A Timely 1934 Manifesto for Reclaiming Our Human Liberties by Childcare Reform
The History of Baby Care in the U like this.S.
In the U.S. the history of baby care is largely a history of the economically disadvantaged. By the end of the 19th century, the child care system was largely subsidized by wealthy philanthropists. It consisted of a range of provisions for minorities, immigrants and the working poor, who were often stigmatized by it’s being based on charitable donations. Because it was dependent upon voluntary donations, services were often inconsistent. The system proved to be a weak foundation upon which to build an enduring network of quality child care needed by working women.
One of the earliest examples in the history of baby care was the National Federation of Day Nurseries, established in 1898, which was the first nationwide organization devoted to the issue of quality childcare for working mothers. This was inspired by a model day nursery created by Josephine Jewell Dodge as a social exhibit at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exhibition in Chicago.
The next development in the history of baby care was the U.S. Children’s Bureau, founded in 1912 with the goal of creating public policy to support mothers who wanted to stay home with their children. It was successful in that by 1930, most states had passed laws granting some form of mothers’ pensions. However, rather than addressing the need for child care, it attempted to reduce that need instead. It was soon discovered that the pensions were inadequate to support children and that many, often as the result of racial discrimination, were deemed ineligible to receive them.
In 1933, nearly 3,000 schools that enrolled 64,000 children in 43 states were started, being consolidated into 1,900 schools with a capacity for approximately 75,000 children. As WWII approached and women began working in the defense industry, the government created a program in which one child care worker was required for every ten women defense workers. While 2 million child care workers were needed to serve 19 million defense workers under this system, there were still only the 3000 child care centers with the capacity to care for only 130,000 children.
As a result, poor working mothers were often forced to leave their children alone or utilize inferior child care. Stories of tragedies that often befell these children were used to castigate working women as selfish, especially after the war when men returning were in need of jobs. Congress passed two welfare reform bills in 1962 and 1965, linking federal support to policies that required poor and low-income women to enter training programs and work outside the home.
In the 1980s, public expenditures for low-income families were reduced and tax incentives for higher income families were almost doubled. With its history of baby care lacking in developing a strong child care infrastructure for working mothers, the United States continues to compare poorly with other advanced industrial nations. France, Sweden, and Denmark all offer free or subsidized care to children over three and also provide paid parental leave.
The History of Baby Care in Sweden
In Sweden, which ranks in the top ten in the world for child care, the history of baby care has been very different. In response to falling birthrates in Sweden, sociologist Alva Myrdal and her husband, an economist, published a book titled Crisis in the Population Question. The primary purpose of the book was to present social reforms that would encourage couples to have more children without decreasing their personal liberties, especially those of women. The authors pointed out the danger that without reform Sweden “would at the end of the 1970s have almost twice as many elderly people in relation to individuals in the working ages now”.
In addition to encouraging people to have more children, the authors also proposed substantial changes in the prevailing patriarchal family system, in which fathers worked and women remained at home to care for the children, through a process of social engineering. This book, and its Nobel-prize winning authors, had a vast influence on the present system of daycare for preschool children that was introduced in the 1970s. By 1975, approximately 100,000 children aged one through five were enrolled in the system. By 2005, that number had increased to 420,000, representing 90% of children in that age group.
One of the reasons the system in Sweden is so successful is decentralization. Taxes totaling approximately 20% of individual personal income from 290 separate municipalities fund preschools, schools, and social services. Wealthier municipalities help subsidize poorer ones through a system of tax equalization. The costs of quality child care in Sweden are comparable to those of the United States. In the U.S. the cost per child in 1992 was $12,356, while the cost per child in Sweden was $10,000.
The internet has made it possible to study the history of baby care in many countries and for cultures to learn from one another in their mutual goal of providing all children with the best care possible. Hopefully in the next century, the history of baby care in our century will be little more than a list of continuous improvements that have resulted in a world full of happy, healthy children.