The epidemic that struck in 1918 overwhelmed even that formidable system. In addition to caring for patients and her fellow nurses, Lillian recruited volunteers and entreated benefactors for additional emergency funding. For one recruitment effort, she positioned nurses at the doors of Tiffany’s and other high-end shops, distributing flyers to solicit female volunteers. “A stern task confronts our women—not only trained women, but untrained women,” the flyer read. “Capable, though untrained, hands can lighten the burden of the trained ones. There are many things intelligent women can do to relieve the situation, working under the direction of competent nurses.” Notable is a plea at the end: “Physicians should not employ nurses as office or laboratory assistants during this emergency.”
“A stern task confronts our women—not only trained women, but untrained women.”
Lillian’s deep belief in the importance of community was only strengthened by her experience during the pandemic. While her “Field Hospital” article featured graphs and data for providing in-home care, she also shared personal anecdotes of the generosity she saw across racial, religious, and economic lines during the crisis. “Certainly there was evidence from all kinds of people—professional and non-professional,” she wrote, “of a willingness to give and to give instantly.”
After the desperation of 1918 faded, Lillian’s life did not slow down, nor did her advocacy. She enjoyed close friendships, but never married. Her life’s focus was The Henry Street Settlement, which continues to this day, and her efforts for the advancement of public health, immigrants, people of color, children, and women. She died on Sept. 1, 1940 at age 73. A rabbi conducted the memorial service at the Henry Street Neighborhood Playhouse. Months later, a tribute was held at Carnegie Hall, where the president, governor, and mayor delivered brief addresses. It was attended by over 2,000 people.