Lillian Wald. Harris & Ewing / Public domain

Lillian Wald 

At the turn of the 19th century, the burgeoning immigrant population of New York’s Lower East Side suffered as much from illness and poverty as they did from the era’s noxious xenophobia. It was then, in their moment of direst need, that Lillian Wald took up her stethoscope. 

A recent nursing graduate and reformer-to-be, Wald believed in a strong correlation between poverty and disease – between public health and individual health. This holistic vision of health and community inspired Wald to found the Henry Street Settlement, and the Visiting Nurses Service of New York. Through the latter, she orchestrated what remains, to this day, one of the country’s largest non-profit home-based healthcare programs. An activist par excellence, she also traveled internationally and became a founding member of the NAACP – which group held its first conference at Henry Street.