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American National Biography Online Wald, Lillian D. (10 Mar. 1867-1 Sept. 1940), public health nurse and social reformer, was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, the daughter of Max D. Wald, a dealer in optical wares, and Minnie Schwarz, both German immigrants. The family moved to Rochester, New York, and became part of the affluent German-Jewish community. Lillian enjoyed a happy, indulged childhood far removed from the urban poverty and ghetto life that absorbed her as an adult. Wald attended private schools, including Miss Cruttenden's "English-French Boarding and Day School for Young Ladies and Little Girls," which sought to train elegant women as well as offering classes in languages and the sciences. At the age of sixteen, she applied to Vassar College but was rejected because of her youth. She continued to study; however, she was increasingly dissatisfied with a life revolving around social events. During a visit to her sister, Wald met a graduate nurse who introduced her to a new profession that offered an opportunity for serious work and an outlet for her talents and ambition. Wald described the experience as "the opening of a window on a new world." In 1889 Wald entered the New York Hospital School of Nursing. After graduation and a year of working in the Juvenile Asylum in New York City, she enrolled in the Women's Medical College of the New York Infirmary. However, she was not destined to be a physician. Early in 1893 she agreed to teach home nursing to immigrants in a school on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. In later years, she often recalled the experience of the March morning that changed her life. When a student became ill, Wald went to her home in order to help her. Wald saw suffering, poverty, and filth in the tenement that made her "ashamed of being part of a society that permitted such conditions to exist." It was Wald's "baptism of fire." Wald left medical school and invited a friend, Mary Brewster, to join her in living on the Lower East Side, where they would provide health care in the homes of their impoverished neighbors. Wald described her plan to Mrs. Solomon Loeb and banker Jacob Schiff, and they agreed to underwrite the expenses of the two nurses. In 1895 Schiff financed the purchase of the building at 265 Henry Street that would be Wald's home for the next forty years. Schiff was only the first of a long list of wealthy "uptown" benefactors. At first, the house on Henry Street was called the Nurses' Settlement. The ideas generated at the settlement led to the introduction of public health nursing and the creation of the Visiting Nurses Service (VNS), Wald's single greatest achievement in health care. Wald believed that most sick people could be treated at home, a practice that saved money and left hospital beds available for the critically ill. Moreover, home patients benefited from being in familiar surroundings and from remaining with their families. Her innovations included providing nonsectarian care and charging a token fee to protect the dignity of the patient. Above all, she demanded independence for the nurses in the field, resulting in her campaigns for improved education and training for nurses. Wald's profession remained central to her life, and she continued to introduce innovations, including public school nurses (1902) and the Red Cross Town and Country Nursing Service (1912), which extended the system of home visits into rural communities. As her methods spread around the world, Henry Street became one of the great practical centers of nursing education. The Henry Street Settlement (HSS), as it was later called, provided activities and services including lectures, dances, and classes in the arts as well as clubs, playgrounds, and summer camps for children. Immigrant adults were encouraged to study English and to join citizenship groups to learn American customs. In addition, Wald helped create the Neighborhood Playhouse theater in 1915 to bring beauty and culture to the lives of her slum neighbors. Under Wald's skilled leadership, the HSS and the VNS grew in size and fame. By 1913 she supervised the work of ninety-two nurses who made 20,000 visits a year, and she managed additional buildings on Henry Street, which provided extra space for settlement activities, as well as uptown branches and country properties. A tireless and talented executive, she used her influence effectively both for the HSS and for scores of reform groups such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the New York Child Labor Committee. Much of her success, however, rested not on her management skills but rather on her love of people and her personal charm and humor, which attracted diverse individuals to Henry Street. At the time, settlement houses were the incubators of reform ideas, and Wald's popularity increased public support for her work. She became a publicist, educating people about the poverty of her neighbors and mobilizing support for "progressive, reasonable and right projects." Wald's experience on the Lower East Side expanded to the broader problems of the city, the state, and the nation. As she campaigned for clean streets, better housing, labor legislation, and other reforms, she recognized that little could be accomplished without the aid of elected officials. She invited politicians to the HSS for briefings and supported "right thinking" candidates, regardless of party. Wald became a familiar figure at New York City Hall and in Albany and Washington, D.C., working on government commissions, testifying before legislative committees, and lobbying for the appointment of sympathetic officeholders. She took particular pride in having helped convince President Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) to support the creation of the Children's Bureau, which was established in 1912, and to endorse what would become the nineteen-volume Report on the Condition of Women and Child Wage-Earners, which was used as the rationale for subsequent social legislation. Wald also worked to improve the lives of women. Her experience with wage-earning women motivated her to help found the Women's Trade Union League (1903), whose purpose was to encourage trade unionism and support labor legislation. At the same time, she sought to convince government agents to disregard gender when making appointments. It was inevitable that she would dedicate herself and the resources of the settlement to the fight for the vote for women. Wald's biographer R. L. Duffus wrote that she "could no more keep out of the suffrage movement than a fish could keep out of water." The threat of World War I horrified Wald. She wrote that as a nurse, she had devoted herself "to the saving of human life, . . . [and] the expansion of good will among people, and every expression of hatred . . . fairly paralyzes me." To her, war was "an anachronism" that would divert the nation's attention and resources from social reform to military spending. Consequently, she tried to convince the government to reject rearmament and to remain neutral. Wald helped to organize and became president of the American Union against Militarism, which fought against preparedness and for a peaceful solution to international disputes. She also identified with the Woman's Peace party, which attempted to bring about women's participation in the debate. Since women lost their loved ones and homes as the result of wars, Wald believed they had the right to speak. After the United States entered the conflict, she served on a Red Cross committee and with other groups involved with health matters, but her pacifist sentiments remained unchanged. Despite the sometimes controversial stands Wald took in her years of public life, she was always admired, even by her opponents. Therefore, she was unprepared for the personal attacks made against her by superpatriot groups in the years after World War I. Doubts raised about her loyalty by such groups made it difficult for her to raise money for the HSS and the VNS at a time of economic hardship for the urban poor. The depression began early for industrial workers, leading to increased demands for nursing and settlement services, which forced Wald to devote herself more and more to fundraising. In the mid-1920s, Wald's health deteriorated. She had always prided herself on her energy and endurance but was now forced to curtail her public activities. In 1933 she reluctantly retired from her active role in the settlement and the VNS and moved to Westport, Connecticut, where she died. A memorial service drew 2,500 people to honor a woman who had joyfully dedicated herself to the improvement of the lives of her fellow Americans. Her ashes were buried in a family plot in Rochester, New York. Wald's generation enjoyed somewhat of a golden age for women, and of her contemporaries who sought an increased public role for women in American society, only Jane Addams could claim greater fame and influence. Wald took special pride in being one of a small group of pioneers in modern nursing. The development of the field of public health was an impetus for the campaigns she waged for professionalization through licensing requirements and higher educational standards, which would improve health care and at the same time gain prestige and status for her nursing "sisters." Wald's devotion to the VNS did not diminish even when work as a leader in the settlement house movement and as a social worker claimed her time. Her friend Josephine Goldmark observed that Wald was "the great interpreter of one social class to another, of the new comer and the alien to the native-born, . . . of the under-privileged to the over-privileged." This talent to build bridges between classes enabled her to press for an understanding of the poor and to challenge society to accept an obligation to aid its less fortunate members. Government, too, had to change and to expand to include social welfare programs. Wald used the resources of the HSS to support legislation for better housing, for an end to child labor and tenement manufactures, for aid to widow and orphans, and for regulating wages and hours of work. Whether as a nurse or settlement leader, she was a symbol of the new woman who had influence in determining public policy in areas formerly reserved for men. She, in turn, argued for gender equality and a greater voice for women in the affairs of state and diplomacy. A pragmatist who understood that change was slow to come, she knew that only time and hard work would bring the "millennium" she envisioned. Bibliography Wald's papers, including letters, speeches, and writings, are in the New York Public Library and in the Butler Library, Columbia University. The reminiscences of George Alger, Bruno Lasker, Herbert Lehman, Frances Perkins, and Isabel Stewart in the Columbia University Oral History Collection provide information on Wald. She wrote of her Lower East Side experiences in The House on Henry Street (1915) and Windows on Henry Street (1934). R. L. Duffus, Lillian Wald, Neighbor and Crusader (1938), is a biographical account written by a friend and admirer, as is Paul U. Kellogg, "A Pioneer Woman of the City Frontier," New York Times Magazine, 13 Mar. 1927. Other biographies include Doris Groshen Daniels, Always a Sister: The Feminism of Lillian D. Wald (1989), and Allan Edward Reznick, "Lillian D. Wald: The Years at Henry Street" (Ph.D. diss., Univ. of Wisconsin, 1973). See also Ellen Condliffe Lagemann, A Generation of Women: Education in the Lives of Progressive Reformers (1979). An obituary is in the New York Times, 2 Sept. 1940. Doris Groshen Daniels Citation: Doris Groshen Daniels. "Wald, Lillian D."; http://www.anb.org/articles/15/15-00724.html; American National Biography Online Feb. 2000. Access Date: Copyright (c) 2000 American Council of Learned Societies. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. From American National Biography, published by Oxford University Press, Inc., copyright 2000 American Council of Learned Societies. Further information is available at http://www.anb.org.