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March 10: Lillian Wald

Lawrence Bush
March 10, 2010

nurseLillian Wald co-founded what would become the Henry Street Settlement House on this day in 1893 — her 26th birthday. Wald was the greatest champion of public health services in New York City and helped to found the National Organization for Public Health Nursing and Columbia University’s School of Nursing, as well as the National 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 great 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 much more. She never had a long-term partner but was deeply imbedded in communities of women — the “model of a Victorian-era lesbian,” according to Caryn E. Neumann (in glbtq, an on-line encyclopedia of GLBT culture).
“The whole world is my neighborhood.” — Lillian Wald

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.