the history nebraska blog

The Need for Daycare, 1915

This year, the day care problem is a red hot issue. Both state and national senators are

wrestling with the question of how to adequately care for the children of working parents. It

seems like a very modern problem.



But Nebraska women have always worked. Most of this work was invisible, since it wasn’t

done for wages, and it was done in the home or on the farm. Still, some women worked for

wages outside the home. And if these women had children, they had to worry about what we

now call “daycare.”



Immigrant women were among those most likely to work for wages, often as domestic

helpers in “American” homes. Hattie Plum Williams, a sociologist from the University of

Nebraska studied these workers. She recounted the effect of the day labor of “Russian-

German” women in Lincoln on their children around 1910.



“The mother leaves the home at 7 or 7:30 in the morning and the small children have from 1

to 2 hours of undirected time to put in before school. Tasks which have been set for them are

either slovenly done or neglected altogether so that they may join their mates at play on the

streets or school grounds. Especially this is true of the boys both before and after school.

The girls on the other hand put in their time after school at the heavier housework which

must be done “after hours”–the washing, ironing, scrubbing, baking, etc. Although overwork

undoubtedly sometimes results, its effects on the whole are less detrimental than no work or

such carried on unsystematically.



“Not infrequently small children are locked in the house if the weather is bad or out of the

house if the weather is good. Not long since a pastor called upon a parishioner at 2 o’clock in

the afternoon and found three children, aged 2, 4, and 6, locked in the house since their

mother left in the early morning. Sometimes the most careful parents do this to avoid

indiscriminate playmates on the streets or danger from colds because the children are too

small to wrap themselves up carefully, but the fearful danger from fire makes it a hazardous

practice.



“In warm or pleasant weather the streets are swarming with children from 2 to 4 years old

whose mothers are gone from home half to three-quarters of the day.



“A small effort has been made by public and private means to meet this situation. A junior

kindergarten for children from 3 to 5 years of age in the North settlement partially meets the

need there; while one of the schools in the south side has accepted into its regular

kindergarten children from 3 to 5, although they are below the legal school age. It looks as if

a couple of day nurseries were urgently needed, but there is a question whether it would not

do more harm than good by encouraging out-of-home work where it was not necessary.


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