Lillian Wald

Another Westport neighbor was a 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 and was an activist for the rights of women and was involved in the founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Visitors to her Westport home were historian Charles Beard and reformer Jane Addams. She had come to Westport in 1917, as a summer resident. When she retired, she moved full-time to the 1868 house on the pond across from Longshore. She enjoyed watching neighborhood youngsters skate there in winter.

In 1893, after witnessing first-hand the poverty and hardship endured by immigrants on the Lower East Side, she founded Henry Street Settlement. 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. Wald quickly came to devote herself to the community full-time. By 1913, the Settlement had expanded to seven buildings on Henry Street and two satellite centers, with 3,000 members in its classes and clubs and 92 nurses making 200,000 visits per year. The Settlement offered an astonishing array of innovative and effective social, recreational and educational services.

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.

In 1937, the First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt visited for Wald’s 70th birthday. She wrote:

“The neighbors in Westport got together and made a book for her, one of the most interesting books it has ever been my pleasure to see. Westport is the home of many artistic people, but this included the names of all her friends, even if their talent was only that of being able to love another fine human being.

They all signed their names, those who could draw, drew pictures, those who could write, wrote verses and prose, and I think that book will be for her a joy in many hours when she perhaps would not have the energy to take up any occupation, or even to look at anything new.

I was interested in the cover of this book, nicely worked in cross-stitch, but designed so that many of her daily interests were right there for you to pick out. Two little Scotties down in the corner; the ducks which waddle down to the pond and eat chunks of bread up near the house; the birds of peace.”

In 1910, as a result of a series of nursing lectures she organized, Teachers College of Columbia University established a department of nursing and health. The National Organization for Public Health Nursing, an association for a profession she herself had founded, chose Wald as its first president in 1912. In 1922, The New York Times named Wald as one of the 12 greatest living American women and she later received the Lincoln Medallion for her work as an “Outstanding Citizen of New York.”In 1970 she was inducted into the Hall of Fame for Great Americans 

Philips, Deborah (1999). “Healthy Heroines: Sue Barton, Lillian Wald, Lavinia Lloyd Dock and the Henry Street Settlement”. Journal of American Studies 33 (1): pp. 65–82.

Lillian Wald

Wald, Lillian

Lillian Wald: The Sequel

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