Meet Florence Wald


Since 1974 hospice has established itself as a unique and invaluable part of the medical community. Where did it all begin? It began with one nurse and a vision to turn her desire to help into something great and lasting.

Meet Florence Wald, the driving force behind the hospice movement within the United States.

Born Florence Sophie Shorska in New York City April 19th, 1917, Florence had a great desire to get an education and become a nurse. In an unusual move for young women of her time, Florence left home to attend Mt. Holyoke College in 1934. She attended for four years and received Bachelor of Arts degree majoring in physiology with a minor in sociology.

She then entered Yale's nursing school and began fulfilling her dream. Florence found the hospitals to be full of rules and a little stifling to both herself and her patients. It frustrated her that nurses were seen as little more than doctor's servants. It was one thing to show him respect, it was quite another to let him take the elevator first! She most enjoyed the training she received outside in the community as a visiting nurse.

Florence would eventually receive three degrees from Yale: Master of Nursing, Master of Science and Honorary Doctor of Medical Sciences. She has been also awarded the honorary Doctor of Law degree from the University of Bridgeport and the honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Mt. Holyoke College.

Florence Wald was serving as Dean of Yale Nursing School the first time she heard her mentor Cicely Saunders speak about caring for patients and families with diseases that were not curable. Saunders was establishing St. Christopher's Hospice in London, England and Florence felt that her work was opening doors of opportunity in the United States as well. She began networking and seeking out those who held similar beliefs about humane care for the dying. She replaced herself as Dean and stayed on as a Research Associate in the School of Nursing. Florence worked with dying patients and their families in Yale-New Haven Hospital and with Cicely Saunders in London. She learned about integrating nursing, medicine, social work, pastoral care, the arts and volunteers in providing total care for the terminally ill.

The Connecticut Hospice accepted its first patients in 1974. These patients received care from Florence Wald, an additional nurse, 2 doctors, 2 psychiatrists and a minister. Eventually this team would expand to include disciplines and other areas of therapy and care. In all, they served 22 patients over a 2 year period, largely within their homes, but also in the hospital when critical emergencies would arise. They fought for their right to care for their patients in every setting, feeling that a person gives the best care to those they know the best. Obstacles were many, but they were met. They learned how to treat pain in all its forms and matched their gifts and talents with the needs of their individual patients.

She says of this experience: "I can't go around at all, even now, without thinking of [those] patients . . ., when I pass the houses that they lived in. It became a very [deep] experience and relationship."

In her lifetime Florence Wald has received many honors. She has been awarded the prestigious title of "Living Legend" by the American Academy of Nursing and has been inducted into both the Connecticut and National Women's Hall of Fame. More importantly her legacy continues to grow. Today, there are more than 2,500 independent hospice centers within the United States, serving over 400,000 people a year. The hospice philosophy has expanded into an additional area of palliative care and many other venues. Currently, Mrs. Wald continues to advocate progress in hospice care. With her support, work within prisons to train inmates as volunteer hospice caregivers for other inmates has been very successful.

Thank you, Florence Wald, for sharing yourself with the healthcare community. We honor your values and dreams every time we can assist a patient to face a terminal illness with dignity.

Copyright 2007- American Society of Registered Nurses (ASRN.ORG)-All Rights Reserved


Articles in this issue:


  • Masthead

    Editor-in Chief:
    Kirsten Nicole

    Editorial Staff:
    Kirsten Nicole
    Stan Kenyon
    Robyn Bowman
    Kimberly McNabb
    Lisa Gordon
    Stephanie Robinson

    Kirsten Nicole
    Stan Kenyon
    Liz Di Bernardo
    Cris Lobato
    Elisa Howard
    Susan Cramer

Leave a Comment

Please keep in mind that all comments are moderated. Please do not use a spam keyword or a domain as your name, or else it will be deleted. Let's have a personal and meaningful conversation instead. Thanks for your comments!

*This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.