Florence Wald

Florence Wald
"We need to cure sometimes, but care always."
- Florence Wald

Induction Category:
Science & Health

Born: 1916

Died: 2008

Inducted: 1999

Town: Branford

In 1965, Florence Wald was Associate Professor and Dean of the Mental Health and Psychiatric Nursing Program at Yale University when Dr. Cicely Saunders, medical director of the St. Christopher’s hospice in London, came to Yale and gave a lecture on palliative care. Instilled with social justice values from a young age, Wald was already growing increasingly frustrated working within a medical profession that often overlooked a person’s comfort in the search for a sometimes non-existent cure. She had long felt that end-of-life care reform was needed but did not know that there were doctors who shared her concerns. Dr. Saunders’ lecture spoke deeply to Wald and the English doctor quickly became her mentor and ally. This encounter was the catalyst for Wald’s work in founding the U.S. hospice movement. Just six years later, she opened the first U.S. hospice facility in Branford, Conn.

Florence Sophie Schorske was born in Bronx, N.Y., on April 19, 1917. Her parents, members of the Socialist party, valued education and social democracy. They imparted these principles to their children, exposing them at an early age to New York’s settlement houses and the conditions of working-class America. Florence also learned from the work of Lillian Wald, a nurse who saw community health as an ethically essential part of nursing and espoused public health ideologies. From a young age, Florence had aspirations to become a nurse. However, despite his otherwise liberal-minded tendencies, her father did not want his daughter to go to college. Her mother persuaded her father that college was the best route for their daughter and she was permitted to attend Mount Holyoke College, enrolling in 1934. She graduated in 1938 with a Bachelor of Arts in physiology and sociology and went on to earn a Master of Nursing degree from Yale University in 1941.

Florence believed that nurses should work in the community and administer to patients’ needs from birth until death. She began her nursing career at the Henry Street Settlement in New York and served in the Signal Corps during World War II. During her time in the Signal Corps, she first met Henry Wald, who proposed marriage to her. She declined and returned to academic life. From 1955 to 1957, she taught at the Rutgers School of Nursing and then came back to Yale as director of the Mental Health and Psychiatric Nursing Program. She was promoted to Associate Professor and Dean in 1958. In 1958, after reading of her promotion to Dean, Henry Wald, now a widower with two young children, contacted Florence and the couple reconnected. They were married in 1960.

In 1965, after hearing Dr. Saunders speak, Wald worked hard to reform the curriculum at Yale to incorporate end-of-life care. However, merely reforming the academic curriculum did not satisfy Wald’s desire to change her profession. In 1968, she resigned from the Deanship to study the British approach to care for the terminally ill, continuing at Yale as a research associate and member of the clinical nursing faculty. The first hospice facility in the United States opened in Branford in 1971 and hospice care continues to flourish in the U.S. and around the world.

Wald was promoted to full professor in 1980, while continuing to change the way doctors and medical practitioners approached palliative care. She consistently spoke out against overmedication of the elderly and the overemphasis on technology in the treatment of cancer patients. She published countless articles and book chapters on hospice care and the training. Later in her life, Wald devoted much of her effort to setting up hospice units in American prisons.

Florence Wald dedicated her life to ensuring that people could die in comfort and dignity. It was fitting that she, at the age of 91, died peacefully in her home in 2008. Hospice has become an integral part of end-of-life care in the U.S. with a strong history, thanks in large part to Wald’s work. She received honorary doctorates from Mt. Holyoke College, the University of Bridgeport and Yale University. She was named Distinguished Woman of Connecticut by Governor Ella T. Grasso and was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in 1998.

During This Time
1946 - 1965: Women’s Activism in Conservative Times