Lillian Wald was an American nurse, author and well-known humanitarian. She was born March 10, 1867, in Cincinnati, Ohio. After attending various medical and nursing schools, Wald began in 1893 to teach a home class on nursing at the Hebrew Technical School for Girls. It was during this time that she also began to care for the sick of Manhattan’s Lower East Side as a visiting nurse. She coined the term “Public Health Nurse” to describe her method of medical care, which integrated nurses into the public community.
At this same time, Wald founded the Henry Street Settlement. By 1906, she had 27 nurses on staff to care for the poor immigrants on the Lower East Side, and by 1913 that staff had more than tripled to 92 people. The settlement eventually expanded into the Visiting Nurses Service of New York, which today serves more than 160,000 people annually in the five boroughs of New York; Nassau, Suffolk, and Westchester counties; and parts of upstate New York.
In 1903, Wald helped found the Women’s Trade Union League and served on the executive committee of the League’s New York City chapter. By 1910, her involvement in humanitarian action, specifically focused on women’s and minorities rights and the labor movement, had expanded to an international level when she and several colleagues went on a tour of Hawaii, Japan, China and Russia. She also was an early leader in what would become the National Child Labor Council, and became a founding member of the NAACP in 1909. The organization held its first major public conference at Wald’s Henry Street Settlement.
Wald also organized New York City campaigns for suffrage, marched to protest the entry of the United States into World War I, joined the Woman’s Peace Party, and helped to establish the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. In 1915, she was elected president of the newly formed American Union Against Militarism (AUAM). She remained involved with the AUAM’s daughter organizations, the Foreign Policy Organization and the American Civil Liberties Union, after the United States joined the war.
In 1922, she was named by the New York Times as one of the 12 greatest living American women, and in 1970, Wald was posthumously elected to the Hall of Fame for Great Americans. Wald never married and valued independence in her private life. Her most intimate relationships were with women, particularly Mabel Hyde Kittredge and Helen Arthur. Lillian Wald died September 1, 1940.