LILLIAN WALD (1867-1940)

Lillian Wald was born in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1867. Her family moved to Rochester, NY in 1878 when Lillian was eleven years old. "Lillian led a privileged and happy childhood in a home that was always filled with books and music. . . Lillian considered herself “spoiled” as a child." (Accessed 12-14-03, After graduating high school, she spent a few years traveling the world and working as a journalist. In 1889, at the age of twenty-two, she enrolled in nurse's training at New York City Hospital. Lillian entered Women's Medical College intending to become a doctor in 1891. "At the same time, she volunteered to provide nursing services to immigrants and the poor living on New York's Lower East Side." (accessed 12-13-03, In the midst of what she perceived as a health care crisis, Lillian devoted more and more time to her volunteer work and eventually  dropped out of medical school. She moved into a house on Henry Street to help the people who needed her most, and the rest is her legacy. 

At the age of 26, she established the Henry Street Settlement. This was to become the hub for health care and services in the Lower East Side, and it also became the first Visiting Nurses Society of New York. "Nursing is love in action," Lillian said, "there is no finer manifestation of it than the care of the poor and disabled in their own homes." (accessed 12-13-03 ,

The Henry Street Settlement was instrumental not only in providing medical help for people, but also assisting women like Rose Cohen, find a better way of life. Lillian was an advocate for women's right to vote, helped establish child abuse and child labor laws, and assisted Margaret Sanger in her effort to give women the right to birth control. Lillian Wald was truly on the forefront, and clearly the primary organizer, of  a powerful social service and healthcare movement to improve life for the working poor, particularly women and children, in the Jewish Lower East Side.

Her efforts led to legislation mandating school nurses in public schools and inspections at work places for proper health conditions. "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. Thanks to Wald, most nursing education now takes place in universities, augmented by practical experience in a teaching hospital." (accessed 12-13-03,



The Henry Street Settlement, then and now: Photographs and details about this historic, and still very important, social service institution.

Biography Sites



Block, Irvin. Neighbor to the World. the story of Lillian Wald. New York: Crowell, 1969.

Hurwitz, Johanna. Dear Emma. New York: Harper Collins, 2002.

Siegal, Beatrice. Lillian Wald of Henry Street. New York: Macmillan, 1983.

Wald, Lillian. The House on Henry Street. New York: Henry Holt, 1915.