Birthday Tribute to Lillian

International Women’s History Month

I’m a little late to the party, but Lillian Wald’s birthday was a few days ago, and I wanted to give her and her legacy a shout out during Women’s History Month. I discovered Lillian Wald and her important work and contributions while researching The Dreams of Singers and Sluggers, the second novel in the Becoming America’s Stories series. Miss Wald’s heroic passions and kindness compelled me to include her and the values she stood up for into the stories. 

Back when the 19th century waned and a new century hovered with the promise of progress for all, Miss Wald to put aside conventional expectations and began her nursing career in the bowels of the Lower East Side of NYC tending to the multitudes of immigrants. She insisted the poor were not predisposed to the life of squalor and need. She understood people needed fresh food, reliable shelter, medical attention, education, and a friendly face to help them navigate the system. 

Initially Lillian Wald worked from New York City’s settlement house program designed to accumulate immigrants to American laws and resources and dismiss old world traditions She soon founded Public Health Nursing where she and her troop of nurses went into the tenement apartments and alleys tending to the sick and finding solutions to their patient’s work and housing problems. Miss Wald established the Henry Street Settlement House and was especially attentive to the welfare of children. So many youngsters lost their formative years to the dangerous factories and streets. Miss Wald took on New York City’s legislative and school boards advocating for school nurses, play space, safe food, and the enforcement of child labor laws.

The Henry Street Settlement House became ground zero in New York City’s progressive reform movement. Lillian Wald was at its helm. She converted the courtyard to a playground for children. There were regularly scheduled hygiene and baby care classes. Henry Street Settlement House was also known for the music, art and dance shows that celebrated cultural diversity of the neighborhoods. Lillian Wald organized peace, women’s suffrage, and civil rights campaigns. The settlement house held some of the earliest NAACPS organization meetings on the long dining table. These were very heroic undertakings of teh time.

Lillian Wald inspired so many to do the right by their neighbors. Her passionate legacy continues into the 21st century from the streets of the Lower East Side and into the neighborhoods of Anytown, USA. Henry Street Settlement House remains today. It serves as a vibrant community center, celebrating children, family, culture and the American dream.

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5 thoughts

  1. I remember reading about her in your novel. Glad you pointed out her immense contributions from the Henry Street Settlement House.


    Lee Y. Miao



    1. She was an amazing leader and since she lived in Lily’s neighborhood, I could not leave her out.


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