Founded in 1893, the Henry Street Settlement was among the wave of Progressive Era social reform organizations developed in response to industrialization, poverty, and urban overcrowding. Situated in the heart of Manhattan’s Lower East Side, the Henry Street Settlement developed a wide range of social service initiatives, including its pioneering Visiting Nurse Service, committed to providing public health education and quality care to all. In 1944, the Visiting Nurse Service became its own independent organization. Still flourishing today, the Visiting Nurse Service of New York continues Wald’s vision of bringing high-quality and affordable health care to New York City’s five boroughs and several surrounding counties.
This recently rediscovered collection of films (the earliest dating to 1924) demonstrates how the Visiting Nurse Service used moving images to achieve its fundraising, promotional, and educational objectives, and serves as an authentic cinematic record of the evolution of 20th century New York.
The paper collection of the Visiting Nurse Service of New York is held at the Augustus C. Long Health Sciences Library at the Columbia University Medical Center in New York City.
Helping Hands (1924)
Helping Hands is the first film commissioned by the Visiting Nurse Service, developed to aid in their annual fall fundraising campaign. Shot by New York City’s Bray Production (best known for its early animation works), this silent short follows two real Henry Street nurses administering care to patients on a series of house calls. As they work and travel about the city, they are accompanied by wealthy philanthropist who—moved by their efforts—is persuaded to pledge his financial support to the organization.
The Henry Street Visiting Nurse (1927)
Produced by Frank Abrams
Making heavy use of intertitles, this film explains the mission, operations, and scope of the Visiting Nurse Service. Over the course of the 15-minute film, viewers are privy to office operations, expectant mother classes, and calls to Chinatown, Little Italy, and Harlem. Intertitles listing the addresses of centers in Queens, Manhattan, or the Bronx were added to the end of the film, depending on where it was being shown. This extant copy was devised for Bronx screenings. Henry Street Board Meeting records estimate that versions of this film were shown about fifty times in the spring and fall of 1927 at Visiting Nurse Service headquarters (262 Park Avenue) and neighborhood clubs and theaters.
The Work of the Henry Street Nurse in the City of New York (circa 1927-1930)
Shot and directed by the niece of a Henry Street Board Member, this 21-minute film documents the Visiting Nurses in action throughout Manhattan, Harlem, Queens, and the Bronx. The film closes with footage of Henry Street founder Lillian Wald at her desk.
Al Smith Endorses The Henry Street Settlement (1934)
This Fox Movietone short depicts former New York Governor (and Henry Street Board Member) Al Smith endorsing the work of the Henry Street Settlement Visiting Nurses as part of their 1934 pledge drive to raise $300,000.
Day After Day (1940)
Dial Films, Inc.
The Depression seems to have inaugurated a decade-long pause on the Visiting Nurse Service’s moving image activities, and it was not until 1940 that they released their next film, Day After Day. Shot and produced by nonfiction filmmakers Lee and Sheldon Dick through their company Dial Films, Inc., this 14-minute sound film depicts the work of the Visiting Nurse Service throughout the city, with particular emphasis on its expectant mother and infant care. Regrettably, only the final few minutes of its soundtrack are extant; but even this limited sample reveals an effort on the part of the filmmakers to bring a sense of drama and poetics to their subject matter. The film premiered in November 1940 at a high-profile Henry Street fundraiser attended by Manhattan high society, followed by a screening of Bette Davis-vehicle The Letter. From this 14-minute cut, a 1 ½ minute fundraising snipe was created to run in Manhattan, the Bronx, and Queens movie theaters. Henry Street records indicate that over $1,000 was collected at these theaters by the end of the year.
Keep ‘Em Fighting (1942)
This 2-minute fundraising movie “trailer” features Henry Street nurse Elizabeth Phillips just back from special service with the American Red Cross in wartime Britain. The film’s explicit title, patriotic music, and its direct linkage between home front stability and oversea soldiers’ morale illustrates a concerted effort on the part of Henry Street to justify its legitimacy amidst mass domestic war mobilization. Keep ‘Em Fighting premiered on November 23, 1942 in Manhattan and continued running in up to 200 theaters for the remainder of the year. This short includes footage previously used in Day After Day.
We Carry On (1943)
This short fundraising snipe—timed to coincide with the Henry Street Settlement’s 50th anniversary—demonstrates the organization’s continued effort to use moving images to bolster its fundraising efforts. We Carry On also recycles considerable footage from Day After Day.
This oddball short, starring bespectacled American comedian Arnold Stang, was produced by RKO-Pathe as part of RKO’s “This Is America” series. Stang stars as a hapless father-to-be who enrolls in expectant father classes given by the Visiting Nurse Service of New York.
The Heart of the City (1952)
Wilding Picture Productions
Dick Powell introduces and narrates this fundraising short about health care in New York City, produced by the Greater New York fund. The film shows a series of health care participants (none mentioned explicitly by name) administering care to children and adults across the city and concludes with Powell’s call-to-action—“You can help them by helping the Greater New York Fund.”
A Long Day’s Journey (1963)
This sober film, narrated by renowned voice actor Alexander Scourby, follows Sandra Henriquez, R.N., during a day on the job as she makes a series of house calls to elderly patients. A team of Visiting Nurse Service of New York personnel served as advisers on the film.
See A Job: The Visiting Nurse (1968)
This entry in McGraw-Hill’s Text-Films “See A Job” instructional series illustrates the work of visiting nurses and home healthcare.
Visiting Nurse Service Television Promo Spot – Short (1969)
Television promo spots, of varying lengths, created by the Visiting Nurse Service of New York.
Visiting Nurse Service Television Promo Spot – Long (1969)
Visiting Nurse Service Television Promo Spot – Baby (1969)
Visiting Nurse Service Television Promo Spot – Child (1969)
In Time of Need (1974)
The care and compassion of New York’s visiting nurses is highlighted in this film, featuring American singer and actress Kitty Carlisle. Unedited outtakes have also been preserved.
In Time of Need – Raw Outtakes (1974)
Port Authority Raw Footage (1980)