freeman, J.J. Steinkirchner and C.F. Molzen as land owners in section 3 of Newton Township, Harvey County, Kansas.

The Klan in Kansas

 In 1921, the Klan began to get a foothold in Kansas communities, targeting  the civic and religious leaders.  In many communities, membership consisted of mainstream white Protestant men, including elected officials and community leaders. They organized social events for the community and church.  They presented themselves  a reform group promoting Christianity and “Americanism.” They actively worked for limits on immigration and were hostile to groups of people deemed “undesirable” including Catholics. According to one estimate the Klan had up to 200,000  members in Kansas during the 1920s. Historians refer to the time between 1915 and 1925 as the “2nd Klan.”

Camp Ground, unknown location. Photo taken by McDaniel’s Studio, Newton, Ks.

Most of the known Klan activities in Harvey County seemed to take place late in the fall of 1922 through spring 1923, including the meeting in the pasture.

Clip from The Jayhawker American, p. 2.

Advertisers in The Jayhawker American, p. 2.

In October 1922, rumors that several of the Republican candidates on the upcoming ballot were Klan members. To combat the rumors, C.D. Masters, Chairman of the Republican County Central, issued a statement printed in the October 31, 1922 Evening Kansan Republican regarding candidates and membership in the Klan. “There is not a Republican county candidate a member of said organization.”

In the November 23 issue of the Evening Kansan Republican, the editor noted:

“On general principles the Kansan is of course against the Ku Klux Klan, or any other organization or individual that presumes to try to supersede or set aside regularly constituted law and order.  The editor goes on to note that “so far . . .  there has been no breach of the law-no attempt at mob rule . . . or any of the violent conduct in the name of the Klan here” although, he noted, that this has not been the case in other Kansas communities.

The editor also noted:

“We have thought all along that the Klan movement was so utterly ridiculous that it would speedily die out as a useless and unworthy proposition, and we believe it would have done so, had not ardent opponents given it so much free advertising.”

Throughout the 1920s, there continued to be incidents in various Harvey County communities.

Donates Purse to Church 

Hesston, 1923

Early in 1923, the Methodist Church in Hesston received a visit from the Klan. The experience as described in the undated clipping included with a letter written by Waive Kline dated 3 February 1923.   According to the clipping, a twenty-four year old Newton man, Lyle Norton, was  the spokesman of the group of 16.  When asked why they had singled out Hesston Methodist Church, Norton replied:

“they had been observing the work of the churches in the county, and had learned that Rev. Tarvin was doing good work, but not receiving the support he deserved, and that the visit was made so that the people of the Hesston congregation many know that their activities were being watched.”

Clipping included with letter Waive Kline to Glenn Wacker, 3 February 1923.

All 16 members were in full regalia, but only Norton removed his mask noting that he was “not ashamed of their organization” and he requested that the Evening Kansan Republican state that the organization is “not anti -Catholic, not anti-Jew, not anti-Negro, and not anti-anything — just pro-American.”

Norton was a Harvey County native, born to James & Maggie Norton in June 1899. The elder Norton had a monument business and Lyle likely worked for his father. The 1920 Census shows him living at home. He married Martha and by the 1930 Census they had a 5 year old son. In the mid-1920s, he owned Norton Tire Store at 614 Main in Newton. The 1940 Census indicates that he and his family moved to El Paso, Colorado.

The Ku Klux Comes To Town

Halstead, 1923

Halstead Independent, 5 April 1923

The visit to the 1st Methodist Church in Halstead was less friendly. Lydia Mayfield included a description of the event she called a “most ridiculous and shameful show of hypocritical bigotry and silly jingoism” in her “Halstead the Early Years”

In 1923, the annual Easter Cantata was held at the 1st Methodist Church in Halstead. Participants in the chorus were “musically gifted people of the town” usually Protestant.  This year, however, one soloist was Catholic.  Mayfield noted that the “Klan was on hand to prevent this terrible desecration.” Eye witness Grace Barkemeyer described her memory of the event.

“I have a clear picture in my mind of how things looked the evening of the Klan visit.  I remember how Elmer Ruth looked around to see what made the chorus look so startled and how each one in the audience looked as they caught sight of the intruders.”  Grace Barkemeyer, quoted in Mayfield, “Halstead the Early Years”

The reporter for the Halstead Independent noted that “the leader made as short speech in which he berated the morals of the community and the churches, castigated the clergy and said that the Klan was going to weed out the sinners and anybody not one hundred person American.” At the conclusion of his speech, he announced that he was “not ashamed” and removed his hood “when the features of Lyle Norton of Newton were recognized by many.” After a short prayer, the leader put a few dollars on the pulpit for “moral and religious training of young boys and girls of Halstead” and the eighteen “hooded sheeted Klan marched out.

Nobody knew for certain who the Halstead members were, but Lyle Norton was again the spokesman for the group.

The Klan held Their Regular Meeting 

Sedgwick, 1924

Several meeting notices and advertisements appeared in the Sedgwick Pentagram throughout 1924.

Sedgwick Pentagram, 13 April 1924

O.S. Finch (1869-1940), was a businessman in Sedgwick, married with at least two children.  His possible involvement in the Klan is unknown other than this advertisement.

Sedgwick Pentagram, 11 September 1924, p. 3.

Sedgwick Pentagram, 2 October 1924, p. 1.

Klan Parade

Newton, 1927

The Evening Kansan Republican, reported in 1927 that a “Klan Parade Was Held.” According to the notice in the August 8, 1927 issue, the Klan parade began at “Athletic Park coming in on Fifth, north on Poplar to Seventh and thence back south.” The column of participants was “two to three blocks long with three persons abreast, including women and children, all with full  regalia except masks.  A band headed the parade.” The parade was followed by a speaker.

By the late 1920s, the Klan was in decline in Harvey County. On January 25, 1925,  Kansas became the first state  to legally “oust the Klan” after a ruling by the Kansas Supreme Court that the Klan was a foreign corporation and need a Kansas charter to continue in Kansas.


  • Jayhawker American Vol. 1, Number 7, published in Newton, Ks, 19 October 1922.  HCHM Archives.
  • Newton City Directories: 1917, 1919, 1934, 1938, 1940.
  • U.S. Census: 1900, 1920, 1930, 1940.
  • Standard Atlas of Harvey County, Kansas, 1918. 
  • Mitchell Map of Harvey County, Kansas, 1926.
  • Newspapers:
    • Evening Kansan Republican:  14 September 1906, 11 March 1909, 20 March 1909, 28 June 1912, 23 July 1921, 22 March 1922, 5 April 1922,  3 May 1922, 19 May 1922, 7 July 1922, 21 August 1922, 13 September 1922, 6 October 1922, 20 October 1922, 21 October 1922, 28 October 1922, 30 October 1922, 31 October 1922, 23 November 1922, 4 December 1922, 2 April 1923. 4 April 1923, 23 October 1923, 7 December 1924, 8 August 1927, 21 June 1946.
    • Halstead Independent, 5 April 1923.
    • Sedgwick Pentagram: 14 February 1924, 13 April 1924, 6 September 1924, 11 September 1924, 2 October 1924, 9 October 1924, 16 October 1924, 28 October 1924.
    • Clipping of Klan Activities in Hesston, 3 February 1923 HCHM Archives.
  • Kline, Waive to Glen Wacker, letter dated 3 February 1923.  Wacker Collection, HCHM Archives
  • Mayfield, Lydia.  “Halstead: The Early Years” Halstead, Ks, 1987.  HCHM Archives.

Additional Resources

  • Sloan, Charles William, Jr. “Kansas Battles the Invisible Empire: The Legal Outster of the KKK From Kansas, 1922-1927” Fall 1974 (Vol. 40, No. 3)  at https://www.kshs.org/p/kansas-historical-quarterly-kansas-battles-the-invisible-empire/13247
  • Grinspan, Jon. “The KKK’s Failed Comeback” http://www.whatitmeanstobeamerican.org.
  • Jones, Lila Lee. The Ku Klux Klan in Eastern Kansas during the 1920s. Emporia State Research Studies, Winter, 1975.
  • Rives, Timothy. “The Second Ku Klux Klan in Kansas City:  Rise and Fall of a White Nationalist Movement” Dwight Eisenhower Presidential Library.  Kansas City Public Library, The Pendergast Years.
  • Schruben, Francis W. Kansas In Turmoil: 1930-1936.  Columbia, Missouri: University of Missouri Press, 1969.
  • “The Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s” at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/general-article/flood-klan.
  • “Klan Painting” at  http://www.kshs.org/cool2/klan.htm.
  • Ku Klux Klan in Kansas – Kansapedia – Kansas State Historical Society at http://www.org/kansapedia/ku-klux-klan-in-kansas/15612.


“Immense Loss”

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

“On this the coldest day this year to date . . . about 6:45 am, fire started in the hay loft of the J.B. Thompson Livery Stable at 112-114 East 6th.”

Newton has had several major fires throughout it’s history. The largest occurred on August 4, 1914  and disseminated the buildings on the east side of Main in the 500 block. The fire that destroyed the opera house followed a few months later on January 1, 1915.

Prior to the fires of 1914 & 1915, the fire that destroyed Thompson’s Livery Stable on January 29, 1908, was particularly tragic with the lose of 35 horses.

Evening Kansan Republican, 29 January 1908, p.1.

When firefighters arrived at the scene, it was apparent that the Livery was beyond saving, so they focused on keeping the fire from spreading to nearby businesses, including Lehman Hardware. Assistance was given by the Santa Fe Firemen and at one point “eight streams of water were in operation on the fire buildings and exposures.” Despite their efforts, the building was soon totally involved.

600 Block of Main, east side, Newton, Ks January 28, 1908.

Thompson’s Livery Stable, including 35 horses, a small barn and Lehman’s Hardware were completely destroyed or gutted. Other adjacent buildings sustained some damage.

The total loss from the fire was reported as $68,300.00.

The loss of the livery was one that Thompson could not recover from.  A well thought of auctioneer and businessman, he was already in poor health, suffering from Bright’s disease.  Thompson sold the lot to Samuel Lehman on 20 February 1908.  For the last year of his life he was totally blind and remained at home until his death at the age of 54 on 26 February 1909.


  • Warhurst, Elvin E. “Early Fire Protection in Newton, Kansas, 1872-1922.” HCHM 1995, HCHM Archives.
  • Evening Kansan Republican: 29 January 1908, 30 January 1908, 4 February 1908, 11 February 1908,  20 February 1908, 27 February 1909.
  • El Dorado Republican: 31 January 1908.