Lillian Wald (1867–1940) social worker, reformer

2011-03-06 09:11:53

Lillian Wald was a pioneer in the field of public health nursing. Helping to establish the Henry Street Settlement house in New York City in 1895, she ministered to the needs of thousands of immigrants as she campaigned for progressive reforms in the United States.
Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, to German-Jewish immigrant parents who were refugees following the 1848 revolution (see revolutions of 1848), Wald deliberately avoided a traditional middle-class education, opting instead to enroll in the nurse training program of Manhattan’s Bellevue Hospital, graduating in 1891. In 1892, she entered the Women’s Medical College, where she began to teach home nursing in the tenement houses of the Lower East Side. Overwhelmed by the needs of the immigrant poor, she abandoned her formal medical career and in 1893 moved to the Lower East Side. She raised funds to purchase what became the Henry Street Settlement, which served as home to a body of nonsectarian, public health nurses who charged fees only to those who could pay. By 1914, 100 nurses were working there, and Henry Street Settlement owned nine city houses, seven vacation homes, and three stores. It also served as a community center, where Wald provided clubs, a savings bank, a health clinic, job training, and a library. She helped convince the local school board to provide school nurses, free lunches, and special assistance to the handicapped. Her opposition to World War I (1914–18) led to a decline in contributions to the Henry Street house and increasing accusations of political radicalism. Wald was a founding member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, helped establish the New York State Bureau of Industries and Immigration, and served as chairman of the American Union against Militarism.