How Lillian Wald Contributed to Community Health

How Lillian Wald Contributed to Community Health

Lillian Wald

This month during the Year of the Nurse, we’re exploring the life of Lillian Wald (1867-1940), who was a social worker, nurse, and public health advocate. 

Wald earned her education at the New York Hospital Training School for Nurses, graduating in 1891. She started work at the New York Juvenile Asylum and continued her education at Woman’s Medical College, making plans to become a doctor. But after volunteering to teach a class on home healthcare for immigrant families, her perspective on poverty and healthcare shifted—and the course of her life and career changed forever.

Starting a Nurse’s Settlement in the Lower East Side of NYC

In 1893, Wald left medical school, moved into the poverty-stricken Lower East Side neighborhood, and began to offer her services to poor immigrants living in the area. She rallied supporters and raised funding to found a Nurse’s Settlement, which eventually expanded to offer not just healthcare services to residents, but also social services and instruction in subjects like English language and music. The settlement grew to Henry Street and was renamed the Henry Street Settlement.

By 1913, the Henry Street Settlement had expanded to seven buildings, two centers and 92 nurses making 200,000 visits a year. Wald was the headworker until 1933 and was a tireless advocate for social reform, public health and human rights. Henry Street still exists today, offering social services, arts and healthcare programs to New Yorkers in need—with services and programs ranging from mental health counseling to Meals on Wheels delivery, from early childhood education to after-school programming, from transitional shelter for homeless women to job training.

Founding the Visiting Nurse Service of New York

Another endeavor of Wald’s was to place nurses in public schools and she helped found the National Organization for Public Health Nursing as well as the School of Nursing at Columbia University. In 1944, the home healthcare arm of the Settlement broke off into its own entity: today known as the Visiting Nurse Service of New York. It is now the largest not-for-profit home- and community-based health care organization in the United States, serving the five boroughs of New York City, and Nassau, Suffolk, and Westchester Counties.

Helping People for a Better World

Lillian Wald has been called the founder of modern-day public health nursing. She was a visionary and someone who believed in making healthcare accessible for all, not just those with the financial means.

To Brenda Helmer, associate professor at American Sentinel University, Wald’s attention to the needs of her community is exactly what today’s nurses should focus on as well. “As we move to improve the health of the nation and increase access to quality cost-effective healthcare, Lillian Wald’s example is poignant,” says Dr. Helmer, who worked as a school nurse and a home healthcare nurse for 12 years before moving into nursing education.

“Lillian Wald’s story inspires me and helps me see that even though we are in a new era of healthcare delivery, we should never forget the key to great nursing practice is how we care for our patients and communities,” says Dr. Helmer. “This quality of caring is one that I aspire to share with all of my students at American Sentinel and is embedded in our vision as we strive to understand and meet the changing needs of our students and communities.”

Want to Make an Impact? Contact American Sentinel

If you feel called to deepen your impact on the patients you help and the communities you serve by furthering your education, it might be time to explore American Sentinel University. Our online, market-relevant nursing degree programs help students achieve their goals in many different areas. Learn more today at, or call us at 866.922.5690.


Learn what American Sentinel has to offer:

Let us answer any questions you have. Fill out the form below, and we will be in touch quickly.

By clicking the button above, Post University has your consent to use automated technology to call, text and email you regarding its educational services at the contact information provided above. It is not a requirement to provide this consent to attend Post University. Post University’s Terms and Privacy Policy apply.