Wald Playground

Lillian Wald Playground

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

This playground on the grounds of P.S. 188 at Houston Street and Baruch Drive 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.

As someone who opened one of the nation's earliest playgrounds in the backyard of the Settlement house in 1902, it is appropriate that there are two playgrounds named after Wald in New York City. In 1937 Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia cited Wald for her distinguished service to the city and the Board of Alderman made the rarest of exceptions to its legislative policy by naming a playground at Cherry and Montgomery Streets in her honor, three years before her death on September 2, 1940. This playground, at Houston Street and Baruch Drive, was acquired by the City in 1944 from the New York City Housing Authority which developed the Lillian Wald Houses. The playground received over $100,000 in renovations in 1997, including new play equipment and safety surfacing.

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