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Lillian D Wald Playground

Lillian Wald Playground

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

This playground at Cherry, Gouverneur, Monroe, and Montgomery Streets on Manhattan's Lower East Side honors the humanitarian, public health pioneer, social reformer, and leader of the recreation movement Lillian D. Wald (1867-1940).

Born in Cincinnati, Ohio on March 10, 1867, Wald grew up in Rochester, New York. She received a degree in nursing from New York Hospital in March 1891, and after further studies at the Women's Medical College, Wald and her friend Mary Brewster opened an out-patient nursing service on the Lower East Side. It expanded into the Henry Street Settlement House in 1893, and moved to 265 Henry Street in buildings donated by Jacob Schiff. The settlement then adopted a mission to improve the quality of life for area residents, which it continues to follow today.

In her battle to alleviate the ills of crowded tenement life, Wald was a staunch advocate for children. In 1898, along with Parks Commissioner Charles Stover, Wald founded the Outdoor Recreation League, which sponsored playground construction as a substitute for unsupervised street play. In 1902 she helped launch the world's first public school nursing program in New York City, and in 1912 she promoted the American Red Cross's rural nursing service. Her work on various health boards and commissions also facilitated the creation of the federal Children's Bureau and other health and social reforms. Wald retired from the Settlement House in 1933 and moved to Westport, Connecticut.

In 1937 Mayor Fiorello La Guardia cited Wald for her distinguished service to the city. In the same year, the Board of Alderman (predecessor of the City Council) made the rarest of exceptions to its legislative policy by naming this site in honor of Lillian Wald while she was still alive. At the opening ceremony on June 29, 1937 -- at which Wald was in attendance -- a plaque was also unveiled in recognition of her "pioneer work for children and district nursing." Wald died on September 2, 1940.

Located in the center of the block bounded by Cherry, Gouverneur, Monroe, and Montgomery Streets, the City acquired this property on December 16, 1931. After decades of being out of operation, in 2005 the playground was transformed from a vacant lot into an athletic sanctuary for students at the nearby University Neighborhood High School and the surrounding community thanks to a $1.1 million renovation of the site funded by City Council Member Kathryn Freed. Parks landscape architect Ricardo Hinkle designed the court game area, which offers handball, volleyball, and basketball courts, and is surrounded by a vibrant landscape of trees, shrubs, and spring bulbs. The plaque to Wald, long in storage, also was reinstalled at the site following the park's reopening.

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