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Best Addressed by a New Yorker

SOCAP Global June 24, 2014

By: Marla E. Salmon, ScD, RN, FAAN; Professor at University of Washington
I received an invitation from Divya Chandran to contribute to the SOCAP Health blog. It read: Given your expertise on the practical and sociopolitical aspects of nursing, the SOCAP community will most benefit from learning about why nurses are a necessary, powerful voice in discussions surrounding health solutions….”
I accepted, because I think it’s a topic well worth discussing.
My sole regret is that this blog isn’t being written by Lillian D. Wald, a New York social entrepreneur and nurse who understood SOCAP before it was even a concept.  I’ll do my best to channel her, nonetheless.
First, an introduction to Lillian D. Wald, excerpt from the Henry Street Settlement website* (1).
.…In 1893, after witnessing first-hand the poverty and hardship endured by immigrants on the Lower East Side, she founded Henry Street Settlement. She moved into the neighborhood and, living and working among the industrial poor, she and her colleagues offered health care to area residents in their homes on a sliding fee scale. In addition to health care, Henry Street provided social services and instruction in everything from the English language to music. 
Wald quickly came to devote herself to the community full-time. By 1913, the Settlement had expanded to seven buildings on Henry Street and two satellite centers, with 3,000 members in its classes and clubs and 92 nurses making 200,000 visits per year. The Settlement offered an astonishing array of innovative and effective social, recreational and educational services. 
As headworker of Henry Street Settlement until 1933, Wald drew from global intellectual currents of reform — especially networks of women and Progressives — as she integrated her Settlement into powerful political networks for social change. During her 40 years at the helm, she established herself as a courageous national leader in campaigns for social reform, public health and anti-militarism, and as an international crusader for human rights.
…Wald was also an advocate for children, labor, immigrant, civil and women’s rights. She helped institute the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the United States Children’s Bureau, the National Child Labor Committee and the National Women’s Trade Union League. A champion of local causes such as Seward Park’s playground and global issues such as bans on child labor and access to health care, Wald encouraged all citizens to act on their own responsibility to all of humanity.”
*The Henry Street website is great to visit– so is going in person to the Henry Street Settlement in NY.
New York Visiting nurse taking a shortcut over tenements, late 1800’s
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Lillian D. Wald, social entrepreneur and nurse, 1867 – 1940

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* * * * *

My take on Wald, nursing, and the SOCAP community:
Wald thought being a nurse helped in her work. “…I rejoiced that I had a training in the care of the sick that in itself would give me an organic relationship to the neighborhood (2).  She also knew that being a nurse did not mean going it alone.  Wald inserted herself in a much larger landscape of business, philanthropy, politics, the arts to get her work done.  What Wald added to the community development and health equation is still relevant today.   She demonstrated the value of nurses as:

  • Community connectors:   Wald knew that working effectively in and with communities requires knowing and valuing the people who live there.  Nurses are important members of virtually every community – they are the “first to step up” volunteers, and the informal resource and go-to-family member for health information and support.  The trust that nurses inspire, their connections, and their expertise enable them to make connections that are key to effective health-related community development.


  • Investment & health improvement opportunities: Nurses bring value to health services innovation through their expertise, flexibility, human connection, and relative cost.  Nurses are involved in innovations that are improving health and wellbeing in communities around the world, reaching underserved communities, addressing health disparities and providing accessible, high quality services to people in need.  Whether functioning as employees or owners/operators in health-related enterprise, nurses are an essential to building healthy communities.


  • Partners and collaborators:  Building partnerships in the SOCAP community is not easy – the work is complex, the critical partners have often never worked with one another and often speak different languages (professional and every-day).  It helps to have experts involved who also have the ability to reach across boundaries and make and connections with others.  Relationships are at the core of good partnerships and collaborations.  Nurses do this every day in so many different settings – bringing the human dimension to the table, bridging differences, and building common ground.


  • Advocates for social justice and improving the health and wellbeing of others:  It’s probably safe to say that making real differences in the lives of others is a common motivator for people who work in the SOCAP “space”.  Social justice and improving the health and wellbeing of others are closely aligned values and are at the heart of nursing. Individual nurses can make important contributions to advancing these aims as professionals, citizens, and partners. Nursing as a profession brings significant power in number and political voice, which drives  progress at local, state, and national levels.

* * * * * *
That’s it – the beginning of a conversation and my turn to invite you to add your voice…
Forces impacting the health of children, early 1900’s
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Tune into conversations with Marla at the SOCAP Health Conference, June 25 + 26.
Checkout the free conference livestream sponsored by the CDC. 


  2. From Lillian Wald, The House on Henry Street: Henry Holt and Company, Inc, 1915
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