Helene Bresslau Schweitzer, Medical Missionary, Nurse, Teacher, Social Worker, Sociologist & Musician: Madeline’s Monthly Musical Tips Blog & Radio Show for July 2023

Our Blog and Radio Show celebrates the life and work of Helene Bresslau Schweitzer, medical missionary, nurse, teacher, social worker, sociologist and musician. She co-founded the Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Africa with her husband Albert.

Many of the world’s nurses, medical missionaries, psychologists, medical doctors, mathematicians, biologists, chemists, scientists, engineers, writers, and others have studied and played musical instruments since they were children. These eminent individuals have integrated music into their thinking process. Included is an article on “Healing Notes”.

Article of the month: “The Sound of Success” by Madeline Frank, Ph.D.

Feature Question for July 2023: How did Classical music play a part of Helene Bresslau Schweitzer’s life as a medical missionary, nurse, teacher, social worker, sociologist, and musician and which musical instruments did she play?


Early life:

Helene Bresslau was born on January 25, 1879 in Berlin to Harry Bresslau, Professor of History and Caroline “Carry” Isay Bresslau into a cultured Jewish family. She grew up with her brothers Hermann and Ernest and her father’s younger sister and brothers. Also, a nephew of her mother’s was “part of this lively household where the children were taught to care for one another by observing their parents.” Helene at the age of 6,  “attended  Queen Charlotte’s School. “

With the widespread of Anti-Semitism Professor Bresslau had his three children baptized by a Lutheran pastor in 1886 while on a family vacation. Helene was 7 years old.

When Helene was 11, she and her family moved to Alsace which was part of Germany at that time. “Her father,Harry Bresslau , began working at the University of Strasbourg  and” later became the chancellor. After moving Helene became fluent in French.




She transferred in 1890 to “Lindner Girls’ High School in Berlin to pursue music studies at a music conservatory from 1897 to 1899.” She received her teaching credentials “in one year instead of the usual two years.” In 1902 she worked in England as a teacher. She was passionate about learning and continued taking courses at the University of Strasbourg, her father’s university. She also took voice and piano lessons.” She was one of the first female students to attend the University.


Helene Bresslau met Albert Schweitzer, her future husband, in 1898 at a wedding. Helene was 19 and Albert was 4 years older 23. This was the beginning of their relationship. They shared the ideology “to take care of others.” She became Albert’s friend and confident.

Helene began a bicycle club with her friend Elly Knapp . Helene later invited Albert to join the bicycle club. “They enjoyed outings along the Rhine with friends and alone together. It was on one of those excursions in 1902 that Helene Bressau and Albert Schweitzer made a pact of profound and enduring friendship.”

Helene Bresslau was also “one of the first women skiers, sang in the choir and played the organ,”

Helene became interested in nursing and on January 1, 1904 she “ joined the Protestant Deaconess’ Society  to complete a course in nursing.” Taking a break from nursing on April 1, 1905 she became the first female “municipal inspector for orphans in the Strasbourg’s  City Orphan Administration.” She continued working from 1905 to 1909 in this social work position. “In addition to that demanding role, she found time to co-found a home for unwed mothers in the Strasbourg suburb of Neudorf that opened in November 1907, ready to welcome eight unmarried women and their children.” When Helene saw a need she filled it!

Patti M. Marxsen , of the 2015 biography of Helene Bresslau Schweitzer said,

 “Helene valued hard work as much as she valued her relationship with Albert Schweitzer, though this deep connection was at the center of both of their lives, as over 600 letters written prior to their marriage clearly demonstrate.”

Helene left her job at the orphanage and on October 1, 1909 and “enrolled in a rigorous nursing course at the Protestant Deaconess’ Society in Frankfurt to advance her knowledge.”



Dr. Albert Schweitzer was already a Reverend, theologian, virtuoso organist, musicologist, writer, humanitarian, and philosopher and had doctorates in philosophy and theology. At the age of 30, he decided to go to medical school to heal the sick in Africa as a medical missionary. Albert Schweitzer began his medical education in 1905 and earned his M.D. in 1913 “with specialization in tropical medicine and surgery.”

January 2008 Feature QuestionWhy did Albert Schweitzer travel to Africa?




Helene Bresslau and Albert Schweitzer married: On June 18, 1912 Helene Bresslau and Albert Schweitzer were married in Gunsbach by Albert’s father a Pastor. “Helene and Albert shared one main common goal: to help improve medicine and the greater good in Lambaréné, Gabon.”

Helene Bresslau Schweitzer wrote in her diary “we are truly in love with Africa.”                                                                                                                                                  

Their “journey to make medical improvements in Africa allowed Helene to develop herself. Patti Marxsen writes that Helene’s “capacity for hard work in a challenging environment can be read as proof that her independence earned in Strasbourg was now unshakeable. For the now thirty-four-year-old Helene Bresslau Schweitzer…a life in Africa offered a chance to integrate multiple aspects of modern identity, perhaps even more so than would have been possible in Europe.”



  Helene studied nursing and “the medical field before Albert became involved in medicine. She played a vital role in his work, acting as an influence.”

They began their hospital in 1913: Helene and Albert in the spring of 1913 “set off to establish a hospital (Albert Schweitzer Hospital) near an already existing mission post.”

Helene Bresslau Schweitzer was the “first woman who stepped off a boat, climbed a hill, rolled up her sleeves, and went to work in there for the good of humanity.”



They examined 2,000 patients in the first 9 months:

Helene and Albert in their first nine months at their new hospital examined around 2,000 patients. Some of their patients had traveled many days and many miles to reach the Schweitzer Hospital for medical treatment. As a nurseHelene sanitized, prepared medical equipment for surgery and was the “anesthetist for surgical operations.” She also “kept a diary, documented much of Albert’s autobiography, and “supported the mission work with lectures and fund-raising” essential to its upkeep.”

The native people called Helene Bresslau Schweitzer “Madame Docteur.”

“She was an active partner from the beginning, and an ardent worker. Her deep connection to Africa solidified in the first years along the Ogowe, allowing her to feel connected to Lambarene for the rest of her life regardless of where she was. It was a world that never left her. For Helene, as for other women who would follow, a life in Africa represented an opportunity to experience a special kind of independence.”




Beginning of WW1 Summer of 1914:

In the summer of 1914, WW1 began. “The French military put Helene and Albert, who were Germans in a French colony, under supervision at Lambaréné, where they continued their work. In 1917, exhausted by over four years’ work and by tropical anemia, they were taken to Bordeaux and interned first in Garaison and then from March 1918 in Saint-Remy de Provence.”



“As German citizens living and working in a French colony, they were placed under house arrest as “civil prisoners of war,” …to protect the French population. Schweitzer was forbidden to practice medicine until African patients persuaded authorities to allow him to continue. Meanwhile, life became more difficult than ever. Donations were minimal. Reserves ran low. Albert and Helene even learned to eat monkey flesh for protein, as a mean of combatting tropical anemia.”

The Schweitzers were deported in November of 1917 “to southern France as civil prisoners of war to an old monastery in the Hautes Pyrénées. Among the indignities of this camp were restricted movement, censured mail, bad food, and crowded conditions. But, as the only doctor available in the camp, Albert was able to work.”

The Schweitzers in late March 1918 “were transferred to an exclusively Alsatian civil prisoner of war camp, St. Rémy de Provence in an old monastery, with damp stone floors, sitting adjacent to a former insane asylum where Vincent Van Gogh had spent most of the last year of his life before committing suicide in 1890.”

 Helene was “suffering from increasing fatigue ever since they had been forced to spend three weeks confined to a barracks in Bordeaux, before their internment in Garaison. In addition to her poor health, Helene experienced the first signs of pregnancy at St. Rémy at age 39.”

As part of the prisoner exchange in the summer of 1918, Helene and Albert Schweitzer were finally sent home. Helene Bresslau Schweitzer gave birth to their daughter, Rhena on January 14, 1919, on her father, Albert Schweitzer’s forty- fourth birthday.



Helene had many health challenges including “a diagnosis of open tuberculosis” and was unable to live in Lambarene. In 1923 the family moved to Königsfeld im Schwarzwald, Baden-Württemberg, where Albert was building a house for the family.”

Even though she was in poor health, “she took care of her daughter, engaged herself with the Hospital Aid Association, and enrolled in a three-week course in tropical medicine at the Medical Missionary Institute of Tübingen, Germany.” Helene continued developing her skills in nursing to help the mission hospital. At times Albert had her remain in Germany.

Albert went back to Africa in 1924 to rebuild the hospital with “Oxford undergraduate, Noel Gillespie, as assistant.”

After she received treatment for pneumonia in 1929 she “returned to Lambaréné to see Albert’s progression with the new hospital. Shortly after arriving, she developed a bad fever and was forced to depart the hospital and her husband to return to Europe for treatment.”

Once she recovered “she used her writing skills and began to edit her husband’s autobiography. Her English skills opened the door for “public speaking and networking in the United States.”

A German newspaper on December 1, 1930 “printed one of her speeches. In it, she described her husband’s concept, the Fellowship of the Mark of Pain.

 She turned her medical challenges into positives, explaining that through her suffering she developed a compassionate view of their work that only she could personally attest.”



World War II

Helene’s life “as a woman of Jewish origins in Königsfeld, Germany” during WWII was fraught with danger. Adolf Hitler was elected as Chancellor in 1933. Helene moved with Rhena to Lausanne partly for her daughter’s education and to flee Germany.

Helene moved to the United States with Rhena in 1937 “for new opportunities, freedom, and to make friends and raise funds for the Schweitzer Hospital in Lambarene. She organized a lecture tour—with a slide show—that she delivered throughout the winter and early spring of 1937–38” in major U.S. cities. This was the first “public relations” campaign in promote the Schweitzer Hospital; supplies from this fundraising, including medicines and surgical instruments that arrived in May 1942.”  Her “talent as a public speaker brought Americans into the international community of Schweitzer Hospital supporters. Helene’s presence in America in 1938 helped to establish a circle of interest that is, today, the Boston-based Albert Schweitzer Fellowship.”

Helene Schweitzer in June 1940, was “in Paris, visiting her daughter’s young family, which included a new baby, when Hitler’s troops invaded the city. The next year of her life was a challenging odyssey through southern France, into Spain, and then to the gateway of Lisbon to made her way back to Africa. This remarkable journey can only be explained by Helene’s talent for organization, as well as her patience and determination. Happily, she would remain in Lambarene, working as a nurse, until the autumn of 1946.” (She was 67 years old.)



Even though Helene “was aware that her husband would receive much of the acclaim for their missionary endeavors, she set out to make her work known. In October 1946, she began to review her documents and collect them so that she would be understood as a “full partner” in their missionary work.” She was “concerned with accurate documentation, to be sure her part in Albert Schweitzer’s life and work was correctly preserved for posterity that, by this time, included four grandchildren.”

Mary Kingsley, writer says, Albert Schweitzer, medical missionary, “did not mention his wife’s role in his efforts. Ms. Kingsley continues, Helene Schweitzer is “one form of human being whose praise has never adequately been sung, namely, the missionary’s wife. While much of his work seems to overwrite her own, she played a pivotal role in the advancement of medicine, feminine independence, and societal justice.”



Highlights from later years: 

In 1949, Helene traveled with Albert to America. In 1952 she gave a moving speech at the University of Freiburg before an audience of over 800 people. In 1954 she traveled with her husband Albert when he was awarded his Nobel Peace Prize. “But to feel involved and still essential at the hospital she had co-founded in 1913 was a special gift, perhaps because it was unexpected.”

For over 40 years Helene Schweitzer’s universe was Albert Schweitzer’s 1915 philosophy of “Reverence for Life.”

Helene Bresslau Schweitzer’s legacy was serving “as the prototype for the dozens of active, modern women who would devote some part of their lives to the remote hospital in a place that became the Republic of Gabon in 1960.”

 “One should never be forgotten—Albert Schwitzer’s wife, Helene Bresslau Schweitzer, colleague, and “most loyal friend.”



Helene Bresslau Schweitzer was a Medical missionary, nurse, social worker, linguist, sociologist, teacher, editor , wife/confidant

 of Albert Schweitzer   , mother of Rhena Schweitzer Miller, and grandmother. Helene Bresslau Schweitzer co-founded with her husband Albert Schweitzer, the Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Lambaréné, Gabon, Africa. She died on January 6, 1957, at the age of 77, in Zurich, Switzerland.


The Sound of Success by Madeline Frank, Ph.D

Napoleon Hill, author of “Think And Grow Rich” shares the Story of his son Blair.

Napoleon Hill’s son was born without any physical sign of ears, and the doctor admitted, when pressed for an opinion, that the child might be deaf, and mute for life.

Silently, “I challenged the doctor’s opinion as the child’s father. I, too, reached a decision.” He decided he would find the right words to heal his son so he would be able to hear.

Mr. Hill said, “As Blair grew older, and began to take notice of things around him, we observed that he had a slight degree of hearing. When he reached the age when children usually begin talking, he made no attempt to speak, but we could tell by his actions that he could hear certain sounds slightly. That was all I wanted to know! I was convinced that if he could hear, even slightly, he might develop even greater hearing capacity.”

Victrola (record player):

Mr. and Mrs. Hill “bought a Victrola. When the child heard the music for the first time, he went into ecstasies, and promptly appropriated the machine. He soon showed a preference for certain records, among them, “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary.” On one occasion, he played that piece over and over, for almost two hours, standing in front of the Victrola, with his teeth clamped on the edge of the case. The significance of this self-formed habit of his did not become clear to us until years afterward, for we had never heard of the principle of “bone conduction” of sound at that time.”

Mr. Hill, “Shortly after he appropriated the Victrola, I discovered that he could hear me quite clearly when I spoke with my lips touching his mastoid bone, or right behind where the ears should be. Having determined that he could hear the sound of my voice plainly, I began, immediately, to transfer to his mind the desire to hear and speak. I soon discovered that the child enjoyed bedtime stories, so I went to work, creating stories designed to develop in him self-reliance, imagination, and a keen desire to hear and to be normal.”

Mr. Hill continues, “As I analyze the experience in retrospect, I can see now that my son’s faith in me had much to do with the astounding results. He did not question anything I told him. I sold him the idea that he had a distinct advantage over his older brother, and that this advantage would reflect itself in many ways.”

Blair’s mother, Florence Elizabeth Horner Hill visited his teachers and arranged with them to give the child the extra attention necessary.

 (“His teachers in school observed he had no ears, and, because of this, they showed him special attention and treated him with extraordinary kindness. They always did.”)

Say Positive Good Things:  Believe in your Child:

Napoleon Hill, “I sold him the idea that when he became old enough to sell newspapers, (his older brother had already become a newspaper merchant), he would have a big advantage over his brother, for the reason that people would pay him extra money for his wares, because they could see that he was a bright, industrious boy, despite the fact he had no ears. Gradually we noticed, “the child’s hearing was improving. Moreover, he had not the slightest tendency to be self-conscious, because of his affliction.”

Blair was Determined to sell newspapers:

At 7 years of age,  Blair “begged for the privilege of selling newspapers, but his mother would not give her consent. She was afraid that his deafness made it unsafe for him to go on the street alone. Finally, he took matters into his own hands. One afternoon, when he was left at home with the servants, he climbed through the kitchen window, shimmied to the ground, and set out on his own.”

Borrowing “six cents in capital from the neighborhood shoemaker, he invested it in papers, sold out, reinvested, and kept repeating until late in the evening. After balancing his accounts, and paying back the six cents he had borrowed from his banker, he had a net profit of forty-two cents. When we got home that night, we found him in bed asleep, with the money tightly clenched in his hand.”

“His mother opened his hand, removed the coins, and cried. Of all things! Crying over her son’s first victory seemed so inappropriate. My reaction was the reverse. I laughed heartily, for I knew that my endeavor to plant in the child’s mind an attitude of faith in himself had been successful.”

“His mother saw, in his first business venture, a little deaf boy who had gone out in the streets and risked his life to earn money. I saw a brave, ambitious, self-reliant little business man whose stock in himself had increased a hundred percent, because he had gone into business on his own initiative, and had won. The transaction pleased me, because I knew that he had given evidence of a trait of resourcefulness that would go with him all through life.”

On the other hand, “when his older brother wanted something, he would lie down on the floor, kick his feet in the air, cry for it–and get it. When the “little deaf boy” wanted something, he would plan a way to earn the money, then buy it for himself. He still follows that plan!”

“Truly, my own son has taught me that handicaps can be converted into stepping stones on which one may climb toward some worthy goal, unless they are accepted as obstacles, and used as alibis.”

Continued to keep learning despite being Deaf:

Our son, “went through the grades, high school, and college without being able to hear his teachers, except when they shouted loudly, at close range.”

Parents say no to Sign Language:

“We would not permit him to learn sign language. We were determined that he should live a normal life, and associate with normal children, and we stood by that decision, although it cost us many heated debates with school officials.”

 When he was “in high school he tried an electrical hearing aid, but it was of no value to him; due, we believed, to a condition that was disclosed when the child was six, by Dr. J. Gordon Wilson, of Chicago, when he operated on one side of the boy’s head, and discovered that there was no sign of natural hearing equipment.”

Beginning of his Changed World:

Napoleon Hill, “During Blair’s last week in college …he came into possession of another electrical hearing device, which was sent to him on trial. He was slow about testing it, due to his disappointment with a similar device. Finally, he picked the instrument up, and more or less carelessly, placed it on his head, hooked up the battery, and lo! as if by a stroke of magic, his lifelong desire for normal hearing became a reality! For the first time in his life he heard practically as well as any person with normal hearing. “

“Overjoyed because of the Changed World which had been brought to him through his hearing device, Blair rushed to the telephone, called his mother, and heard her voice perfectly. The next day Blair plainly heard the voices of his professors in class, for the first time in his life! Previously he could hear them only when they shouted, at short range. He heard the radio. He heard the talking pictures. For the first time in his life, he could converse freely with other people, without the necessity of having to speak loudly. Truly, he had come into possession of a changed world.”

Blair writes to the manufacture of hearing aid:  “Hardly realizing the significance of what had already been accomplished, but intoxicated with the joy of his newly discovered world of sound, he wrote a letter to the manufacturer of the hearing-aid, enthusiastically describing his experience.”

Blair wrote “something in his letter; something, perhaps which was not written on the lines, but back of them, caused the company to invite him to New York. When he arrived, he was escorted through the factory, and while talking with the Chief Engineer, telling him about his changed world, a hunch, an idea, or an inspiration–call it what you wish–flashed into his mind. It was this impulse of thought which converted his affliction into an asset, destined to pay dividends in both money and happiness to thousands for all time to come.”

To Blair it “occurred he might be of help to the millions of deaf people who go through life without the benefit of hearing devices, if he could find a way to tell them the story of his Changed World. He reached a decision to devote the remainder of his life to rendering useful service to the hard of hearing. For an entire month, he carried on intensive research, during which he analyzed the entire marketing system of the manufacturer of the hearing device, and created ways and means of communicating with the hard of hearing all over the world.”

Blair’s two-year plan to help others who are deaf:

Blair Hill wrote “a two-year plan on his findings. When he presented the plan to the company, he was instantly given a position, for the purpose of carrying out his ambition. He was destined to bring hope and practical relief to thousands of deafened people who, without his help, would have been doomed forever to deaf mutism.”

“Shortly after Blair became associated with the manufacturer of his hearing aid, he invited his father, Napoleon Hill to attend a class conducted by his company, for the purpose of teaching deaf mutes to hear, and to speak.”

Napoleon Hill said, “I had never heard of such a form of education; therefore, I visited the class. Here I saw a demonstration which gave me a greatly enlarged vision of what I had done to arouse and keep alive in my son’s mind the desire for normal hearing. I saw deaf mutes actually being taught to hear and to speak, through application of the self-same principle I had used, more than twenty years previously, in saving my son from deaf mutism.”

Napoleon Hill continues, “There is no doubt in my mind that Blair would have been a deaf mute all his life, if his mother and I had not managed to shape his mind as we did. The doctor who attended at his birth told us, confidentially, the child might never hear or speak. A few weeks ago, Dr. Irving Voorhees, a noted specialist on such cases, examined Blair very thoroughly. He was astounded when he learned how well my son now hears, and speaks, and said his examination indicated that “theoretically, the boy should not be able to hear at all.” But the lad does hear, despite the fact that X-ray pictures show there is no opening in the skull, whatsoever, from where his ears should be to the brain.”

What do you think Blair’s life would have looked like if his parents hadn’t encouraged him to create the life he wanted?

It all began with Napoleon Hill planting in his son’s mind the Desire to hear and talk as a normal person.

Napoleon Hill said, “It would be unforgivable if I neglected to tell the world as much as I know of the humble part I assumed in the strange experience. It is my duty, and a privilege to say I believe, and not without reason, that nothing is impossible to the person who backs desire with enduring faith. I planted in his mind the desire to convert his greatest handicap into his greatest asset. That desire has been realized. The modus operandi by which this astounding result was achieved is not hard to describe.”

He continues, “It consisted of three very definite facts;

  1. I mixed faith with the desire for normal hearing, which I passed on to my son.
  2. I communicated my desire to him in every conceivable way available, through persistent, continuous effort, over a period of years.
  3. He believed me!”

“Healing Notes” (April 9, 2023) The Montrealer. How do you change the mood of the patients at the Cancer treatment center waiting room of the hospital? By filling the air with classical music that sooths the soul!
Patil Harboyan, a classical pianist, was with a family member waiting for cancer treatment in the waiting area. The “area was big, bright, and clean, but totally stark and silent.” She thought it would be “the perfect size for a piano!”
Classical music played in the background would calm and sooth the patients.




 “The Secret of Teaching Science & Math Through Music” by Madeline Frank, Ph.D. is available in book form, and newly updated as an e-book on Kindle, Nook, or iBook:

 “Musical Notes On Math” by Dr. Madeline Frank teaches your child fractions and decimals, the fun easy way, through the rhythm of music, Winner of the Parent To Parent Adding Wisdom Award is available in book form, newly updated as an e-book on Kindle, Nook, or iBook.:


Dr. Madeline Frank’s book “Leadership on a Shoestring Budget” is available through amazon. To order your copy as an e-book on Kindle click on the following link:


 “Madeline’s Midnight Melodies- Music From around the World”. This CD complements her books with a blend of dance music, gigues, tangos, ballet and favorites including “Danny Boy”, Puccini’s “O Mio Babbino Caro”, Debussy’s “Claire De Lune” and others. “Madeline’s Midnight Melodies” CD is now available for purchase by downloading a song, downloading the album click below:

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Wishing you and your family a Happy July 4th from your Non-Invasive Medicine…Music Expert, Madeline

For over 30 years, Dr. Madeline Frank has helped children and adults overcome problems through Classical music. Madeline Frank, Ph.D., DTM is an award-winning teacher, an amazon.com best-selling author, researcher, speaker, conductor, and concert artist. She has discovered a scientific link between studying a musical instrument and academic and societal success. Madeline Frank earned her Bachelor and Master’s degree from the Juilliard School of Music. Her education has included scholarships at the Juilliard School, Indiana University, and the University of Cincinnati and she has a violin performance diploma from the North Carolina School of the Arts. (C) 2023 Madeline Frank.