Happy Birthday, Lillian Wald!
NAHC celebrates the remarkable life of one of the pioneering nurses of home care and public health advocate
March 11, 2015 11:07 AM
On March 10, 1867 Lillian Wald was born in Cincinnati, OH. Born to a prominent Jewish family in the community, Wald would eventually move to New York and become a powerful force in the burgeoning public health movement, as well as lay the cornerstone for the movement to provide high quality care to patients right in their homes. For all of her accomplishments, NAHC honors one of the founders and guiding forces of the home care and hospice movement that was very much created through her inspiration.
One of the most influential and respected social reformers of the 20th century, and founder of the Henry Street Settlement in New York City, Lillian Wald was a tireless and accomplished humanitarian. At age 22 Wald moved to Manhattan to attend the New York Hospital School of Nursing. It was a move that would forever change the facing of nursing, and the care of the sick, infirm, elderly and disabled from all walks of life.
In 1893, after witnessing first-hand the poverty and hardship endured by immigrants on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Wald founded Henry Street Settlement to serve the downtrodden population. She moved into the neighborhood and, living and working among the industrial poor, she and her colleagues offered health care to area residents in their homes on a sliding fee scale. In addition to health care, Henry Street provided social services and instruction in everything from the English language to music. Through the Settlement, Wald also founded the Visiting Nurse Service of New York, which was founded on the belief that care is best delivered in the comfortable surrounding’s of one’s own home.
“Ms. Wald deserves to be better remembered and honored,” said NAHC President Val J. Halamandaris. “She was a nurse, social worker, public health official, teacher, author, editor, publisher, women's rights activist, and the founder of the American community nursing movement."
As headworker of Henry Street Settlement until 1933, Wald drew from global intellectual currents of reform — especially networks of women and Progressives — as she integrated her Settlement into powerful political networks for social change. During her 40 years at the helm, she established herself as a courageous national leader in campaigns for social reform, public health and anti-militarism, and as an international crusader for human rights.
Wald pioneered public health nursing by placing nurses in public schools, and by helping found the National Organization for Public Health Nursing and Columbia University's School of Nursing. The Visiting Nurse Service of New York, started by Wald at the Settlement, broke off as a separate entity in 1944. Through all of her efforts, Wald encouraged all citizens to act on their own responsibility to all of humanity – a guiding principal that lead to Wald’s lifelong pursuit of the care of others.
Wald died on Sept. 1, 1940 at the age of 73, but her legacy lives on in the institutions she helped build and the causes for which she fought. In the 115 years since she created it, the VNS of New York has grown from a staff of 10 to 12,000; its revenue from zero to $1 billion annually; and its patient population from some 18,000 to 3.5 million a year. Over the same period, the number of home care community nursing programs has increased from seven to more than 25,000 in our nation today.