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Letter from Emma Goldman to Lillian Wald, 1904

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Level: HS and above

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More of this TYPE: Letter

More of this TIME PERIOD: 1900-1949

More on these TOPICS: Commerce & Labor
Health, Education & Welfare


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The Progressive Era of the early twentieth century relied on professional experts to address the problems of contemporary society. Those who provided services in health, education, and social welfare were expected to have the proper training from established institutions. These new “experts” gradually eased out the volunteers who had provided such assistance in previous decades. Most people had come to believe that more than good intentions and the ability to inculcate moral virtues were necessary to help others. Now social service providers needed certification attesting to their skills and education.

Lillian Wald, the recipient of this letter, epitomized the new professional woman. She dedicated her life to helping the urban poor, and her work at the Henry Street Settlement House and Visiting Nurses Service of New York helped to create and maintain the new standards. The author of this letter, Emma Goldman, wrote to Wald asking for assistance in obtaining a nursing position. The letter content conveys the contemporary demand for accredited training and professional expertise. Goldman was active in radical politics and was known as an anarchist, a reputation that was detrimental to her efforts in more conventional circles. In this letter, she asks Wald to ignore her politics and endorse her skill and professional capabilities.

For more on Wald’s work in nursing, go to JWA’s Women of Valor exhibit.

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1. To what advertisement had Goldman responded? How is the placement of the job notice reflective of the time period?

2. What prevented Goldman from getting her nursing credentials? Do you think she should have received her degree?

3. Is Goldman a “skilled” nurse, according to the information she provides in this letter?

4. Do a person’s politics affect his or her ability to provide care for others?

5. Do you think Wald will recommend Goldman for the position?

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How to Cite This Page
Jewish Women's Archive. "JWA - Letters - Correspondence About Nursing Employment." <>.