A Mother's Job: The History of Day Care, 1890-1960

A Mother's Job: The History of Day Care, 1890-1960

A Mother's Job: The History of Day Care, 1890-1960

A Mother's Job: The History of Day Care, 1890-1960

Synopsis

Using Philadelphia as a case study, A Mother's Job explores the history of day care from the perspective of families who used it, tracing day care's transformation from a charity for poor single mothers in the early twentieth century to a legitimate and culturally accepted social need for ordinary families -- and a potential responsibility of government -- by the 1950s.

Excerpt

In 1994, a young college student named Jennifer Ireland found herself at the center of a national debate about day care. Ireland was a teenage mother who had graduated from high school with honors and won a scholarship to the University of Michigan. She took her two-year old daughter, Maranda, with her to Ann Arbor, and enrolled her in the university's day care center. But when Maranda's father, faced with child support claims, appealed for custody, Ireland found that her decision to send the child to day care while she attended classes tipped the scales against her. The judge awarded custody to the father, who had promised that his mother would stay home to take care of Maranda, while he worked and attended a local community college. Judge Raymond Cashen wrote in his decision that although Maranda had a deep bond with her mother, and her day care arrangements were good, staying with her meant that she would be "in essence raised and supervised a great part of the time by strangers." With her father, on the other hand, she would be reared by her grandmother, a full-time homemaker who would "devote her entire time to raising the child when the father was not available."

Although Cashen's ruling showed the continuing power of the idea that day care is inherently bad for children, and that mothers who rely on day care are neglectful, the public outcry about the case challenged these judgements. Within days, the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times all issued editorials condemning the judge's decision, while the legal clinic representing Ireland received three hundred calls in two days offering emotional and financial support. The American Civil Liberties Union, the National Organization for Women, the United Auto Workers, and other national organizations jointly filed a friend of the court brief siding with Ireland. Commentators rejected the message that Cashen appeared to be sending to women across the socioeconomic spectrum--that a mother's job was really in the home. "Women across the country are frightened by this ruling," Kim Gandy of the National Organization for Women told reporters. "I have a two-year-old myself, and the idea that somebody could come and say that I'm a bad mother because she's in day care part-time is a very scary thought." The New York Times focused on the importance of day care to poorer women, calling the ruling "an affront and threat to the millions of women for whom day care is the difference between ignorance and an education, poverty and a decent in-

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