overview

Many New York City public parks and playgrounds are named in honor of prominent figures in New York City and American history.

Wald Playground, in Manhattan, inadvertently honors an LGBT individual.

Header Photo
Courtesy of the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation.

History

Many New York City public parks and playgrounds are named in honor of prominent figures in New York City and American history. The NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project compiled a list of 13 public parks and playgrounds named after gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals, several of which intentionally honor an LGBT individual. This list includes Wald Playground, in Manhattan.

This Lower East Side playground was named in 1944 for Lillian Wald, thus inadvertently honoring an LGBT individual. The Henry Street Settlement was founded by progressive reformer Wald (1867-1940), with Mary Brewster, in 1893. Both were trained as public health nurses (a term coined by Wald) and moved to the Lower East Side to put their knowledge to practical use. The house at 265 Henry Street was the first permanent home of the organization when it relocated here in 1895. Wald, Brewster, and others provided nursing, at low or no cost, to the neighborhood’s poor in their homes, but would also visit those in need in other parts of the city. Nurses would also take local residents to other neighborhoods so they could experience life away from their cramped tenement district. Henry Street developed into a major Lower East Side institution, serving as a community center with educational and cultural offerings. In 1898, Wald, with Parks Commissioner Charles Stover, co-founded the Outdoor Recreation League, which sponsored the construction of neighborhood playgrounds.

The workers at Henry Street who lived (or settled) in the building were almost all middle-class women. Wald had relationships with other women who lived at Henry Street, as well as with several wealthy patrons, notably prominent social worker Mabel Hyde Kittredge and lawyer and theater producer Helen Arthur.

This playground, next to P.S. 188, was acquired by the City in 1944 from the NYC Housing Authority, which developed the adjacent Lillian Wald Houses.

Sources

  1. Blanche Wiesen Cook, “Female Support Networks and Political Activism: Lillian Wald, Crystal Eastman, Emma Goldman,” in Nancy F. Cott and Elizabeth Hafkin Pleck, A Heritage of Her Own: Toward a New Social History of American Women (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1979).

  2. Dell Richards, Superstars: Twelve Lesbians Who Changed the World (New York: Carroll & Graf, 1993).

  3. Elizabeth Fee, PhD, and Liping Bu, PhD, “The Origins of Public Health Nursing: The Henry Street Visiting Nurse Service,” American Journal of Public Health (July 2010).

  4. Paula Martinac, The Queerest Places: A Guide to Gay and Lesbian Historic Sites (New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1997).

  5. “Wald Playground,” NYC Department of Parks and Recreation, on.nyc.gov/3u7sBam.

Other Sites in the Neighborhood

45 Rivington Street
Rivington House
Medical Facilities
2 Spring Street
Robert Indiana Residence & Studio
Residences
Montgomery & Monroe Streets
Lillian D. Wald Playground
Public Spaces