Lillian Wald was born on March 10, 1867 in Cincinnati, Ohio. She lived a privileged life, being the daughter of two successful parents. Her schooling was good; she started out attending private school, and later attended the New York Hospital Training School for Nurses. After her schooling, Wald worked in the New York Juvenile Asylum and held classes in a nursing home for the poor. She was also a social worker during the time and originated the term “public health nurse,” which was used for nurses who helped the poor with healthcare. She did this because she wanted to help something bigger than herself.
Lillian Wald founded the Henry Street Settlement on the Lower East Side of New York City, and was an influential leader within the city, as well as in in national politics. The settlement even had one of the largest playgrounds in the city. In relation to Jane Addams, they were very similar, “though she was not familiar with the work of Jane Addams when she moved to the Lower East Side, Wald led the Nurses’ Settlement in the direction of a full-fledged settlement house – eventually changing the name to Henry Street Settlement – as she saw the social causes of poverty in the neighborhood. Ms. Wald was also an early advocate for the creation of the National Federation of Settlements.”
Wald was recognized on the international level, and many looked up to her. She was a suffragist and tried to get women the right to vote. She also helped Margaret Sanger fight for the right of women to have access to birth control. “She fought for peace, leading several marches in protest of World War I. But when war became inevitable, she pitched in to do her part as Chairman of the Committee on Community Nursing of the American Red Cross. She also helped chair the Red Cross campaign to wipe out the influenza epidemic of 1918 and represented the U.S. at International Red Cross meetings.” Wald also persuaded Columbia University to hire the country’s first professor in nursing, today, most nursing programs are run through colleges and universities.
Lillian Wald became ill and retired after many years at the Henry Street Settlement. She moved to Westport, Connecticut and died shortly after on September 1, 1940 from a cerebral hemorrhage. She was 73 years old.
Photo: Library of Congress