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Lillian Wald and the Henry Street Settlement

March 10, 2018

Lillian Wald co-founded what would become the Henry Street Settlement House (its original name was Nurses’ Settlement) on this date in 1893 — which was also her 26th birthday. Wald, the daughter of immigrants from Germany, enjoyed a relatively affluent upbringing and, after training as a nurse, became the greatest champion of public health services in New York City. Wald helped to found the National Organization for Public Health Nursing and Columbia University’s School of Nursing, as well as the Women’s Trade Union League and the National Child Labor Committee. She ran Henry Street until 1930 and lived among the people she served on the Lower East Side. In 1909, she hosted the National Negro Conference, which led to the creation of the NAACP. Wald was an ardent feminist, pacifist, and peace activist, and was listed as an “undesirable citizen” by the U.S. Military Intelligence Bureau during World War I. Nevertheless, she continued to lead as an institution-builder on a wide variety of issues, helping to form the Women’s Peace Party (which became the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom), the American League to Abolish Capital Punishment, the ACLU, anti-Ku Klux Klan and anti-imperialist groups, and more. She never had a long-term partner but was deeply embedded in communities of women — the “model of a Victorian-era lesbian,” according to Caryn E. Neumann at (a now-defunct online encyclopedia of GLBTQ culture). Wald died in 1940.

“Women more than men can strip war of its glamour and its out-of-date heroisms and patriotisms, and see it as a demon of destruction and hideous wrong.” —Lillian Wald (1914)