Wald, Lillian

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WALD, LILLIAN (1867–1940), U.S. social worker. Lillian Wald was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, to a German-Jewish immigrant family and was raised in Rochester, n.y. As a child, Lillian Wald had all the comforts of upper middleclass life. Her decision to become a nurse led ultimately to contact with the immigrants of New York's Lower East Side, and she soon resolved to bring nursing care and hygienic instruction to the needy. These activities led to a concern for the total needs of the individual and to the establishment of the Nurses (Henry Street) Settlement in 1895. Combined with nursing services were campaigns for improved sanitation, pure milk and the control of tuberculosis, plus the full range of educational, recreational, and personal services offered by the settlement.

Lillian Wald was the very prototype of the liberal reformer of the early 20th century. She disliked millennialism because it too often traded present gains for future hopes; she was deeply interested in people but demanded that reform proceed from fact and sound argument, not sympathy; and she realized that charity could make no dent in social problems since it left both the individual and the environment unchanged. Instead, the state must take the responsibility for creating the proper conditions for a decent and humane society. Thus she campaigned for the end of child labor, supported trade unions, and was an important member of most of the leading social reform organizations of the day.

Vigorously opposed to U.S. entry into World War i, Lillian Wald was president of the American Union against Militarism. In destroying the brotherhood of man and stirring national and ethnic hatreds, war attacked her basic beliefs and the work of a lifetime. Once the United States entered the conflict, she did her best to preserve civil liberties and maintain the social welfare gains of the previous two decades. Although in close contact with the Jewish community of the Lower East Side, Lillian Wald never identified with her coreligionists as such. She urged a fundamental brotherhood among men, for she had found "that the things which make men alike are finer and stronger than the things which make them different." She wrote House on Henry Street (1915) and Windows on Henry Street (1934).


R. Duffus, Lillian Wald (1938); A.F. Davis, Spearheads for Reform… (1967).

[Irwin Yellowitz]

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