Tuesday’s “06880” story on the Westport Library’s suffragist exhibit included some information about Lillian Wald.
The Round Pond Road resident was revered nationally for addressing social ills like child labor and racial injustice. She worked tirelessly for immigrants’ rights, world peace and women’s full franchise.
But there is much more to Lillian Wald’s story. Kathie Motes Bennewitz and Bob Weingarten fill in the blanks.
Lillian Wald was born in 1867 in Cincinnati. She graduated from high school at 15, and spent the next 6 years traveling around the globe. After moving to New York City she studied nursing, then entered the Women’s Medical College become a doctor.
In medical school she volunteered her services to the immigrants and poor on the Lower East Side. She became so engrossed in that care that she left medical school. In 1893 she organized the Henry Street Settlement and Visiting Nurse Service of New York. She found her calling.
Wald was a dynamic organizer. She started with 10 nurses. By 1916, 250 nurses served 1,300 patients a day.
She worked out of 265 Henry Street, a 5-story walk-up, cold water building on the Lower East Side. Wald helped to educate those she served on health care and personal hygiene, and expanded to assist in housing, employment and education. In 1903 she persuaded President Theodore Roosevelt to create a Federal Children’s Bureau.
In later years, Wald was recognized for her efforts in nursing and as an author.
In 1970 she was inducted into the Hall of Fame for Great Americans through the dedicated effort of Aaron Rabinowitz — Ann Sheffer’s grandfather — who knew Wald from childhood, and in the 1930s had moved to Westport to be near her.
She had come to Westport in 1917, as a summer resident. When she retired, she moved full-time to the 1868 house on the pond across from Longshore. She enjoyed watching neighborhood youngsters skate there in winter.
The library exhibit focuses on her suffrage work. In 1914 Wald wrote::
Democracy brings people nearer together…. When women share equally with men the responsibility for righteousness in government and when their counsels on matters of public welfare are given the dignity the ballot bestows, there will follow a new sense of comradeship, a new sense of fellowship between men and women: woman win not be the unacknowledged power behind the throne—she will share the throne!
In the 1910s Wald hosted suffrage events at the Settlement, and delivered addresses. On November 4, 1915, she fed supportive “watchers and pickets” at Lower East Side assembly districts as men voted on New York state’s suffrage amendment.
These polling sites, The New York Times reported, were lively with “constant cheers and cries of ‘Votes for the Women!’ from small boys in the street. Here and there an Italian voice chimed in ‘Vota for Women.’”
When she left New York for Westport, a stream of distinguished guests visited. Eleanor Roosevelt came several times, enjoying tea and staying at the home of Ruth Steinkraus on Compo Road South.
In 1937, the First Lady visited for Wald’s 70th birthday. She wrote:
The neighbors in Westport got together and made a book for her, one of the most interesting books it has ever been my pleasure to see. Westport is the home of many artistic people, but this included the names of all her friends, even if their talent was only that of being able to love another fine human being.
They all signed their names, those who could draw, drew pictures, those who could write, wrote verses and prose, and I think that book will be for her a joy in many hours when she perhaps would not have the energy to take up any occupation, or even to look at anything new.
I was interested in the cover of this book, nicely worked in cross-stitch, but designed so that many of her daily interests were right there for you to pick out. Two little Scotties down in the corner; the ducks which waddle down to the pond and eat chunks of bread up near the house; the birds of peace.
Wald is by far the most famous — but just one of many fascinating Westporters whose stories are told in the Westport Library exhibit. Click here to access the full gallery.