Monday, November 16, 2015

The world we’re living in

Fall Foliage underfoot. Photo: JH.
Monday, November 16, 2015. In the very cool low 50s, sometimes sunny (yesterday), sometimes overcast. Like the world we’re living in. In my neighborhood, the people were out, heading for the park with their dogs and their kids and the babies. For a long time now I’ve noticed that many small children – three, four, five – are still in strollers and not walking. This way the nanny or the mother (or the father) can talk on their cell and know where the kid is. Watching this, I’ve often thought of my own childhood when I had to walk. There was no nanny or daddy (my father didn’t push strollers) and my mother didn’t have time for strollers.
I’m leading to something with this. Lately, and yesterday afternoon reminded me, the little ones – three, four, five and older – are now taking to the scooter that older kids and adults have been using for years.

It’s fun, and sweet, to watch these little ones – and some are only two years old, girls included – travel with ease and confidence and pleasure, not to mention, speed. They are taking the first step to independence that all of us creatures must take. It’s wonderful to see; it’s optimism personified, like watching a flower bloom.

The only problem I can see is making sure the kid is extra-cautious about distance from parent, and about CROSSING streets. JH, who lives in a neighborhood where there is more foot traffic (Broadway in the 80s), says that a lot of the little ones on their scooters do not really know how to control the vehicle and need to be instructed by parents because many run into people, and even into oncoming traffic. This is an ongoing problem in contemporary community: adults of all ages are less and less careful about that now that the cell phone has become the center of their lives. Children learn from us, good or bad.

Now that I’ve begun to engage in lecturing, I think I’ll stop and make the point I was going for: Yesterday afternoon watching New Yorkers take their families and their dogs to the park or out for a walk was a good antidote to what we’re reading and hearing about Paris. And this world of ours.  It didn’t heal anything but it spoke Truth.

Friday late afternoon I went over to Daisy Soros’ where she was hosting a book signing for her daughter-in-law, Flora Fraser Soros who has just published a biography of George and Martha Washington. It is titled The Washingtons: George and Martha, "Join'd by Friendship, Crown'd by Love."

Flora Fraser with a copy of The Washingtons: George and Martha, "Join'd by Friendship, Crown'd by Love." Click to order.
Flora, using her maiden name, has written biographies of Emma Hamilton, Caroline of Brunswick, the daughters of George III, and Pauline Bonaparte, Napoleon’s youngest sister (and the only one to visit him when he was in exile in Elbe).

Writing and history runs in the family. She is the daughter of historian and historical biographer Lady Antonia Fraser and sister of Natasha Fraser; and daughter of the lateSir Hugh Fraser, a British Conservative politician. Her stepfather was the playwright Harold Pinter, her mother's second husband until his death in 2008. Her maternal grandparents were the late Elizabeth Longford, also an eminent biographer, and the late Lord Longford, a well-known politician, social reformer, and author.

I don’t know Flora except to have met her a couple of times briefly. Our connection is Daisy, and Flora lives in London. She is a very attractive woman with a modest demeanor which belies her capacity for research and writing. I haven’t read the Washingtons yet as I just received it, but I did read her biography of poor King George III’s daughters, and the one of Emma Hamilton. I am always in awe of women biographers, especially when their subject is male. Jean Strouse’s biography of J. Pierpont Morgan taught me that. The female eye of the male’s path and behavior is often more objective, and if naturally sympathetic, most penetrating. Flora Fraser has that eye.

Thursday night I went down to the Waldorf to the Grand Ballroom where the Visiting Nurses Service of New York was hosting its annual benefit dinner. Until that night, my knowledge of the VNSNY, or Visiting Nurses as most people refer to it, was sketchy at best. Their headquarters are in the former Thomas Lamont mansion on East 70th Street between Park and Lex. I know the house because of its history.  And I knew it was the VNSNY headquarters because there is a plaque on the wall near the entrance stating that.
The Grand Ballroom just before the guests arrived from cocktails.
The ceiling of the Grand Ballroom.
Also, Lillian Wald is a name I’ve been familiar with for years, possibly because my business reporting on philanthropy and the Henry Street Settlement which was one of my first experiences learning about philanthropy in the neighborhoods in 19th century New York. Yet it wasn’t until last Thursday night, however,  that I felt compelled to find out just exactly who she was.

She was born on March 10,1897, into a middle class German-Jewish family in Cincinnati, Ohio. Her father was in the opticals business and her mother was what became known statistically as a homemaker. When she was 11, the family moved to Rochester, New York. When she was sixteen, she applied to Vassar but they wouldn’t take her because she was thought to be too young.
Lillian Wald in 1889, at 23; and the lady in her forties.
In her early 20s, she came to New York and attended New York Hospital’s School of Nursing. When she graduated two years later she entered the Woman’s Medical College. However, less than two years into it, she left – in 1893 – at 26, and started to teach a home class on nursing for poor immigrant families on the Lower East Side, at the Hebrew Technical School for Girls. Her “calling” in life had been determined.

The evening's honoree Drew Schiff and his mother Lisa Schiff.
From there she became a “visiting nurse” for the poor of those same neighborhoods – which were largely poor immigrants. She became a “public health nurse” – having created the term to explain her work to the public as well, it turned out, to the philanthropists in the community.

A man named Jacob Schiff, the great-great-grandfather of Thursday night’s VNSNY honoree (with the Lillian Wald Award), Drew Schiff, had become a quiet, behind-the-scenes supporter of Wald’s public nursing.

In the same year, 1893, Nurse Wald established the Henry Street Settlement, (originally called “the Nurses Settlement”), a not-for-profit social service agency in the Lower East Side. Her earliest angel was Jacob Schiff who preferred keeping his philanthropy anonymous, as did other donors to the cause. By 1906, the Henry Street Settlement had 27 nurses on staff visiting and caring for the medical cases in the vast neighborhood. By 1913, there were 92.

Ms. Wald was a visionary – besides being a focused, hard worker and humanitarian. She insisted, for example, that all groups at Henry Street Settlement were fully integrated. She was an early proponent and supporter of the NAACP. She initiated the first school lunch program in 1905. She aided in the establishment of the first labor code in 1910. She also taught women how to cook and to sew.

Lillian Wald's BAO for the Visiting Nurses to wear. It means: "We are all one family."
Henry Street and Wald were active and making spaces for children to play safely in the city. She was active in improving women’s work conditions, in eliminating Child Labor; involved with the ACLU and the Foreign Policy organization as she took her work promoting visiting nurses services. The Visiting Nurse Service of New York is an outgrowth of the Henry Street Settlement as both organizations grew.

Today the Visiting Nurse Service of New York (VNSNY) is the largest not-for-profit home and community-based health care organization in the country. On any given day, serving the five boroughs of New York City, as well as Nassau, Suffolk, and Westchester Counties and parts of Upstate New York, VNSNY has about 65,000 patients and health plan members under direct and coordinated care. In 2013, VNSNY’s clinicians made more than 2.2 million professional visits in homes throughout the community to approximately 165,000 New Yorkers.
Drew Schiff's great-great-grandfather, Jacob Schiff, who was the first major funder of Lillian Wald's Visiting Nurse project.
The great-great-grandson who four generations later applies the Schiff philanthropy by being an active member of the board of Visiting Nurses.
This is who Lillian Wald was. The lady grew with her organizations as well, establishing herself and her expertise in many areas of social and humanitarian services. On a trip to what was then called “the Far East” in 1910, Ms. Wald was inspired by the Chinese custom of wearing a symbol to denote family membership. She the “Bao” sign designed for the nurses to wear. It means: We Are All One Family. A hard truth for most of us to accept; but nevertheless universal.
The room after dinner while so many of the guests (check out the tables) are on the dance floor.
Sunday night dinner, in the crowd at Sette Mezzo: Woody and Soon-Yi, the Newhouse family, the Tisch family, Marlene Hess and Jim Zirin with Donna and Ben Rosen; Hilary and Joe Califano with Herb Siegel; Marcia and Richard Mishaan and family; Alex Hitz and Nikki Haskell; Michael Shnayerson and Gayfryd Steinberg and Duane Hampton; the Leon Black family; Amanda Burden and Charlie Rose; Kathy Sloane.

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