Lillian Wald: A Home on Henry Street

by Clare Coss

Running Time: One Hour
Requirements: A table and chair
Presented at Colleges and Universities, Conferences and Conventions, Community Centers and Schools

Lillian D. Wald (1867-1940)

Lillian D. Wald, pioneering public health nurse, social reformer and peace activist, created the Henry Street Settlement, Visiting Nurse Service, Neighborhood Playhouse, public playgrounds, school lunches and countless other visionary and urgent “firsts.”

Wald’s vision and work inspired many loving and powerful titles: Lady Light, Dear Lady of Miracles, She Who Must Be Obeyed, and That Damned Nurse Troublemaker. Young women and men were eager to work at the settlement to achieve their “LDW” degrees in social activism.

The play is set at dawn May 8, 1916 in Wald’s office/sitting room at the Henry Street Settlement on New York City’s Lower East Side. She is preparing to lead a peace delegation to the White House where she hopes to convince President Woodrow Wilson to keep the U.S. from entering the war and call for a conference of neutral nations to end the war. Armed with thousands of signed petitions, this courageous mission will enrage financial backers and threaten the future of her pioneering community work.

Wald fortifies herself by reliving the “impossibles” she has achieved, revealing the private person rarely glimpsed behind her public persona. We witness her dynamic struggles with President Wilson, her major benefactor Jacob Schiff, her mentor—nurse educator Lavinia Dock, one of her favorite campers Little Ernie Brofsky, civil rights leader W.E.B. DuBois and her beloved intimate friend Mabel Hyde Kittredge.

The play was commissioned and produced by Woodie King, Jr. to celebrate the centennial of the settlement house movement in 1986 at the New Federal Theatre (in the original Neighborhood Playhouse). Lillian Wald: At Home on Henry Street starred Tony-Award winner Patricia Elliott and was directed by Bryna Wortman. A video of the production can be seen at the Theatre on Film and Video Collection, Lincoln Center Library of the Performing Arts. The script is published in Clare Coss’ LILLIAN WALD: PROGRESSIVE ACTIVIST (The Feminist Press 1989) with her speeches and selected correspondence.

Dramatic Readings (Partial listing) by Clare Coss

  • The Ethical Culture Society, NYC
  • RWJ Executive Nurse Fellows Program, Visiting Nurse Service, NYC
  • Human Rights Day, Boston, Massachusetts CEDAW, WILPF
  • National Association of School Nurses Convention, Cincinnati
  • University of Montana, Missoula, Montana
  • Women’s International League for Peace & Freedom, Tucson
  • Women’s International League for Peace & Freedom, National Congress, Goddard College
  • Maxwell School of Public Policy, Syracuse University
  • RWJ Executive Nurse Fellows Conference, NYC
  • Westport Historical Society, Westport, Connecticut
  • The Peace History Society, The Nobel Institute, Oslo
  • The Hague Appeal for Peace, The Netherlands
  • N.Y.State Association School Nurses, Rochester
  • Southwestern Missouri University
  • Smithsonian Institution, Dangerous Women Series, National Museum of American History, Washington, D.C.
  • Public Health Nurse Centennial, Portland, Oregon
  • Department of Nursing, Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti, Michigan
  • Department of Nursing, Messiah College
  • School Nurses Convention, Cincinnati, Ohio
  • Registered Nurses Association of Vancouver, British Columbia
  • Public Health Nurses of Texas, Austin
  • National Public Health Nurse Faculty, Chapel Hill
  • University of Arizona Honors Convocation in the Humanities, Tucson
  • National Women Studies Association Conference, Baltimore
  • National Student Nurses Convention, Cincinnati
  • SUNY at Old Westbury, NY
  • Symphony Space, NYC, Benefit for Sigma Theta Tau, International Honor Society of Nurses
  • The Feminist Press, CUNY Graduate Center
  • N.Y. State Convention of Nurses, Buffalo
  • Five College Women’s Studies Project on Feminism and Difference, Smith College
  • The Women’s Funding Coalition, Women and Philanthropy, The Foundation Center, NYC
  • Benefit for Techo, Educational and Cultural Center for Central American Refugees, Tucson Ecumenical Council
  • Association for Women in Social Work, NASW, Atlanta
Patricia Elliott stars as Lillian Wald, Photo: Bert Andrews