School Nursing

The Relentless School Nurse: Remembering Lillian Wald & Her Response to the 1918 Flu

Lillian Wald has been on my mind through the pandemic. I think of how she responded, leading women to join a call to action during the 1918 Flu. While the language of the flyer is from another era, it is clear that women were supporting each other’s strengths, talents, and leadership. It was a nurse-led initiative. 

The lessons learned, or not learned from 1918, continue to confound us as we grapple with how to respond to COVID19.  One thing I do know is that the voice of nursing has never been stronger. The flyer pictured is embedded in this article, published on the Henry Street Settlement website written by Marjorie Feld:

Sleepless Nights in 1918: Lillian Wald and Henry Street’s First Influenza Epidemic


“A Stern Task For Stern Women.” This handbill was created to garner support for a community response to the influenza epidemic. It was signed by Lillian D. Wald, Chairman of the Nurses’ Emergency Council.

The text of the handbill reads as follows:

A Stern Task for Stern Women

There is nothing in the epidemic of SPANISH INFLUENZA to inspire panic.

There is everything to inspire coolness and courage and sacrifice on the part of American women.

A stern task confronts our women–not only trained women but untrained women.

The housewife, the dietitian, the nurses’ aide, the practical nurse, the undergraduate nurse, and the trained nurse herself–all of these are needed.

Humanity calls them

Lives depend upon their answer

Capable, though untrained hands, can lighten the burden of the trained ones. There are many things intelligent women can do to relieve the situation, working under the direction of competent nurses.

Will you help do some of them?

Will you enroll for service Now?

If possible, apply personally at the New York Country Chapter of the American Red Cross, 389 Fifth Avenue. Come prepared to fill out an enrollment blank like that printed below. To physicians and to the nurse-employing public this appeal is made:

Unless it means life or death, please release for service all nurses attending chronic cases. Physicians should not employ nurses as office or laboratory assistants during this emergency.

Nurses’ Emergency Council,

Lillian D. Wald, Chairman

Courtesy of the New York Public Library Manuscripts and Archives Division.


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