Happy Birthday Lillian D. Wald

Happy Birthday Lillian D. Wald

March 10, 2014 04:32 PM


For additional information:

Barbara D. Woolley
National Association for Home Care & Hospice
(202) 547-7424


Washington, DC (March 10, 2014)—March 10 marks the birthday of Lillian D. Wald, nurse, social worker, public health official, teacher, author, editor, publisher, women’s rights activist, and the founder of the American community nursing movement.

“Lillian D. Wald’s unselfish devotion to humanity is recognized around the world and her visionary programs have been widely copied everywhere,” said Val J. Halamandaris, president of the National Association for Home Care & Hospice (NAHC). “Even a cursory examination of the record will show that her contributions to society equal or surpass such appropriately venerated women as Susan B. Anthony, Clara Barton, and Margaret Sanger. Ms. Wald deserves to be better remembered and honored,” said Halamandaris.

Ms. Wald was born on March 10, 1867, in Cincinnati, Ohio, the third of four children born to Max and Minnie Schwartz Wald. The family moved to Rochester, New York, and Wald received her education in private schools.

In 1889, Wald met a young nurse who impressed her so much that she decided to study nursing. She graduated from New York Hospital School of Nursing and enrolled in medical school. At the same time, she volunteered to provide nursing services to the immigrants and poor living in the tenements of New York City. Visiting pregnant women, the elderly, and the disabled in their homes, Wald came to the conclusion that there was a crisis in need of immediate redress. She quit medical school and moved into a house on Henry Street in order to live among those who so desperately needed help. In 1893, she organized the Henry Street Settlement, later known as the Visiting Nurse Service of New York (VNSNY). The VNSNY program became the model for similar entities across America and the world.

Wald began with no money and 10 nurses, which increased to 250 nurses and a budget of $600,000 by 1916. Wald and her colleagues visited the poor in their five-story, walk-up, cold-water flats. They educated residents about personal hygiene. They provided preventive, acute, and long-term health care and, later, assistance with housing and employment.

But Wald’s innovations did not stop with the VNSNY. She persuaded the New York Board of Education to require that all schools have a nurse on duty during school hours. She persuaded President Theodore Roosevelt to create a Federal Children’s Bureau to protect children from abusive child labor. She lobbied successfully to change divorce laws so abandoned spouses could receive compensation in the form of alimony. She helped form the Women’s Trade Union League to protect women from having to work in “sweatshops.”

Wald also worked to secure women’s right to vote and supported her employee and protégé, Margaret Sanger, in her battle to give women the right 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 helped chair the Red Cross campaign to wipe out the flu pandemic of 1918 and worked to protect workers by requiring health inspections in the workplace.

Another of her major achievements was persuading Columbia University to appoint the first professor of nursing at a U.S. college or university. Until that time, nursing had been taught in hospitals and consisted largely of supervised work experience; Wald insisted nursing education take place in universities, augmented by practical experience.

In 1922, Wald was named by The New York Times as one of the 12 greatest living American women. In 1932, she was chosen by historian J. Addams as one of the top 12 American women leaders in the past century. In 1936, she was proclaimed the Outstanding Citizen of New York. Wald died on Sept. 1, 1940, but her legacy lives on in the institutions she helped build and the causes for which she fought. In the 121 years since she gave it birth the VNSNY has grown from a staff of 10 to over 19,000; the annual revenue from zero to $2.2 billion; and the number of people served each year from about 15,000 to nearly 150,000. During the same time frame the number of home care community nursing programs has increased from seven to more than 33,000 today.

Wald chose never to marry but she has millions of progeny today in the form of the home care and hospice nurses, therapists, and aides who were inspired to follow in her footsteps. Emulating Longfellow’s admonition, she chose to leave footsteps in the sands of time. Wald summarized her beliefs by saying, “Nursing is love in action and there is no finer manifestation of it than the care of the aged and disabled in their own homes.”

NAHC and the Home Healthcare Nurses Association (HHNA) have launched their third Annual Nurse Recognition Program. They are now accepting nominations to honor and recognize nurses in each of the 50 states. Help us identify the nurses who best carry on Wald’s mission and values. For more information on the Nurse Recognition Program, click here.

NOTE: Lillian Wald’s biographical information contained in this press release was excerpted from the book Faces of Caring: A Search for the 100 Most Caring People in History. It was edited and compiled by Val J. Halamandaris and published by Caring Publishing.

About NAHC

The National Association for Home Care & Hospice (NAHC) is a nonprofit organization that represents the nation’s 33,000 home care and hospice organizations. NAHC also advocates for the more than two million nurses, therapists, aides and other caregivers employed by such organizations to provide in-home services to some 12 million Americans each year who are infirm, chronically ill, and disabled. Along with its advocacy, NAHC provides information to help its members provide the highest quality of care and is committed to excellence in every respect. To learn more about NAHC, visit www.nahc.org.