Introduction: Lillian Wald Papers, 1895-1936

Lillian D. Wald (1867-1940) dedicated her life to resolving a wide range of social and political conflicts that arose at the turn of the century due to rapid urbanization and industrialization. As a young nurse, Lillian Wald founded the Henry Street Settlement and the Visiting Nurse Service of New York to address a lack of medical aid to the working class. She was a resident and director of the Henry Street Settlement from 1893 until 1932, during which time the Settlement expanded its scope from the physical health to the general welfare of its neighborhood and Lillian Wald expanded her attention from Henry Street to national legislation. Ministering to and perceiving the needs of her clients, she carried her concerns into the national arena as an advocate for protection and expansion of the rights of women, children, laborers, immigrants, ethnic groups, widows, the sick, disabled, and poor. Through her activism she provided opportunities for improved living conditions and the general well-being of all people.

The Lillian Wald Papers documents the ways in which Lillian Wald brought financial, medical, and emotional support to individuals as well as to the broader political issues. This collection offers a view into the administration of the Settlement: the lobbying campaigns, correspondence, and daily activities of Lillian Wald and her staff. Lillian Wald was involved with and/or kept files on nearly every social issue that arose in the first third of the twentieth century. The collection therefore provides a wealth of information on nearly all aspects of social history for that time period: from prostitution to prohibition, infant care to widows’ pensions, tuberculosis to socialism, women’s suffrage to workman’s compensation.

The Lillian Wald Papers comprise all of the materials in the Columbia University Library collection except: books and pamphlets from Lillian Wald’s personal library, correspondence with Willa Cather (omitted due to the stipulations of Cather’s estate), and newspaper clippings too fragile for handling. The collection totals approximately 30,000 items on 112 reels.

The documents were found to be roughly arranged in categories according to a filing system devised by the Settlement. Columbia catalogers preserved this arrangement when dividing the papers into numbered boxes and organizing the documents for user access. All terminology used as identification for the document folders was formulated by the Henry Street staff and thus reflects the terminology in use during that time period. Cataloging for the collection is available on RLIN and can be located under the following identification number: CTRG91-A0.

This guide reflects the organization of the manuscript collection as it was arranged by Columbia. Items were sorted into subject folders that were then grouped alphabetically in larger categories: Correspondence, General Subjects, Children, Henry Street Settlement, Labor Relations, Nursing, Peace Movement, Public Health, Russia, and Settlements (other than Henry Street). The collection was filmed in this same order and the guide follows the box number sequence, listing the folder identifications for each box. A box may be filmed on more than one consecutive reel, but a folder is never split between reels. Folder numbers were assigned by Research Publications International (now Primary Source Microfilm, an imprint of the Gale Group) for easier reader access.