Health and Living Podcasts Women's History

Saving the City: Ten New York women who changed the world during the Progressive Era

This is a podcast about kindness and care. About the bold Progressive Era pioneers who saved the lives of thousands of people in need — from the Lower East Side to Washington Heights, from Hell’s Kitchen to Fort Greene.
The Visiting Nurses of the Henry Street Settlement

Within just a few decades – between the 1880s and the 1920s – so much social change occurred within American life, upending so many cultural norms and advancing so many important social issues, that these years became known as the Progressive Era. And at the forefront of many of these changes were women.

In this show, Greg visits two important New York City social landmarks of this era — Henry Street Settlement, founded by Lillian Wald in the Lower East Side, and the Cabrini Shrine, where Mother Frances X. Cabrini continued her work with New York’s Italian American population.

Then he pays a visit to the Brooklyn Historical Society and their exhibition Taking Care of Brooklyn: Stories of Sickness and Health, featuring artifacts from the borough’s surprising connection to medical and social innovation — from settlement houses to the birth control revolution advocated by Margaret Sanger.

Margaret Sanger’s birth control clinic in Brownsville. (Photo by Underwood Archives/Getty Images)

If you have ancestors who came through New York City during 1880s through the 1920s, most likely they came into contact with the efforts of some of the women featured in this show. From the White Rose Mission, providing help for young black women, to the life-saving investigations of ‘Dr. Joe’, leading the city’s fight for improvements to public health.

Greg is joined by several wonderful guests helping to tell this story, including Tanya Bielski-Braham (currently of the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh), Beckett Graham (of the History Chicks podcast), Julie Golia (Vice President for Curatorial Affairs and Collections at the Brooklyn Historical Society), Cherie Sprosty (director of liturgy at the Cabrini Shrine) and Katie Vogel (public historian at the Henry Street Settlement).


This episode features the stories of the following ten women — not to mention other guest appearances by other important women like Jane AddamsIda B. Wells, and Eleanor Roosevelt.

Lillian Wald
Nursing pioneer and founder of the Henry Street Settlement

Courtesy the Visiting Nurse Service of New York

Mother Frances X. Cabrini
Patron saint of immigrants and founder of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

Courtesy the Cabrini Shrine

Florence Kelley
Nurse, activist, co-founder of the NAACP

Mary Harriman (later Mary Harriman Rumsey)
Early settlement house advocate, founder of the Junior League

Maritcha Remond Lyons
Lifelong education and African-American activist, co-founder of the White Rose Mission

Victoria Earle Matthews
Political activist of mixed race (born into slavery), co-founder of the White Rose Mission

Sara Josephine Baker (Dr. Joe)
Physician and public health pioneer, advocate for children’s health

Alice Lewisohn
Patron of the arts, co-founder of the Neighborhood Playhouse

Ben M. Rabinovitch photographer

Irene Lewisohn
Patron of the arts, co-founder of the Neighborhood Playhouse

Margaret Sanger
Birth control pioneer


Brooklyn Historical Society — Taking Care of Brooklyn: Stories of Sickness and Health, now on exhibition through 2022, at their Brooklyn Heights location (128 Pierrepont St)

St. Frances X. Cabrini Shrine — regular visiting hours Tuesdays through Sundays, 701 Fort Washington Ave in Washington Heights

Henry Street Settlement — The House on Henry Street permanent exhibition at 265 Henry Street


The History Chicks Podcast (Beckett Graham and Susan Vollenweider) recorded two shows on the life of Jane Addams for more information on the settlement house movement:

In addition, listen to these shows in our back catalog for more information on subjects mentioned in this show —

For further insights into life in the Lower East Side in the late 19th century:

For more on the neighborhood of San Juan Hill (demolished to construct Lincoln Center):

For a look at what medical institutions were like during this period:

And to get a sense of what the area around Henry Street was like before the settlement house, give a listen to this show on Corlear’s Hook:

Dr. Joe was instrumental in the capture of Typhoid Mary. Revisit our episode on this intense episode of New York City history!


Henry Street and the Legacy of Lillian Wald

Why are there so many Henry Streets in New York City?

The Met Gala and the Met’s Costume Institute trace their origins to a Lower East Side playhouse

Book review — The Guarded Gate: New York City’s grotesque involvement with the eugenics movement

The 25 Most Influential Women in New York City History

SPECIAL THANKS TO TANYA BIELSKI-BRAHAM, now of the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh. She joined Greg on the Bowery Boys podcast ten years ago (!) with the story of Ellis Island.

Tanya’s latest project — “The Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh is very excited to share that The Chutz-Pow Project is now available for purchase on Amazon! Be sure to get copies for yourself and those that you care about–you’re supporting the Center and spreading education through art and the true stories of real-world superheroes: Survivors of the Holocaust, Resistance Fighters, and Righteous Gentiles who stood up to horrors of the final solution!”


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