Lillian Wald: Ethnic Progressive


This research is now included in a book by the same title published by The University of North Carolina Press, January 2009. (ISBN 978-0-8078-3236-3)

For full text of working paper, please contact the Babson Faculty Research Fund.


Lillian Wald (1867-1940) earned international acclaim for her work on behalf of immigrants and industrial laborers. A close friend and colleague of Jane Addams and others who wielded the power of Progressive women’s political culture, Wald came to her Lower East Side social work in 1893 with definitive ideas about ethnicity and American identity. She herself was the daughter of German Jewish immigrants. The successful, assimilated professionals who comprised her family in her hometown of Rochester, New York, taught her important lessons about shedding ethnic differences: that “racial” concepts were mutable; that social mobility and civic belonging were possible for all groups willing to adapt to American values; that a pluralist approach to American democracy benefited all Americans. Incorporating newly uncovered historical documentation, this chapter of my biography of Wald discusses how crucial these lessons were to her later work with urban immigrants, and how crucial Wald was to the pluralist foundations of twentieth-century American.


American Studies | Arts and Humanities | Women's Studies

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