Lillian D. Wald (1867-1940)


Social reformer and advocate for the poor, Lillian D. Wald was born in 1867, in Cincinnati, Ohio.  In 1891, she graduated from the New York Hospital Training School for Nurses and then took courses at the Woman’s Medical College.  She worked at the New York Juvenile Asylum and helped with a class about home nursing for poor immigrant families in New York’s Lower East Side.  Wald’s work in the area prompted her to move there to be a visiting nurse and help aid the families who were living in horrible conditions.  After gaining a sponsor, Wald’s practice grew as did her staff, which by 1913 had grown to 92 people.  She worked in the area for forty years.  Her practice became the Henry Street Settlement and then turned into the Visiting Nurse Service of New York City. 

Wald was influential in advocating for nurses at public schools and her idea led to the New York Board of Health organizing and running the first public nursing system in the world.  As first president of the National Organization for Public Health Nursing, Wald suggested a national health insurance plan.  She also helped found Columbia University’s School of Nursing.  

Wald was not content to simply help improve the immigrant’s health through nursing but also taught the women how to cook and sew and provided recreational activities for the families.  In 1915, Wald founded the Neighborhood Playhouse to serve as a cultural center. 

Wald’s humanitarian efforts extended beyond helping poor immigrants adjust to their new country and live in sanitary conditions.  She was involved in a variety of causes and always fought for justice and fairness.  Wald helped establish the United State Children’s Bureau and lobbied for years for the end of child labor laws, allowing all children to attend school.  She helped President Theodore Roosevelt create the Federal Children’s Bureau.  Wald advocated for education of the mentally handicapped.  As an active campaigner for civil rights, Wald insisted that all Henry Street classes be racially integrated.  In 1909, she helped to establish the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.  Wald also advocated for woman suffrage and for peace.  She marched in protest of the United States’ entry into World War I, joined the Woman’ Peace Party and helped establish the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. 

In 1922,Wald was nominated on The New York Times' 12 greatest living American women, and although she did not make the final list, she later received the Lincoln Medallion for her work as an "Outstanding Citizen of New York.”  Wald died in 1940, having changed the world for the better in countless ways. 


Additional Resources:

Web Sites:


  • Brody, Seymour. Jewish Heroes & Heroines of America: 150 True Stories of American Jewish Heroism. Floriday: Lifetime Books, Inc., 1996.
  • Coss, Claire. Lillian D. Wald: Progressive Activist. New York: The Feminist Press at CUNY, 1989.
  • Daniels, Doris Groshen. Always a Sister: The Feminism of Lillian D. Wald. New York: The Feminist Press at CUNY, 1995.
  • Eiseman, Alberta. Rebels and reformers: Biographies of four Jewish Americans: Uriah Philips Levy, Ernestine L. Rose, Louis D. Brandeis, Lillian D. Wald. Zenith Books, 1976.
  • Wald, Lillian D. The House on Henry Street. Transaction Publishers, reprint edition, 1991.