In honor of National Nurses Week, Jewish Treats honors a Jewish woman who made a tremendous impact on the world of public health.

Lillian D. Wald (1867–1940) was born in Cincinnati, OH to middle-class, German-Jewish immigrants and relocated to Rochester, NY at age 11. In 1889, Lillian enrolled at New York Hospital’s School of Nursing. When Lillian began teaching basic nursing to immigrant families on the Lower East Side of New York four years later, she was shocked at the living conditions she discovered. These experiences led her to find her calling. She took up residence on Henry Street and began what she termed “public health nursing.”

The Henry Street Settlement (as it came to be known) became an open health and social resource for the entire community. The nurses charged on a sliding scale according to need, kept patient records and offered educational classes. By 1905, there were 18 similar centers under the Henry Street Settlement auspices. In addition to actual health care, the Henry Street Settlement also provided social activities for youth (to keep them off the street and to educate them), vocational training and other activities that today would be provided by municipal or private social work agencies.

Lillian Wald’s other accomplishments include the initiation of the first American public school nursing program, the development of a department of nursing and health at Teachers College of Columbia University and assuming the first presidency of the National Organization for Public Health Nursing. Wald also spoke out in defense of immigrants and raised funds from the wealthy German-Jewish community of New York to help the needy immigrants.

Lillian’s work brought worldwide recognition of the need for reforms in public health and other areas of social policy. In 1912, she received a gold medal from the National Institute of Social Sciences, and two colleges granted her honorary doctorates. A public gathering was held in honor of her 70th birthday.

Lillian Wald died in 1940.

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