Each Wednesday this March, we are honoring remarkable women throughout history who made their mark in the healthcare field and beyond by highlighting their accomplishments and their stories.
Lillian Wald was born in 1867 Cincinnati, Ohio, but later moved to Rochester, NY with her family. In 1891, she graduated from the New York Hospital Training school before going to work for the New York Juvenile Asylum, and began taking courses at the Women’s Medical College. Two years later, she left medical school to teach a home class for poor immigrant families on the Lower East Side at the Hebrew Technical School for Girls.
Wald believed that nurses should be involved in the health of a neighborhood and work with social service agencies to help improve living conditions, thus coining the term ‘public health nurse’ and pioneering the profession. She started the Henry Street Settlement House, built on the idea that health care was not the only challenge faced by residents. Services also included educational classes on the arts, drama, and English; boys’ and girls’ clubs, and vocational training. Care was provided regardless of income and operated on a sliding fee scale. By 1904, Henry Street cared for 4,500 patients.
Ward spearheaded campaigns for better housing, playgrounds, parks, public school nurses, and worked to eliminate tuberculosis, whilst dedicating herself to children, labor, immigrant, civil and women’s rights. She also helped institute the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the United States Children’s Bureau, the National Child Labor Committee, and the National Women’s Trade Union League.
Her greatest legacies include Visiting Nurse Service of New York, the nation’s current largest not-for-profit home health care agency that started on her recommendation by the New York Board of Health as the first public health nursing service in the world, and the Henry Street Settlement House which still occupies its three original buildings on the Lower East Side.
We celebrate Lillian and her contributions to public health services on International Women’s Day, and what would have been her 156th birthday!