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Elizabeth A.Sackler Center for Feminist Art

Louise le Gras

b. 1591, Paris/Ferrières, France; d. 1660, Paris

Louise Le Gras (née de Marillac), a pioneer in the provision of social services, was a nurse, social worker, and teacher. Upon the death of her husband in 1625, she became the spiritual student of Vincent de Paul, founder of the Congregation of the Mission, a Roman Catholic community of priests and brothers aimed at helping the poor. In 1633, she and Vincent de Paul began the Foundation of the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul, a noncloistered order of laywomen dedicated to addressing the needs of the sick, poor, and neglected. Under Louise’s leadership, the group not only nursed the poor but also established hospitals, child care institutions, schools for orphans, and nursing ministries to wounded soldiers. Le Gras became a nun in 1642; she was canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1934 and declared Patroness of Social Workers by Pope John XXIII in 1960.