Women of Valor


Public Health Nursing

Lillian Wald, 1867 - 1940

"Our basic idea was that the nurse's peculiar introduction to the patient and her organic relationship with the neighborhood should constitute the starting point for a universal service to the region... We planned to utilize, as well as to be implemented by all agencies and groups of whatever creed which were working for social betterment, private as well as municipal. Our scheme was to be motivated by a vital sense of the interrelation of all these forces... We considered ourselves best described by the term 'public health nurses.' "

Wald coined the term "public health nurse" in 1893 for nurses who worked outside hospitals in poor and middle-class communities. Specializing in both preventative care and the preservation of health, these nurses responded to referrals from physicians and patients, and received fees based on the patient's ability to pay. In response to growing demand from all sides, Wald helped to initiate a series of lectures to educate prospective nurses at Columbia University's Teachers College in 1899. Students attended classes at Columbia and received their field training at Henry Street. This series led to the formation of the University's Department of Nursing and Health in 1910. By 1912, public health nurses—sometimes called visiting or district nurses—had begun to have significant impact. Wald and her colleagues in the public health movement recognized the need for the establishment of professional standards for public health nurses. Like other professional organizations, the National Organization of Public Health Nurses (NOPHN) was designed to set professional standards, share techniques and protect the reputations of its members. Wald was elected as the organization's first president.

  1. "Our basic idea..." From Lillian Wald, "We Called Our Enterprise Public Health Nursing" foward to The Public Health Nurse in Action by Marguerite Wales. (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1941)xi.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Women of Valor - Lillian Wald - Public Health Nursing." (Viewed on April 23, 2014) <http://jwa.org/womenofvalor/wald/public-health-nursing>.