GOESSEL — There were few options for women in the early 1900s who wanted to have a career, but one field they could enter was nursing.

The history of the Bethesda Hospital Training School will be the subject of "Rural Health Care on the Great Plains: Nurses' Training and the Mennonite Deaconess Movement," a presentation by Rachel Waltner Goossen, professor of history at Washburn University, at the Mennonite Heritage and Agricultural Museum's annual meeting.

"A lot of women from Goessel went to join that program," noted Fern Bartel, director of the Mennonite Heritage and Agricultural Museum.

Goessel's Bethesda Hospital and Home, founded in 1899 and said to be the first Mennonite hospital in North America, ran a nursing program during the 1910s and 1920s.

As one of the first hospitals established in central Kansas, Bethesda Hospital drew patients from a large area.

"In its heyday, it was extraordinary," Bartel said.

The maternity ward kept busy caring for mothers and babies who traveled dozens of miles to receive medical care.

"It was quite a magnet for the people in this area," Bartel said.

Goossen will share photographs of the Bethesda Hospital and Home and the nurses and deaconesses who worked and trained there during her presentation.

The nurses were trained over a period of two to three years by Mennonite deaconesses.

The deaconess movement began in churches in Europe and spread to the United States as various church denominations tried to find a way for women to serve in nursing and the administration of schools and hospitals.

"It was an attractive option for women who wanted to get education beyond high school 100 years ago," Goossen said.

Much like Catholic nuns, deaconesses chose to live a life of service to the church.

"One of the things that Mennonites were doing around that time was to provide opportunities to women," Goossen said. "A lot of talented and enterprising young women went into nursing schools or the deaconess program."

Mennonite deaconesses were provided with clothing, housing and food for their whole lives. These necessities were paid for by church, but it did not pay them an additional salary for their work.

When higher education opportunities opened for women, enabling them to go into specialized fields of work without a religious commitment, the deaconess movement died out.

Though Bethesda Hospital was closed in 1983, Bethesda Home continues to serve residents in need of care.

The Mennonite Heritage and Agricultural Museum's annual meeting will take place from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. on Jan. 21 at Goessel Mennonite Church, 109 S. Church St. There is no charge for admission and refreshments will be served afterwards.

For more information about the Mennonite Heritage and Agricultural Museum or to schedule a tour during winter hours, visit http://www.goesselmuseum.com or call 620-367-8200.

Contact Patricia Middleton by email at pmiddleton@mcphersonsentinel.com or follow her stories on Twitter at @MacSentinel.