March 7, 2007, 9:16 pm

Lillian Wald, RN (1867-1940): 2007 Honoree of the Jewish-American Hall of Fame


I received a very unusual submission to Change of Shift.

Esther Wacks is a 1963 graduate of Mt. Sinai in New York and currently practices as an RN in the Los Angeles Area.

Her husband is director of the non-profit Jewish-American Hall of Fame. This year the Hall of Fame Honoree is a nurse colleague from long ago who had a distinguished career of service, Ms. Lillian Wald.

The Jewish-American Hall of Fame issue commemorative medals for their honorees and the one you see pictured here is of Ms. Wald.

As Ms. Wacks does not have a blog I offered to produce a post showing the medals so it could be linked to from Change of Shift.

Ms. Sacks was nice enough to provide the press release and I will copy it here verbatim.  It’s a very nice biography of Ms. Wald.


Lillian Wald (1867-1940) was one of the most influential women in America in the 19th century. She became a legend to the hundreds of thousands of Jewish immigrants who streamed to the shores of the United States in the late 1890’s and early 1900’s.

She wanted to enter Medical School, but instead enrolled at New York Hospital’s School of Nursing.

Later, Ms. Wald recruited another nurse, Mary Brewster, and they made themselves available to anyone who needed help. They charged very little for their services and gave freely to those who could not afford to pay. Many times they would spend the night with a sick patient, and they would often fetch surgeons to come when a patient was too ill to be moved.

In 1893, Wald and Brewster created the Henry Street Visiting Nurse Service, which became the major model for visiting nursing in the United States.

Their headquarters at 265 Henry Street became the Henry Street Settlement House. In 1898, they had a staff of eleven full time workers, nine of them nurses, and by 1916 there were more than one hundred nurses.

Lillian Wald persuaded the city to begin a program of public nursing and the Board of Education to put nurses into the public schools.

She spoke out against the popular movement to restrict the immigrants, viewing the immigrants’ culture as a valuable contribution to the American way of life.

Ms. Wald was appointed to several government committees, and also found time to help found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

She also persuaded President Theodore Roosevelt to create a Federal Children’s Bureau to protect children from abuse, especially in the form of improper child labor; Ms. Wald turned down President Taft’s offer to be bureau chief in 1912, believing herself more useful at Henry Street.

The Henry Street Settlement still stands on New York’s Lower East Side, now serving the neighborhood’s Asian, Negro, and Latino population.

And today, with over 9,500 highly skilled care providers, the Visiting Nurse Service of New York is the largest not-for-profit home health care agency in the nation, making over two million professional home visits to more than 100,000 patients each year.


Limited edition medals, designed by award-winning sculptor Virginia Janssen, have been issued to commemorate Lillian Wald’s induction into the Jewish-American Hall of Fame. They feature the words “She reacheth forth her hands to the needy” from Proverbs 31:20, which Wald quoted in a speech to Vassar students in 1915. For further information and orders call the non-profit Jewish-American Hall of Fame at (818) 225-1348 or email numismel at aol dot com.


About Me

My name is Kim, and I'm a nurse in the San Francisco Bay area. I've been a nurse for 33 years; I graduated in 1978 with my ADN. My experience is predominately Emergency and Critical Care, and I have also worked in Psychiatry and Pediatrics. I made the decision to be a nurse back in 1966 at the age of nine...

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