Form and Content
Based largely on Lillian Wald’s The House on Henry Street (1915) and Windows on Henry Street (1934), as well as on her notes, letters, and speeches collected at the New York Public Library, Irvin Block’s Neighbor to the World is less an in-depth biography than a documentary account of the lower East Side of New York City and the Henry Street Settlement House that Wald and her colleagues founded to help the poor of the area. The opening chapter, “The Day It All Began,” recalls a day in March, 1893, when Wald, at that time a nurse studying to become a doctor, was called to go to the rooms of a sick woman who had recently given birth. For the first time, she saw the miserable living space of a slum—the dark and diseased room of the sick mother and baby. This sight persuaded her to give up medical school to work as a nurse and an advocate for the poor.
Chapter 2, “Childhood Remembered,” depicts Wald’s fortunate, gentle, cultured family background and suggests the social awareness and good-heartedness of the family members, rather than presenting individual portraits. Brock describes Wald’s training as a nurse and portrays her as a person who responded to human needs, and became involved in the conditions and difficulties faced by her poor immigrant “neighbors” in New York. She responded as a public nurse, then as head “worker” (the term that she preferred) of the Henry Street Settlement House, and later as...
(The entire section is 550 words.)