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A hero or heroine is someone admired for his or her courage, fortitude (the power to endure hardship), prowess (skill or ability), and devotion. One of my nursing heroines in home care is Lillian Wald. She dared to go where no one had ever tread.

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Ms. Wald graduated from New York Hospital Nursing Program in 1891, when nursing was confined to institutions. Ms Wald wanted to expand her nursing role "where at least I'll be doing something worthwhile " (Rogow, 1966, p 25). She enrolled in medical school but left when a wealthy philanthropist, Mrs. Loeb, decided to finance a class on home hygiene and first aid for young immigrant women.


Ms. Wald was asked to teach the course at an old school on Henry Street in New York City. During one class, a little girl asked Ms. Wald to make a home visit to her mother, who was sick. As a result of this home visit, Ms. Wald's plans for home nursing visits to people living on New York's East Side were formed. Mrs. Loeb and her son-in-law, Jacob Schiff, each agreed to give $60 a month to support Ms. Wald and another nurse, Mary Brewster, in their endeavor.


Mr. Schiff advised Ms. Wald to get Board of Health approval before she went into people's homes as a nurse. Ms. Wald met with the president of the city's Board of Health, who was reluctant to give permission. He did not want "to take responsibility for two unknown nurses" (Rogow, 1966, p 33).


Ms. Wald was politically astute and mentioned the name of Mr. Schiff, a prominent financier, to the president, who then agreed to her proposal and said that the nurses should wear a badge reading "Visiting Nurse, Under the Auspices of the Board of Health." Thus began Ms. Wald's successful multifaceted career as a public health nurse with far-ranging positive effects on the care of individuals of all ages in the community.


Despite what could have been overwhelming odds, Ms. Wald was successful in initiating many firsts. For example (Rogow, 1966;Siegel, 1983):


* Visiting nurse services;


* Nurses' Settlement House;


* School nursing program;


* Organized the American Heroes Boy's Club of the Henry Street Settlement, Mothers' Club, and Girls' Social Club;


* Founded the National Committee on Child Labor (in cooperation with colleagues);


* Met with President Theodore Roosevelt to propose a Children's Bureau. This goal was realized during President Taft's Administration in 1912;


* Chaired the Red Cross' Nurses Emergency Council in 1918;


* Served as a delegate to the first international conference on public health;


* Persuaded the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company to provide trained nurses to care for injured factory workers.



Ms. Wald's accomplishments show the power one committed nurse who cared to make a difference in the health of the residents in her community can have. Ms. Wald meets my definition of a heroine.


National Nurses' Week is celebrated each May in honor of Florence Nightingale's birthday on May 12, 1820. The editor, editorial board, publisher of Home Healthcare Nurse, and I thank all of the home healthcare and hospice nurses who are genuine heroes and heroines. We also challenge each one to exercise the "power of one" in 2005 and beyond to continue to improve home health and hospice care.




Rogow, S. (1966). Lillian Wald: The nurse in blue. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America. [Context Link]


Siegel, B. (1983). Lillian Wald of Henry Street. New York: Macmillan. [Context Link]