Feature Stories

Jewish Women in Nursing: Trailblazers

Here is look at just a few of the trailblazing Jewish women who led the way in the field of nursing in America.


Born in Gainesville, Ala. in 1881 to German Jewish immigrants, Amelia Greenwald graduated from the Touro Infirmary Training School for Nurses in New Orleans, La. In 1908, and  helped to organize the Pensacola Sanitarium in Pensacola, Fla. In 1914, after attending a postgraduate course in psychiatric nursing at Phipps Clinic at Johns Hopkins University, Greenwald came to New York where she met Henrietta Szold, who introduced her to Zionist ideas. Deciding that she would prefer to work among her own people, she took private tutoring in Hebrew, Yiddish, and Jewish history while attending the nursing program at Columbia University Teachers College. During World War I, she served overseas with the American Expeditionary Forces. Stationed in France, Greenwald served as acting chief nurse of a hospital in Verdun and as night superintendent of a hospital in Savoy. She helped establish the first American hospital, at Coblenz, Germany. For her service, she received the Victory Medal.
In 1923, she established the Jewish Nurses’ Training School at the Jewish Hospital in Warsaw. She was later decorated with the Polish Golden Cross of Merit.
After returning to the United States, Greenwald worked in Miami and again in New York with the National Council’s Department of Farm and Rural Work. In 1932, she was the director of the Nurse’s Training School at Rothschild Hospital (Hadassah).

REGINA KAPLAN, 1887 – 1957
Regina Kaplan was born on May 12, 1887 in Memphis, Tenn. to German-born immigrants. In 1908, Kaplan graduated from Mercy Hospital Training School for Nurses in Denver, Colo., and worked as a private duty nurse. Although rejected as too short for military service during World War I, she enrolled with the American Red Cross on January 14, 1915.
For thirty-five years, Kaplan was superintendent and administrator of the Leo N. Levi Hospital in Hot Springs, Ark. Beginning in 1916, she developed its School of Nursing, the first school in the South to admit males. The school closed in September 1952.

Hadassah nurses Rachel Landy and Rose Kaplan with Eva Leon, Jerusalem, 1913

Later, Kaplan set up a local Red Cross chapter and taught classes in nurse’s aide preparation, home nursing, and first aid to adults and high school students. She hired the first school nurse for Hot Springs and encouraged the establishment of a free public health nursing program. In 1944, she was honored with brunch at the White House.
Kaplan founded the Lakewood Convalescent Home for “old age indigents” of Garland County and served as its president from 1946 to 1953. She also contributed to professional journals and read papers before sectional meetings of the American College of Surgeons.
Kaplan served as director and chair of the Temple Beth Israel choir, in which she sang. She also served on Beth Israel’s board of directors, and a member of Eastern Star, Hadassah, and B’nai B’rith.

ROSE KAPLAN, 1867 – 1917
Rose Kaplan was a pioneer in health care in Palestine and helped to initiate the medical work funded by Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, in the years after its founding in 1912.
Born on September 4, 1867, in Petrograd (St. Petersburg), Russia, Kaplan immigrated to the United States in 1892. After graduating from Mount Sinai Hospital Training School for Nurses, she served as a nurse in the Spanish-American War. She was hired by Hadassah in 1913 to travel to Palestine and set up its district visiting nursing program, along with Rae Landy. Together, with financial assistance from Nathan and Ida Straus, Kaplan and Landy set up the Hadassah Nurses Settlement in the Mea Shearim section of Jerusalem.
With the outbreak of World War I, Hadassah offered to release the two nurses from their contracts, although they decided to continue their work in Jerusalem. As conditions deteriorated, however, both Kaplan and Landy returned to the United States, leaving the settlement in the hands of Dr. Helena Kagan, who had established a medical practice there. Arriving back in New York in January 1915, Kaplan expressed to Hadassah officials her desire to be sent to work as a nurse in the refugee camp set up by the British in Alexandria, Egypt, for Jews expelled from Palestine. Diagnosed with cancer, she chose to return to work despite a poor prognosis. In Alexandria, she carried on trachoma work, treated children with skin diseases, fought malnutrition, and taught hygiene to children.
Although failing in health, Kaplan determined to continue her work and never revealed her condition to her American sponsors. She died in Alexandria on August 3, 1917, and was buried there among the Jewish soldiers of the Zion Mule Corps. Several years later, her remains were moved to Jerusalem under Hadassah auspices and reburied on the Mount of Olives.
Henrietta Szold, the founder of Hadassah, wrote that if the organization’s medical work was to resume in Palestine after the war, it could do so only by emulating the selflessness and dedication to public service that Kaplan had exemplified.

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