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I have been a home health nurse, supervisor, and/or administrator for 49 years. Over the years, I read books about Lillian Wald, founder of the Henry Street Settlement House (HSSH) on the Lower East Side of New York, written by Siegel (1983) and Rogow (1966). I shared my admiration for Ms. Wald, credited with founding public health nursing and one of my professional heroines, in a previous commentary, "The Power of One" (Harris, 2005). I had the opportunity to realize one of my professional goals-to visit HSSH-when the Museum of Nursing History, Inc., Philadelphia, PA, sponsored a trip to HSSH during National Nurses Week 2008 (Syverson, 2008).


I had the opportunity to visit the house where Ms. Wald and the nurses lived and sit in the dining room that remains the same as when Ms. Wald and the nurses lived and worked there, including the furniture used more than 100 years ago, the result of her will.

Figure. Lillian Wald... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. Lillian Wald

"In 1930, Ms. Wald put her personal affairs in order and made out a will. [horizontal ellipsis] In the disposal of her estate, she requested that the 'brasses and coppers' and other antiques at Henry Street should remain there undisturbed, 'for the things I have put there, I think, give it some of its atmosphere'." (Siegel, 1983, p.162). Ms. Wald's expectation was realized by this visitor.


During the tour of HSSH, I saw one area described by Siegel (1983, p. 53): "the small playground that Ms. Wald created by combining Henry Street's small backyard with two adjoining ones. The safe, bright, clean, cheerful space-this first playground on the Lower East Side marked a new era. Residents lined up to get into the 'Bunker Hill' of playgrounds, as it was called after the first battle of the American Revolution."


The playground continues in use in 2008. I had the opportunity to visit some of the other sites that continue today such as the day care, the mental health clinic, and the thrift shop.


My experience of HSSH was enhanced by a visit to the Lower East Side Tenement Museum (LESTM). This museum offers various programs that enable participants to experience life in the early 1900s when Ms. Wald provided services.


The 1.5-hour program that I experienced was a visit with an actress who portrayed 14-year-old Victoria Confino, who in 1916 lived in an apartment in a 5-story tenement with 4 small 3-room apartments on each floor.


Victoria welcomed our group to her apartment. The apartment door opens into a small kitchen that has a sink with cold water, a coal stove, stationery tubs to do laundry, and a small table. The family did not have an ice box or refrigerator. The doorway to the left of the kitchen leads into the small bedroom with 1 bed that was used by the parents and small children. The small area to the right of the kitchen is the living room with a bed, some chairs, and a trunk. Visitors and other family members were expected to pay "board" to sleep several to the bed, on chairs, or on a mat on the floor-hence the term "room and board."


There is a common bathroom on each floor for the 4 apartments, but chamber pots are in common use. Victoria noted that the laundry that hung in the kitchen was there to protect it from other tenants who might not use the bathroom to empty their chamber pots but may choose to empty them from the fire escape to the area below, possibly soiling the washed clothes!!


Victoria shares that she has limited schooling because this usually was available only for boys. Most of her time is occupied with house work, cooking, and helping to care for other family members.


Our visit with Victoria ends too soon!! I am ready to return to the LESTM to visit some of the other restored apartments and meet other immigrants who lived and worked there during Ms. Wald's lifetime.


Several nurses reflected on their positive experiences during the ride home:


Seeing and experiencing Lillian Wald and her work and her abode were important experiences. The experience at the Tenement Museum gave me added appreciation of the early struggles of my grandparents.


The visit to Henry Street was a wonderful day. Thank you for a wonderful trip to New York. Not only was it fun; it was so very interesting and informative.


Thank you for putting together the trip to New York. It was wonderful. Ms. Wald was one of the reasons I accepted the Education/Quality Assessment supervisory position in 1984. Ms. Wald believed you could reach more and influence more from an administrative position.


Thank you for a wonderful day!! My mother (age 80) and I had a great time and enjoyed every minute.


During my half century in home care, I have had many wonderful and challenging experiences as I provided care for patients and families. Some of my home visits were in areas and homes that were challenging but did not rise to the level experienced by the HSSH nurses. It is easy to convey the sense of pride I feel in Ms. Wald's many accomplishments after visiting both of these museums.


Although nurses in various areas of the country may not have the opportunity to visit historical sites, we can read about these early heroines and visit Web sites where virtual tours may be available. It is educational and enjoyable to take time to appreciate our home care roots rather than get mired in the many challenges experienced in providing home health nursing care in the 21st century.



The Museum of Nursing History, Inc.


C/O Friends Hospital


4641 Roosevelt Boulevard


Philadelphia, PA 19124




Henry Street Settlement House


265 Henry Street


New York, New York 10002




Lower East Side Tenement Museum


91 Orchard Street


New York, NY






Harris, M. (2005, May). The power of one. Home Healthcare Nurse. 23(5), 340. [Context Link]


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]


Syverson, N. (2008). A nurse for all. ADVANCE for Nurses, 10(13), 27, 41. [Context Link]