Florence Schorske Wald—hailed as a living legend by the American Academy of Nursing—is a primary reason why the nation’s terminally ill may opt for peace, comfort, and dignity during their final days.
As a young woman, Wald suffered from a chronic respiratory ailment. The care she received inspired her to become a nurse and to teach the profession.
She was troubled by the way American doctors treated dying patients—they were isolated, families were never involved, and even nurses were told to keep their distance. Wald saw a different picture in Britain, and resigned as dean of the Yale School of Nursing in the 1960s to research palliative-care alternatives for the dying.
Wald subsequently became one of the founders of Hospice, Inc. in New Haven, Connecticut, which began home care in 1974 and opened an inpatient hospice in 1980. Today there are approximately 4,000 hospices nationwide.
Called “the mother of the American hospice movement,” was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1998. Her efforts were celebrated in the 2004 film Pioneers of Hospice.
Wald was amazed by hospice’s success. “I didn’t appreciate that the movement would spread so far and so wide, but society embraced it.” She credited both the patients-rights movement and nurses “willing to go into the community and tend to the dying in a new way. Nursing’s history is one of caring for those in need.” For Americans, that proud history will always include Wald, the nurse who cared enough to change how we die.