Lillian Wald medal designed by Virginia Janssen, struck by the Highland Mint in quantities of 229 bronze, 60 pure silver, and 20 gold-plated silver. Obverse: Portrait, LILLIAN WALD 1867-1940. Reverse: Wald with family, She reacheth forth her hands to the needy, PROVERBS 31:20, JANSSEN. 49 x 47 mm.
Lillian Wald was one of the most influential women 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, that included putting 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 labored for better conditions for pregnant workers and to abolish child labor.
The Henry Street Settlement still stands on New York’s Lower East Side, now serving the neighborhood’s Asian, African-American, 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.
In a speech to Vassar students on October 12, 1915, Ms. Wald quoted from Proverbs 31:20, “She reacheth forth her hands to the needy,” and these words are inscribed on her medal.