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A Settlement House and a Family

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If you are a New Yorker, you may have heard of the Henry Street Settlement. It is one of 38 settlements in our fair city. It is one of the largest and certainly the most historic. Lillian Wald, a nurse from Rochester, who settled in on Henry Street on the Lower East Side, was a visionary and a doer.

She not only esablished the settlement, she also formed the Henry Street Nurses, who went out on call and eventually became The Visiting Nurse Service. The NAACP was hammered out in her dining room. The backyard was one of the first children's playground. The Neighborhood Playhouse was one of the first off Broadway theaters.

Why do I tell you this? Because my family and Henry Street have had a love affair for 120 years... and it continues.

In 1896, Miss Wald came to tend a sick baby at the tenement on Attorney Street, where my mother lived with her mother and four fatherless siblings. My mother was 8. A few years later, because there wasn't enough food, Miss Wald placed my mother and two siblings in an orphanage. When she was 13, my mom joined a Henry Street Homemakers club.

My father also joined a Henry Street club. His club leader was Herbert Lehman, who lent him the money for his college education. Herbert Lehman became governor of New York, then senator.

Growing up in New Rochelle, I lived with a large portrait of Lillian Wald in our living room. When I was in the fifth grade, my parents took me to visit Miss Wald in retirement at her house in Westport. I sat next to her on her couch as she went through -- page by page -- a large scrapbook made for her by her friends for her 70th birthday. During college, I spent a summer as a counselor at the Henry Street camp in Mahopac.

My mother's eldest brother, a member of the first boys club, was one of Miss Wald's two executors, and served on the Henry Street board from the 1930s to the 1970s. My brother, Herbert, president and chairman, preceeded me on the board. I joined the board 44 years ago. For 10 years I was president.

My niece, Anne, is on the board with me. She and I serve on the committee for the Abrons Art Center, which has taken on new life and prestige under Jay Wegman, who has moved us into imaginative and avant garde programming.

And David Garza, CEO, is leading the settlement into new services through partnerships and creative funding. Lillian Wald would have loved him.

I am so proud of Henry Street's past and so confident of its future. And I am proud of our family's unbroken involvement for 120 years.

At 86, the past is very much with me now. And so is the future. I look back with nostalgia. I look forward with excitement. 120 years of unbroken caring between a settlement house and our family!

Nice, right?