Lillian Wald, founder Visiting Nurse Service in NYC

Lillian D. Wald (1867 – 1940) was an American nurse, humanitarian and author. She was known for contributions to human rights and was the founder of American community nursing. She founded the Henry Street Settlement on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and the Visiting Nurse Service in the city.  After founding the Henry Street Settlement, she became an activist for the rights of women and minorities. She campaigned for suffrage and was a supporter of racial integration. She was involved in the founding of the NAACP.

Ms. Wald was born in Ohio, but moved to Rochester NY with her family while she was young. She studied hard and applied to Vassar at the age of 16, which they thought was too young to attend. She began to study nursing at New York Hospital’s School of Nursing. She graduated from the New York Hospital Training School for Nurses in 1891, then took courses at the Woman’s Medical College.

After graduation, she worked at an orphanage and began teaching nursing skills to poor girls on the Lower East Side and was inspired to move into the community and start the visiting nurse association for the community. She was the first president of the National Organization for Public Health Nursing. Wald established a nursing insurance partnership with Metropolitan Life Insurance Company that became a model for many other corporate projects. She suggested a national health insurance plan and helped to found the Columbia University School of Nursing. Wald founded the Henry Street Settlement to assist the aging and poor Jewish population on the Lower East Side with the help of Jacob Schiff.

The New York Times named Wald as one of the 12 greatest living American women in 1922 and she later received the Lincoln Medallion for her work as an “Outstanding Citizen of New York.” In 1937 a radio broadcast celebrated Wald’s 70th birthday, Sara Delano Roosevelt read a letter from her son, President Franklin Roosevelt, in which he praised Wald for her “unselfish labor to promote the happiness and well being of others.” Wald was elected to the Hall of Fame for Great Americans in 1970.The Lillian Wald Houses on Avenue D in Manhattan were named for her.

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