Home > Hadassah National News

Search Hadassah News

Search Hadassah News, hMedicine and hCoast-to-Coast archives:   

Henrietta Szold - Health Pioneer (Part 1)

The Founder's Role in Hadassah's Medical Program
By Tamar de Sola Pool and Minnie W. Halpern

In the Beginning

"It seems to me I have lived not one life, but several, each one bearing its own character and insignia."

In that single sentence Henrietta Szold wrote her autobiography. Each of her several lives was a saga unto itself.

The popular American thinker, Ralph Waldo Emerson, uttered words that bespoke her destiny:

"Every true man is a cause, a country and an age; … posterity seems to follow in his steps as a procession ... An institution is the lengthened shadow of one man; ... and all history resolves itself very easily into the biography of a few stout and earnest persons."

Henrietta Szold was such a personality, and Hadassah is the institution that is the lengthened shadow of her being. In this brief sketch we shall attempt to follow albeit only in outline, the impact of Henrietta Szold on the medical work of Hadassah of which she was the creative fount.

If we would like to dwell on the "ifs" of life, one might well wonder how much the devoted little study group that bore the name of Hadassah, and called itself Daughters of Zion, would have developed, or indeed how long it might have continued, had not Miss Szold's dynamic and fertile spirit converged upon it in poignant circumstances.

It was in 1909-10 that she and her mother went on a pilgrimage to the Land of Israel. Their hearts were lifted at the beauty and precious historic associations of the Land, but also seared by the sight of the poverty, ignorance and utterly devastating health and social conditions that met them everywhere. Then and there was born the idea for that health work which transformed a private study circle into a magnificent instrument of social service and national rebuilding. Upon her return, Miss Szold persuaded the study circle to assume a program of practical work in the Land of Israel.

The difficulties, in her view, were no obstacle. They were a lever and a challenge. "Solving problems will make of us an upstanding people. It will steady our nerves, it will stiffen our muscles, steel our powers, set up an irresistible morale among ourselves, discipline us as our prophets would have wanted us to be disciplined. Our beautiful land will be a mercifully severe taskmaster. If we win it, we shall thus win our real selves back."

Henrietta Szold viewed as part of the whole national upbuilding the proposed health program of Hadassah. It was rooted in the Zionist ideal, a cause Henrietta Szold espoused long before it became a world movement, when she saw for the first time with her own eyes the agony of her people in the ghettos of Europe. "The ideal of Zion rebuilt" she wrote in 1881, "supplies my bruised, torn and bloody, distracted people with an answer to its woes through its own efforts." "This ideal of self-emancipation," she proclaimed in 1896, "was Zionism - a movement that epitomized the finest Jewish impulses of the day."

She was an apostle of action. "Away with the propaganda of the word. Nothing will avail but the propaganda of the deed." Her aversion to ideals proclaimed only in speeches was expressed in her concrete purposefulness. "For a concrete purpose," she said, implies a direct responsibility; a responsibility calls for intimate knowledge; knowledge creates emotion; genuine emotion must result in action."

Miss Szold decried an early criticism leveled by the men Zionists that Hadassah  was a mere charitable handout. "Not charity. I deny it. We go to Palestine equipped as American Jewish women particularly are, with philanthropic and social work, with the purpose of bringing to Palestine the results of American healing art...If we can bring order to that land of chaos, that charge cannot be brought against us..."

Coming into a "land of chaos," a victim of neglect and misrule, where but a few recently arrived solitary stalwart doctors stood up against the witchery that passed for the art of healing, Hadassah encompassed within the broad orbit of its tasks the whole gamut of modem medicine and helped make Palestine an oasis of health and life. It is well nigh impossible to portray, however briefly, within the limits of a small brochure, the sweeping achievements of Hadassah's health program that is now nearly a half century old. Nursing education and post graduate nurses training reached out in their influence to every hospital, school and clinic in the country. High standards of curative and preventive medicine were coupled with clinical instruction which have come to a climax in a world-renowned medical center and university medical school. Fellowship and scholarly exchanges and research, anti-trachoma and anti-malaria and epidemiological campaigns, experimental pilot plants for community health, environmental sanitation and other aspects of public health, gave the organization international ambience, and at times world import. In the rehabilitation of the land and the rebirth of Israel, the multifarious aspects of Hadassah's health work played their part. Simple or complex, emergent or permanent, the work has and will remain encased in the national whole. One could list, without exhausting the outline Hadassah' s administration of hospitals, clinics and health welfare centers, tuberculosis control, itinerant ophthalmological and rural services, a paramedical program of health insurance, health scouts, nutrition and nutrition education, school luncheons and comprehensive medical inspection for children and youth from kindergarten to the university, prophylactic psychiatric work, dental hygiene, medical social work and guided recreational and occupational therapy, the publication of Hebrew textbooks, medical libraries, hospital and institutional supplies and equipment ranging from health posters and layettes to the neurosurgeon's electric knife, an electronic microscope or a cobalt installation.

It was characteristic of Miss Szold that she rejected acclaim and personal praise in relation to her work. For Hadassah and its ever growing membership, however, she had a regard that bordered on reverence, "1£ I may," as she said, "judge about something which I love too deeply, probably for clear, unbiased judgment." In conception, design and purposefulness, the organization owes its being to her. She was at the helm of its operation for the major part of its existence and until the end of her life stood upon the bridge to help and guide and steer its complex program.

Hadassah Weekly Briefing

Read the most recent edition of the Hadassah Weekly Briefing including Jewish News from around the world and Hadassah News from the Hospital, College, Hadassah International, and more

Get it in your Inbox!

Some of our most popular
National news stories

   |  Who We Are  |  What We Do  |  Where We Do It  |  Read About It  |  Join Now  |  Donate  |
  |  Login  |  Contact Us  |  Careers  |  Terms & Conditions  |  
Copyright ©2014 Hadassah is a registered trademark of Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America