Of all New York's experiments in helping the poor, few succeeded more resoundingly than the one that sprang from the alliance of the great Jewish-American financier Jacob Henry Schiff and a singular young woman named Lillian Wald. They met in the summer of 1893. In the years that followed, they established a model of private philanthropy and self-help that, without yielding power to bureaucrats, public or private, helped sustain the hundreds of thousands of Jewish immigrants who began inundating the Lower East Side around 1880. Their collaboration produced enduring institutions—the Visiting Nurse Service of New York and the Henry Street Settlement—that still minister to the people of New York. It was an alliance that in our own time of extensive immigration can serve as an object lesson in effective philanthropy that uplifts the poor instead of making them dependent.
One summer evening in 1893, Lillian Wald arrived at the imposing East 38th Street town house of Schiff's mother-in-law, Mrs. Betty Loeb—the wife of Solomon Loeb, co-founder of the now legendary Kuhn, Loeb & Co. investment banking house. With her son-in-law, Mrs. Loeb had been supporting a "Sabbath School" on Henry Street—one of the many ways prosperous uptown German-American Jews had found of helping their needy, recently arrived downtown co-religionists. The school taught poor, uneducated, immigrant women basic hygiene, sanitation, and home nursing, badly needed on the Lower East Side. Wald, a volunteer teacher at the school, had come to Mrs. Loeb on the advice of a mutual acquaintance to ask if she and Schiff might be willing to help in a novel endeavor she was planning.
Born in Cincinnati in 1867 to prosperous German-Polish-Jewish immigrant parents, Lillian Wald grew up in Rochester, New York, where her father thrived in the optical goods business. At Miss Cruttenden's English-French Boarding and Day School for Young Ladies and Little Girls, she was a good student: bright, ambitious, and markedly inquisitive. Still, Vassar turned her down when she tried to enroll at 16; she was too young, the college explained.
When her older sister Julia was pregnant, Lillian made friends with the Bellevue-trained nurse who looked after her and at once decided that nursing was the career for her, too. "My life hitherto has been—I presume—the type of young American womanhood . . . such as practical mothers consider essential to a daughter's education," she wrote to Irene Sutliffe, the director of nurses at New York Hospital, when applying for training in 1889 at age 22. "This does not satisfy me now. I feel the need for serious, definite work, a need more apparent since the desire to become a professional nurse has made birth."
She graduated from New York Hospital's nursing school in 1891 and for about a year served as a nurse at the Juvenile Asylum on 176th Street—unhappily, for she disapproved of the often callous treatment of the children in the orphange for homeless immigrants. She quit to enroll in the Women's Medical College, near Stuyvesant Square, but never earned her M.D.: while studying medicine, her life changed when she volunteered to teach at the Sabbath School.
Seated in buoyant and bustling Betty Loeb's opulent parlor that summer evening, Wald laid out the plan she had conceived and asked for money to turn it into a reality. She had experienced, she explained, a kind of epiphany, which she later described in her 1915 book, The House on Henry Street, widely used thereafter as a teaching text in nursing, sociology, and social welfare. "A sick woman (Mrs. Lipsky), in a squalid rear apartment . . . determined me, within half an hour, to live on the East Side," Wald wrote. "[A] little girl led me . . . over broken roadways . . . between tall, reeking houses, . . . past odorous fishstands, . . . past evil-smelling, uncovered garbage cans, . . . across a court where open and unscreened closets [toilets] were promiscuously used by men and women . . . and finally into the sickroom." Wald described how she had helped "the sick woman on a wretched, unclean bed soiled with a hemorrhage two days old." The woman was the mother in a family of seven (plus boarders), living in two poverty-stricken rooms. "At the end of my ministrations they kissed my hands," Wald recounted. "That morning's experience was a baptism of fire. . . . I rejoiced that I had had training in the care of the sick that . . . would give me an organic relationship to the neighborhood in which this awakening had come."
What she intended, Wald told the intrigued Mrs. Loeb, was to leave medical school to live on the Lower East Side. There, in association with another nurse, Mary Brewster (a direct descendant of Pilgrim leader Elder William Brewster), she would provide nursing care to the poor, regardless of their ability to pay. Would Mrs. Loeb and Mr. Schiff help?
Years later Betty Loeb's daughter, Nina, remembered her mother saying, "I have had a wonderful experience. I have just been talking to a young woman who's either crazy or a great genius." Lillian Wald wasn't crazy. In fact, she was about to create the entirely new field of public health nursing. All through her life she affected potential supporters as powerfully as she affected Betty Loeb that day. As a 1929 New Yorker profile put it: She "is exalted in after-dinner oratory; her good works are applauded by bankers, social leaders, Tammany sachems, Republican statesmen, and nice old ladies."
Without hesitation, Betty Loeb promised to help, a promise that affected Lillian Wald's life, the lives of thousands of residents on the East Side, and, in a signal way, the life of Jacob Schiff.
Like the Jews on the Lower East Side, Schiff, too, had come to an alien land when, in 1865, he arrived in America from Frankfurt am Main at 18. In 1893 he was 45, rich, and influential, with a reputation on Wall Street, in corporate boardrooms, and in government ministries as a master of finance.
Always carefully dressed, his graying beard neatly trimmed, a flower usually gracing his jacket lapel, Schiff was serious, uncommonly intelligent, opinionated, and principled. Only 5 feet 2 inches, he was a commanding presence: "Though small in size," it was said of him, "his presence seemed to fill the largest doorway when he appeared. You had only to look once into those blue eyes to know he was someone to be reckoned with."
Schiff had an encyclopedic understanding of the byzantine, rapidly expanding American railroad system. The word on him was, "He carries every railroad in the country, every bit of rolling stock, every foot of track, and every man connected with each line—from the president down to the last brakeman—inside his head."
In 1901 he would stalemate the lordly J. P. Morgan in a titanic Wall Street battle to wrest control of the Northern Pacific Railroad away from Morgan's client, the breezy, slippery James J. Hill. Schiff represented E. T. Harriman, peevish, always sick-looking—and seething with dislike for Hill. When Hill moved to acquire the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy system, Ned Harriman took alarm: control of the CB&Q would put Hill in a position to block Harriman's eastern-based railroad empire from access to Chicago. Harriman and Schiff asked for shares in the CB&Q, a request Hill dismissed. In response, Harriman, with Schiff's backing, decided to snatch control of Hill's more important Northern Pacific. It was a bold and astonishing gambit.
Schiff and Harriman began buying Northern Pacific stock in April and May at around $90; so did Hill and Morgan. The stock shot up; short-selling speculators moved in. Soon the shorts were frantically competing for stock to cover their positions as Northern Pacific's price zoomed to an absurd $1,000 a share. Finally, there was no stock left to buy: a classic corner had ensued. When—inevitably—the bubble burst and Northern's price plummeted, the rest of the market joined the rout, triggering the worst Wall Street panic in 100 years. In November the warring factions declared an armistice. Hill and Harriman agreed to share seats on the board of a holding company controlling the Northern Pacific and the railroads linked with it, including the CB&Q. Afterward, Morgan, ever the realist, acknowledged Schiff as his only equal (though hitherto he had disdainfully called him "that foreigner").
But multiplying his fortune wasn't Jacob Schiff's sole purpose in life. Pious, proud of his descent from a distinguished line that included rabbis and scholars and that reached back to the fourteenth century, Schiff took seriously his obligation to the less fortunate. Throughout his life he gave the Talmudic 10 percent—and, when necessary, more—of his large earnings to charity. The prayer that preceded Friday evening family meals at his home concluded: "Continue to bless us with Thy mercy, so that we may be able to share our own plenty with those less fortunate than ourselves."
Talk is cheap, of course. But from the evidence of his works, Schiff meant what he said: his philanthropies were numerous and unfailing. Though much, probably most, of his charity went to Jewish causes—Montefiore Home for Incurables (which became Montefiore Hospital), the Hebrew Aid Society, Mount Sinai Hospital, among others—by the time he died he had also given large sums to such non-Jewish causes as Barnard College, Harvard University, and the American Red Cross.
The money that Lillian Wald required wasn't much compared with Schiff's major benefactions, and upon hearing Wald's plan, the financier, by then senior partner at Kuhn, Loeb & Co., agreed to share with Mrs. Loeb the expense of supporting the two nurses and to supply them with doctors when needed. But the donation marked the start of a close, 27-year special relationship between the tycoon and the idealistic, enterprising nurse. It was so close that on the day of the Northern Pacific battle with Morgan, with Wall Street consumed by panic, Schiff phoned the startled Wald to say, "I think this is the night Mrs. Schiff and I were coming down to take dinner. Is the hour six or half past six?"
By supporting Wald, the often imperious Jacob Schiff linked himself to a woman whose compelling personality in important ways complemented his own. Schiff understood the uses of power; in both business and family matters, he could be unyielding or compromising as circumstances required. His ultimate aim was to get the job done, whether it was supporting and supervising philanthropies or financing a railroad. From the beginning of his relationship with Wald, Schiff noted traits that he himself possessed: intelligence, single-minded devotion to work, effectiveness in carrying out a mission. He saw in Wald an ally in his most cherished philanthropic cause: strengthening the Jewish community by helping new immigrants weather their immediate crises and then gain the tools to help themselves.
Beginning in the 1880s, a flood of Jews escaping the grinding poverty and anti-Semitism of eastern Europe and the brutal Russian pogroms poured through Ellis Island into the Lower East Side. They brought with them meager belongings, an abundance of hope, and a willingness to work hard—hoping, as aspiring immigrants do today, to make a life in a country that, for all its imperfections, was a land of freedom and opportunity. Indeed, much of today's thriving Jewish middle and upper-middle class is descended from immigrants who arrived in that fusion of poverty and striving.
Photos of the neighborhood at that time show us pushcart commerce clogging the streets amid shawled women and bearded men. The clamors of peddlers ascended, and the pervasive smells of food hawked from pushcarts mingled with the shouts of raucous children. With its blocks of begrimed tenements, the area resembled a crowded ghetto transplanted from the despotisms of eastern Europe to the City of New York.
Of the 1.5 million people living in Manhattan in 1893, five out of six lived in tenements, many under unhealthful conditions. An annual death rate of 26 per 1,000 prevailed in the borough, twice what it would be 50 years later. In the worst tenements it was much higher. Tuberculosis, the "white plague," was a constant and pervasive threat among the Jews, because many of them worked in poorly ventilated, unsanitary needle-trades sweatshops, an environment in which the bacillus thrived. Indeed, many called TB the "tailor's disease."
The tenements in which they lived weren't much healthier. "They are great prison-like structures of brick," according to a November 1888 article in The American Magazine, "with narrow doors and windows, cramped passages and rickety stairs. They are built through from one street to the other with a somewhat narrow building connecting them. . . . The narrow courtyard . . . in the middle is a damp, foul-smelling place, supposed to do duty as an airshaft: had the foul fiend designed these great barracks they could not have been more villainously arranged to avoid any chance of ventilation. . . . In case of fire they would be death-traps." During July and August, tenants suffered from debilitating heat, intensified by coal-burning stoves, gas jets, and steam boilers. During a nine-day August heat wave in 1896, 420 city residents died from tainted, stifling air.
Not until 1901, when the city established the Tenement House Department, did the law compel better ventilation in new tenements. Lillian Wald and Jacob Schiff were prominent among those pressing the city government for such improvements: decent housing was always one of Wald's primary concerns, and from 1889 onward, Schiff continually denounced slum housing and used his influence to encourage legislation to eliminate or improve deteriorated tenements.
Harvard historian Moses Rischin writes: "By 1890 the Lower East Side bristled with Jews. . . . Exceeding 700 persons per acre, in 1900 the Tenth Ward was the most densely populated spot in the city." During the depression of the 1890s, with jobs scarce, evictions for non-payment of rent were common. "In the year 1891-1892 alone," Rischin recounts, "in two judicial districts of the Lower East Side 11,550 dispossess warrants were issued."
Many of the evicted who had a little money became boarders in the already overcrowded tenement apartments. "At the hour of retiring," as a witness before the U.S. Immigration Commission testified, "cots or folded beds and in many instances mattresses are spread about the floor, resembling . . . a lot of bunks in the steerage of an ocean steamer." When Wald heard of eviction cases she often brought them to the United Hebrew Charities, a favorite Schiff cause, which frequently paid the rents outright or helped with a temporary loan.
The recently arrived immigrants were for the most part law-abiding, but around the turn of the century, some of their Americanized first-generation children fell into the gambling, loan-sharking, burglary, and prostitution rackets. The Lexow and Mazet investigations of the 1890s exposed schemes to turn the East Side into "a Klondike . . . a center of graft and illicit business," according to Rischin.
"Was he Jewish?" was the anxious question Jewish parents often asked when the cops seized a hoodlum. Or they sorrowfully shook their heads when the names of Jewish criminals hit the papers. "In 1909," Rischin writes, "some 3,000 Jewish children were brought before Juvenile Court, and in the next few years Jewish criminals regularly made headlines."
Disturbed by the outbreak of criminal behavior among young Jews, in 1907 Schiff and other German-American Jews founded the Hawthorne School of the Jewish Protectory and Aid Society in upstate New York. The school tried to thwart juvenile delinquency by teaching useful trades—carpentry, printing, plumbing, bricklaying—along with standard classroom courses and the basics of Judaism. Hawthorne succeeded only partially, however; for years the crime problem continued to simmer on the Lower East Side.
Schiff and other prominent Jews took further measures. They established the Kehilla, a self-help group (Kehilla means "communal" in Hebrew) committed to resisting the anti-Semitism that Jewish criminals engendered. It created an intelligence system (which the city administration approved) to ferret out Jewish felons. It also campaigned for a central Jewish philanthropic authority and set up a mediation system for the largely Jewish garment industry. As a social force the Kehilla lasted for about ten years, waning as Jews rose gradually into the middle class and as open-ended Jewish immigration ceased after World War I.
Wald and Brewster's "organic relationship" to the Lower East Side began in September 1893, when they moved into a small fifth-floor walk-up in an old tenement at 27 Jefferson Street and started offering free nursing help to their immigrant neighbors. Soon word got around that two nurses living in the neighborhood would provide help with medical and, inevitably, other problems. Many families lacked clothing; others needed food. Wald and Brewster tried not to fail their sick and indigent neighbors.
They nursed the infirm, arranged for doctors when necessary, and took patients to hospitals. Those needing food or clothing for their families invariably—with Jacob Schiff and United Hebrew Charities providing money—received it. With additional assistance from hospitals, newspapers, and sympathetic individuals, Wald and Brewster gave the afflicted and their families sterilized milk, medicine, food, and—essential in an era without refrigerators—ice. The pioneer nurses became a familiar sight on the Lower East Side, and 27 Jefferson Street became a place where "workers in philanthropy, clergymen, Orthodox Rabbis, the unemployed, anxious parents, girls in distress, troublesome boys, came as individuals to see us," Wald wrote. Those visits energized and inspired the two nurses, despite the exhausting demands on them; from the start, Wald and Brewster knew they were a vital and sustaining force in their chosen neighborhood.
Wald became a power on the Lower East Side, recognized by politicians (including influential Tammany pols), cops, neighbors, and street people as committed and incorruptible. "Her slightest wish is accorded a respect which is never accorded the law," reported the New York Press in an early story about her. "The would-be violator of sanitary regulations calls her `Boss Croker' [the Tammany leader], or `She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed.'"
To put an official mark on their nursing rounds, Wald asked Schiff to persuade the Board of Health to let her and Brewster wear badges stating they were "Visiting Nurses Under the Auspices of the Board of Health." This was the start of New York's Visiting Nurse Service, which officially incorporated in the 1940s and which now has 23,000 active cases per day. The medallions, and Wald's and Brewster's nurse uniforms, helped open the doors of sufferers inclined to mistrust them.
For Jews were no more immune to the ignorance that often accompanied disease than were other immigrant groups. Some feared that if they were hospitalized, they'd have to drink the contents of a secret (and wholly mythical) black bottle that would put them out of their misery forever. Others suspected that the two nurses might try to convert them to Christianity.
But most immigrants gratefully opened their doors to Wald and Brewster—revealing the harsh texture of life in the slums. Heaps of refuse and swill on floors, children "scarred with vermin bites," adults suffering from typhoid, a pregnant mother living on crusts of bread, TB sufferers—these were typical cases Wald and Brewster came upon.
At the end of a long day of climbing stairs in slum tenements, of coping with filth and disease, of getting food and clothing for hungry families, the two nurses would retreat to their Jefferson Street apartment. There Wald began her routine of writing case reports and sending them to Schiff.
Years later she recalled: "I sat in the kitchen of our little apartment with my feet in the oven, as it was too cold to hold a pen in the frigid temperature of the room, and when the letter was written I went down the many flights of stairs and mailed it in the post box." Over 100 years after she wrote them, Wald's affecting reports to Schiff give us vivid pictures of conditions in the Lower East Side slums. Unlike the stiffer style of her letters and The House on Henry Street, the tone of Wald's reports to Schiff is pithy and free, reflecting a woman happily immersed in a career central to her life, "called" to a great work. Schiff had agreed to support the nurses for at least six months; certainly Wald must have guessed that upon reading her reports he would be moved to continue his support well beyond that period.
"Meyer P., age 5 years, . . . injured his hip. He lay for 7 months in the Orthopedic Hospital . . . was discharged as incurable. . . . [T]he cripple is in pain and cries to be carried. . . . They [Meyer's family] had no rooms of their own but paid $3 a month to Hannah H . . . who allowed the family to sleep on the floor." Upon Schiff's request, the Montefiore Home admitted Meyer. "We have found several cases of typhoid fever, and in every house succeeded in overcoming hospital prejudice, accompanying the patients to the hospital wards to satisfy their first uneasiness."
"Lily Klein very ill with pneumonia for whom we procured medical attention and nursed. The child died, but the night before Miss Brewster had remained with the child all night. . . . Father deserted and mother worn out."
"Visit and care of typhoid patient, 182 Ludlow Street."
"Visit to 7 Hester Street where in rooms of Nathan S. found two children with measles. After much argument succeeded in bathing these two patients and the sick baby. . . . Brought clean dresses to the older children."
"Four people slept in the unlighted room on rags, coats, etc."
"Gave tickets for Hebrew Sanitarium excursion . . . to Mrs. Schneider and 5 children . . . but five of the seven children are nearly naked. . . . So we will make their decent appearance possible."
"7 P.M. visit to Mrs. Lanowitz, took her flowers, clean bedding, made egg-nog and left her in nursing condition for the night."
"Mrs. Jacobson and her two children homeless, without work. We succeeded in placing her for a few weeks at the Children's Aid Society and found a place for the children while she worked."
"In a rear tenement, top floor,. . . a doctor found . . . Mrs. Weichert, crazy and ill with pneumonia and typhoid; [we] cared for her fourteen year old daughter. [Mrs. Weichert] died in a few days, I shall always be glad that the doctor told us in time so she was made human and decent."
"Many of these people have kept from begging and it is not uncommon to meet families, to whom not a dollar has come in seven months—the pawn shops telling the progress of their fall, beginning some months back with the pawning of a gold watch, ending with a woman's waist."
Mary Brewster's health soon broke down. She left the Lower East Side, married, and died while still young. Little more is known about her. But Wald, more robust, carried on, buoyed by the realization that she had found her true purpose in life.
Wald's work was exactly the kind of philanthropy that Schiff believed worthwhile. It was face-to-face, and it aimed at helping people to help themselves if they possibly could. "Charity and philanthropy to be effective," Schiff wrote in an 1893 memorandum, " . . . should have personal supervision, for it is unlikely that others can carry into practical effect our ideas and intentions as well as we can ourselves."
Just as he knew the details of all those railroads he successfully financed, so he insisted on knowing the truth about the many people or institutions that came to him for help. "If it was an individual," his biographer Cyrus Adler wrote, "he would either try some plan of self-help, or, if the person, by reason of bad health or age, was helpless, place him upon a sort of pension roll, which was kept absolutely private and confidential."
But he carefully supervised that private pension roll. In a letter of May 8, 1889, to a "trusted agent," he wrote: "I send you a list of parties who receive monthly checks from me. . . . I would be obliged if . . . you will have their continued worthiness to receive support reported to me." Schiff's philanthropy continually impresses by the personal, hands-on involvement of the man with the causes he aided, so different from the layers of bureaucracy and thickets of paperwork that characterize today's prominent philanthropic foundations.
The Henry Street Settlement, the institution that Wald founded to further her work in 1894, a year after she arrived on the Lower East Side, perfectly embodied her and Schiff's shared belief that, whenever possible, poor people should help themselves. With the demands for her nursing care sharply increased, and with other nurses volunteering to help her and Brewster, she decided to found the settlement house as an efficient center for her work and a way of extending her mission.
The Lower East Side had many settlement houses. Before moving into her Jefferson Street apartment, Wald had lived for two months in the College Settlement, and the settlement idea had influenced her when she decided on her mission in the slums. London's Toynbee Hall (opened in 1884) and Jane Addams's Hull House (founded in Chicago in 1889), provided the settlement house model, which the eminent historian Gertrude Himmelfarb succinctly characterizes in her description of Toynbee Hall: "It did not dispense relief or charity: it dispensed education, culture, and civic amenities. . . . [Settlement workers] were moralists on behalf of the poor, whom they sought to elevate morally, spiritually, culturally, . . . whom, moreover, they assumed to be capable of and desirous of such elevation."
Settlement founders were strikingly young—Wald was 27 when Henry Street opened, Addams 29 when she founded Hull House—and most settlement workers were youthful idealists who volunteered for a year or two. They established kindergartens, thus setting an example for school systems, and taught English and good citizenship to immigrant adults. Settlements campaigned to open schools during evenings to accommodate classes and children's clubs. They established vocational courses and offered music and art classes. Unsurprisingly, radicals who thought only a complete social revolution could solve the problems of the poor derided the settlements; the fiery Emma Goldman scornfully dismissed them as merely "teaching the poor to eat with a fork." But they did incalculable good.
Wald set out to combine all this with her nursing program. She turned to Schiff, who promptly put his hand and checkbook at her service. "I am now looking for a suitable home either in Henry Street or Madison Street," he wrote to Brewster, "which appears under the advice of Miss Wald . . . where the house should be . . . located." He soon bought the house at 265 Henry Street (destined to become world famous); Wald and Brewster moved in and named it "The Nurses' Settlement," which Wald amended a few years later to "The Henry Street Settlement."
Nursing formed the center of the settlement's mission. At Henry Street, mothers and children attended classes in home nursing, simple first aid, home hygiene, and child care. Above all, the new institution brought public health nursing to the Lower East Side's burgeoning immigrant population, assigning nine full-time nurses to cases in 1898, 15 in 1904, 27 in 1906. By the time Schiff delivered the celebratory address at the settlement's 20th anniversary in 1914, the institution deserved to celebrate. That year there were seven branches in New York City, seven fresh-air "vacation homes" in rural areas, milk stations dispensing milk to sick children, clinics, and a staff of 90 nurses visiting 200,000 families every year. Those who could pay a modest sum did so; the destitute received care without charge.
To elevate the neighborhood residents "morally, spiritually, and culturally," Wald soon moved into areas beyond nursing. Henry Street became a community center, offering clubs for children and adults, a library, and a backyard children's playground, the first of its kind in the country. When, with Schiff helping fund the purchases, the settlement added buildings at 299, 301, and 303 Henry Street, it also added classes in printmaking, carpentry, dressmaking, machine shop work, and other trades.
Although the creation of public health nursing was Wald's major achievement, for the rest of her life she threw herself into an astonishing array of causes. City government reform (in which Schiff was so active that some urged him to run for mayor), playgrounds for children, women's suffrage, the peace movement, lectures, arts classes, trade union and strikers' support, the launching of the Neighborhood Playhouse—this is only a partial list of her (and the settlement's) concerns. The NAACP evolved from meetings at Henry Street, at one of which Schiff made a fervent speech on behalf of the guest of honor, W. E . B. DuBois.
Wald was an archetypal activist, a moderate socialist of the Fabian stamp, who served on committees, organized, lectured, testified, wrote—always with good intentions, often with beneficent results. She helped mediate several rancorous strikes involving East Side residents, disputes in which she enlisted Schiff's influence to resolve. The Henry Street Settlement served as nonpartisan ground on which employers and labor met to settle sometimes bitter differences.
Though Schiff deplored what he termed "the union trusts" (his knowledge of certain ruthless railroad and coal mining unions perhaps influenced him), he supported the right of workers to organize and bargain for better conditions. It was, after all, another type of self-help. Biographer Cyrus Adler tells us: "His association with the Henry Street Settlement work and like efforts brought him into . . . personal contact with workingmen. . . . During one strike [probably the 1910 garment workers strike], conditions among the strikers' families were such that the Henry Street Settlement had to give urgent relief every day to many people. [Schiff] authorized the Settlement to do so on his behalf, and to keep an account of the amount expended. Every night he would send a check for the amount expended. At another time, when pickets were being arrested, he conveyed a piece of property to one of the members of the Settlement, to enable that person to give bail for the arrested strikers." Schiff helped settle the strike; Wald then served on the Joint Board of Sanitary Control overseeing the hygienic conditions in the shops. One wonders what Karl Marx would have made of arch-capitalist Jacob Schiff's basic decencies.
As the years passed, Schiff's support of Wald and the settlement never flagged, though he sometimes disagreed with her. Would Schiff ask his lawyer, Mr. Cravath, to compose a letter to members of the bar, advising bequests to the settlement? He would and did. Should more money be invested in the Social Halls Association, which ran Clinton Hall, a "respectable" center for recreation, weddings, and parties? No, insisted the prudent banker; the settlement had invested "almost a quarter of a million, and after five or six years are not even able to earn sufficient . . . to pay interest on [the] debt." Ventures like the association, though well-intentioned, "have only a very qualified value unless they can be established on a business basis." When Schiff took possession of a golf course near his country place in Rumson, New Jersey, he informed Wald, "We hope to arrange a permanent excursion and play-ground for children's parties."
Schiff sent checks to the settlement for special needs: an additional night nurse willing to enter the dark slum buildings, an obstetrical nurse, increases in nurses' salaries. "[W]hatever you arrange, in conformity with our family's promises," Schiff wrote her, "will be satisfactory."
Schiff seems to have regarded the settlement as his extended family, as a household he was part of. "I cannot begin the New Year any better than . . . to somewhat increase your emergency fund," he wrote in 1911, enclosing a check. In 1912 Wald decided to set up an endowment fund for the long-range financial health of the settlement; she of course approached Schiff. "You and Mrs. Loeb were the first friends and believers in me, and you have always made me feel that you are a sharer in every aspiration that I had for the safe-guarding of children and care of our sick, as well as in all other things that you have encouraged in me." Would Schiff take the leadership in setting up the endowment? Of course he would.
Schiff insisted that Wald not reveal the extent of his crucial help, a request that might have been influenced by the Talmudic injunction that whoever gives secretly to the poor is blessed sixfold. Wald respected his wishes. In The House on Henry Street, Schiff's name doesn't appear, though until he died he was Wald's steadfast contributo r, confidant, and advisor.
The extensive Schiff-Wald correspondence reflects the special fondness the world-famous banker and the innovative nurse and social worker had for each other. Schiff wrote to her often—from his office, from a ship on the way to Europe, while traveling in foreign countries, from his various vacation homes. "It was much of a delight to see your dear face once more," he wrote in 1909. "Mrs. Schiff and I are looking forward with much pleasure to dining with you and the family [at Henry Street]," he wrote in another 1909 message. "It was much of a pleasure to get a glance of you at luncheon yesterday, but please husband your strength . . . by not attempting to do too much," cautioned a 1912 letter.
Wald reciprocated Schiff's high regard. "My love to the dear lady [Mrs. Schiff] and to you," Wald signed a 1917 letter. In a long letter the same year, detailing critical public-health-nursing financial needs, Wald closed with, "I send a great deal of love to you and the dear lady." In another 1917 letter she requested, "Please let me know when you and the dear lady want me to come to the country? I am homesick for you both." And, again in that year, she thanked Schiff for a $3,500 check and ended "With loving appreciation of all that you are to me and us."
As Schiff moved into his seventies he became noticeably more weary. By 1920 he was suffering from a heart condition, then less responsive to treatment than today. On September 25, 1920, with his family at his bedside, he died in his home at 905 Fifth Avenue. His passing was front-page news in the New York Times and other newspapers. Schiff was mourned by his kin, by his extended Henry Street family, and by people who had never seen or met him but who venerated him for what he had done for those less fortunate.
On the death of her great friend and supporter, Wald, recalling the consequential day in 1893 when she first met Schiff, wrote of her good fortune to be able "to pour into his understanding ears the despair that an inexperienced girl felt [at seeing] the social conditions of people living in the crowded East Side of Manhattan. Immediately did this busy banker respond to the troubled visitor, and thereby started a fellowship in friendship and social interest that for all the years that followed never failed on his part."
Lillian Wald outlived her faithful patron and advisor by 20 years, throwing herself into an endless whirl of committees, meetings, speeches, and world travel to countries that praised and honored her. By the mid-1930s, ill and unable to continue her work, she retired to her country home in what was then rural Westport, Connecticut, and died there on September 1, 1940. She left behind an enduring monument, proof that with the right kind of help people can lift themselves out of poverty and ignorance through education and through their own striving.