Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Carl Friedrich Graebner (1862–1949)

by P. D. Pahl

This article was published:

Carl Friedrich Graebner (1862-1949), clergyman and educationist, was born on 8 October 1862 at St Charles, Missouri, United States of America, son of Pastor J. Henry Philipp Graebner and his wife Jacobine, née Denninger. Pastor Graebner, a Franconian missionary, had helped to establish Lutheran colonies in Michigan. Carl was educated at a private school, at North-western University, Wisconsin (B.A., 1882), and at Concordia Seminary, St Louis. He was ordained at Sedalia, Missouri, his first parish, in 1885. Next year on 12 August at Washington, Missouri, he married Charlotte Stoeppelwerth. From 1889 to 1903 he served at Topeka, Kansas, and Bay City, Michigan.

In 1902 Professor A. L. Graebner, Carl's brother, travelled to Murtoa, Victoria, to settle differences at the local Concordia College and seminary, formed from the school founded by T. W. Boehm. On returning home, he sought a professor for the college. Carl Friedrich accepted. He arrived at Murtoa in August 1903 to find that the college had closed again. He revived the parish's support, and Concordia reopened in April next year. In December it moved to Unley, Adelaide, where it resumed as Concordia College and Seminary in February 1905, with Graebner as headmaster. He remained pastor of Murtoa parish and president of the synod's eastern district. He and his wife, matron at Concordia from 1905, were naturalized soon after arriving in Australia. A benign teacher, in the college he conducted services and taught Latin; in the seminary he taught Hebrew, Old Testament, dogmatics and minor disciplines. In 1927 Concordia took the novel step of enrolling girls.

Graebner was bilingual and he influenced Lutheran pastors at a time when the Evangelical Lutheran Synod in Australia was changing from the predominant use of German to the exclusive use of English. This was partly a response to the hostility directed at Australian Lutherans of German descent in World War I. In 1915 the South Australian parliament debated a bill for German schools to be scrutinized and registered by government inspectors, and to limit teaching in the German language. In June Graebner headed a deputation to parliament from E.L.S.A. which withdrew their opposition to the bill. He emphasized E.L.S.A.'s loyalty to the Empire and insisted that their schools' concern was educational and religious. He welcomed government visitors, so that citizens might be reassured of the sincerity of the schools, but begged that any school deemed 'inefficient' under the Act might be dealt with by synod.

Graebner worked with Lutheran War Relief and on the board of the Myrtle Bank Soldiers' Home. After the war he helped to produce a Lutheran hymn-book in English and for a time he edited the first English language church newspaper, the Australian Lutheran. These activities stressed the internationalism of E.L.S.A. and helped to dissociate it from the idea that Lutheran meant German. In 1925 he received an honorary doctorate of divinity from his old seminary.

In 1935 Graebner's wife died. Four years later he retired from the headmastership, although he remained president of the seminary until 1941. He died at Prospect on 5 June 1949, survived by two sons, both Lutheran pastors, and four of his six daughters, and was buried in West Terrace cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Brauer, Under the Southern Cross (Adel, 1956)
  • Concordia College, Brown and Gold, 1924-1939
  • Australian Lutheran Almanac, 1934
  • Australian Lutheran, 5 July 1935
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 19 June 1915
  • Germans in South Australia, 1914-18 (State Library of South Australia)
  • C. F. Graebner file (Lutheran Church Archives, North Adelaide).

Citation details

P. D. Pahl, 'Graebner, Carl Friedrich (1862–1949)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 15 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (Melbourne University Press), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


8 October, 1862
St Charles, Missouri, United States of America


5 June, 1949 (aged 86)
Prospect, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.