Students of the life of Lillian D. Wald (1867–1940) know her best as a Progressive activist. A trained nurse and advocate for East European Jewish immigrants on New York's Lower East Side, she founded Henry Street Settlement House there in 1893 and worked for state intervention in public health issues concerning women and children. Though she lived until 1940, historians have focused almost exclusively on her achievements before 1920: her founding of Henry Street, her key role in the formation of the Children's Bureau, her anti-militarism during World War I. This is not surprising, given that Wald' s rhetoric is that of a dyed-in-the-wool Progressive. She consistently cited her actions as in line with her universalist philosophy of human interdependence, which she referred to as “mutuality” and defined as a vision in which “no one class of people can be independent of the other”. Wald's mutuality echoes the Protestant social gospel movement's call for a “brotherhood of man” which inspired so many – including so many middle-class women – to work for various currents of Progressive reform.
Marjorie N. Feld is a Visiting Assistant Professor of History at Babson College, where she teaches 20th-century U.S. labor, women's, and immigration/migration history. She is revising her manuscript “Lillian D. Wald and Mutuality in Twentieth-Century America” and is manuscript editor for Radical Teacher.
1 I am grateful to The Babson College Board of Research for financial assistance. I also thank Michael Fein, David Engerman, Michael Staub, Maureen Flanagan and the anonymous readers of this journal for their helpful comments on earlier drafts of this essay.