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Jill Quadagno, “The Politics of Motherhood”

December 13, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

“The Politics of Motherhood”

Jill Quadagno

Chapter Six, The Color of Welfare: How Racism Undermined the War on Poverty, Oxford University Press, 1994.  [PDF]

During the first half of the turbulent sixties, child-care policy remained disengaged from the volatile battles raging over race and rights. Rather, improving child care remained the obscure mission of two federal bureaus, the Women’s Bureau and the Children’s Bureau. Before the decade was over, child care, too, became embroiled in the struggle for racial equality. Child care provided through the War on Poverty’s Headstart program was designed to provide enriching experiences for poor children, which in practice meant black children. Day care provided to welfare mothers to reduce the welfare rolls also disproportionately benefited African Americans.

In seeking to build a right-of-center coalition, Richard Nixon seized upon child care as a program that might accomplish that goal. In his first message to Congress, he promised to provide all young children a “healthful and stimulating development.” [1] The problem was that his welfare reform scheme – the Family Assistance Plan – contained a day-care component. As day-care costs became entangled in the controversy over the FAP, Nixon abandoned his commitment to children.

It wasn’t only the FAP that undermined support for a comprehensive child-care plan. Equally significant was public ambivalence about the escalating numbers of working mothers. If the government embarked on policies that encouraged welfare mothers to work, what implications might such policies have for all families? Federal support for child care was defeated both because of its connection to welfare reform, and thus to one of the most controversial and racially charged issues of the decade, and because of its implied validation of the right of all mothers to work.

Children’s Rights/Mother’s Rights

In 1912 Congress created a Children’s Bureau to investigate the welfare of children. [2] Because its constituency was made up of politically powerless children who could neither vote nor lobby, the Children’s Bureau had only limited influence on the federal bureaucracy. The Social Security Act of 1935 expanded the national welfare state, but the Children’s Bureau received only a few meagerly funded programs to manage – maternal and child health, crippled children’s services, and child-welfare services. [3] The important program, Aid to Dependent Children, went first to the Social Security Board and later to the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. By the late 1950s, in terms of both federal funding and public interest, cash assistance to dependent children had completely overshadowed child-welfare services. The Children’s Bureau was relegated to the margins of the federal bureaucracy. [4]

The Women’s Bureau, created by Congress in 1920, was located within the Department of Labor. Its charge was to improve working conditions for women. The Bureau’s first director, Mary Anderson, was a shoemaker who had risen through the ranks of the Women’s Trade Union League. [5] She had observed bone-weary women toiling through the night and believed their most pressing needs were limitations on hours and controls on conditions of work. During the 1920s and 1930s, the Women’s Bureau played an important role in pressuring the states to enact protective labor legislation. [6]

Because its constituency was working women, the Women’s Bureau never accepted the prevailing view that a woman’s place was in the home. Bureau staff recognized that working women needed child care. Although far from indifferent to the needs of children, their interest in child care stemmed from their desire to ease the heavy burden on women.

The federal government provided some child care during the New Deal. In 1937 the Works Progress Administration earmarked funds for day care to provide jobs for unemployed teachers, custodians, cooks, and nurses. Then in 1941 when women were needed in the defense plants, Congress passed the Lanham Act, which provided grants for building and operating day-care centers. But when the troops returned home at war’s end, the women were sent back to the kitchen. Within months 2,800 day-care centers were closed, and in 1946 federal funds for day care were eliminated. [7]

By the late 1950s, one-third of the nation’s labor force was made up of women, and the Department of Labor predicted that by 1970 two out of every five women would be working outside the home. Philosophically, the Children’s Bureau believed day care was necessary only when a family was in crisis, when a child was neglected or abused or when a child had special needs. [8] Day care was primarily for “culturally or socially retarded” children who needed more than substitute care or children who had “a family problem which [made] it impossible for their parents to fulfill their parental responsibilities without supplemental help.'” [9] But the increasing labor-force participation of women convinced the Children’s Bureau that working mothers needed help, too:

More and more women are entering the labor market and many of them are the mothers of young children. Realistically, we cannot expect to reverse this revolutionary tide nor is there any indication that the mother who works, by the simple fact of her employment, neglects or damages her children.

In 1958 the Children’s Bureau asked the Bureau of the Census to conduct a survey exploring the nation’s day-care needs. The survey showed that little community-based child care was available. Most, (80 percent) of young children of working mothers were cared for in an ad hoc fashion in unlicensed homes. While some of these homes provided excellent care, others were merely custodial with no storytelling, no reading, no vocabulary development. Fifteen percent of children went to work with their mothers. Sometimes mothers kept their teenagers home from school to care for their younger brothers and sisters. Only 1 to 2 percent of children were in group care. [10] Eight percent spent the day unsupervised. [11] The survey demonstrated pressing needs among lower and middle-income families.

To publicize these findings demonstrating the nation’s desperate need for child care, the Children’s Bureau published bulletins and held conferences on the plight of working mothers. Gertrude Hoffman, the Bureau’s specialist in Homemaker and Day Care services, developed a comprehensive statement of what day care should be, which became bill S. 1286, introduced by Senator Jacob Javits on January 1, 1960.

The Javits bill sought $25,000,000 for day care for the children of working mothers, with states to provide matching funds. [12] Although Javits only sought support for working mothers, Congress was beginning to feel the pressure of the swelling welfare rolls and favored instead a plan that might help put welfare mothers to work. [13] As the bill moved through Congress, the rights of mothers and children took a back seat to the alarm over the rising costs of welfare. Instead of helping mothers already in the labor force, the child-care bill became oriented toward putting stay-at-home welfare mothers to work.

The Women’s Bureau also supported the Javits bill. But its chief, veteran Democratic labor lobbyist Esther Peterson, was uncomfortable with the bill’s emphasis on welfare and concerned that only public assistance recipients and other low-income families would be eligible for services. [14] In her view, all working women needed child care. Peterson also believed that day care could be educational and wished to see the legislation reflect this objective.

Support for the legislation came from a loose conglomeration of women’s organizations, which formed an informal children’s lobby. The lobby included such organizations as Playschools, the National Federal of Settlements, United Community Funds, and the Child Welfare League. [15] Although the day-care lobby was united in its support of some legislation, internal conflicts reflected the cultural ambivalence toward working mothers. Elinor Guggenheimer, head of the National Committee for the Day Care of Children, believed that social workers should first “induce mothers, whenever possible, to remain at home with their young children.” In fact, “careful welfare intake processes [would] give us the opportunity to convince many mothers that it is better for them to remain at home with their children than to go to work. ” Day care should “preserve and strengthen family life, ” not destroy it. Guggenheimer also believed that women should not compete for the jobs of men: “I personally have been working on a project to induce women to enter the shortage fields of nursing, social work, and education.” [16]

To attract public support for the pending bill, the day-care lobby joined with the Women’s Bureau and Children’s Bureau in sponsoring a conference on child care. More than 400 representatives from labor, management, social service agencies, and health and welfare groups attended. The conference recommended that day care become part of the range of child welfare services offered in every community for all children who needed them. [17] A seemingly innocuous idea, the recommendations signified a tacit recognition that mothers worked and an implied promise to provide adequate child care.

As the day-care supporters lobbied for the legislation, they aroused the opposition of conservatives who believed day care was a communist plot to destroy the traditional family. The files of the Children’s Bureau are filled with letters from outraged men and women who saw any state support for day care as “creeping socialism, ” the degradation of fathers, and the beginning of the end of the family. A distraught Margaret Wainwright wrote: “I am very much against day care centers for working mothers. In fact, I feel that the woman’s place is in the home. Children should learn about life at their mother’s knee – I’m sure this is the best way to fight Communism.” G.H. Randles declared: “Put mom and dad back in the home. . . . Where there is no dad left, put mom back in the home anyway. ” Raymond Stauble argued that the day-care proposal “should be fought because it will help mothers to compete in the labor market against unemployed fathers. . . it will encourage more mothers to go to work, even when unnecessary, from selfish motives, further weakening the moral fibre of our nation … [and it would] promote more socialistic activity on the part of the Washington bureaucracy.” [18]

Thus, as early as the 1960s, a conservative coalition that supported the contradictory aims of getting poor women off the welfare rolls (rolling back the welfare state) and returning working women to the household (restoring the traditional family) was emerging. These objectives would later become the core agenda of the New Right.

Day Care for Welfare Mothers

On July 17, 1962, a much-revised Javits bill was enacted. Congress amended Title IV of the Social Security Act to allow states to use ADC funds to purchase day care for the children of welfare mothers. The amendments also authorized the Children’s Bureau to provide grants-in-aid to the states for child-welfare services including day care. These funds could purchase day care for low-income children of working mothers. [19] Thus, the amendments linked day care to welfare but allowed local agencies some flexibility in providing support for families near but not below poverty level.

The 1962 legislation earmarked $10,000,000 of child-welfare funds for day care. [20] As the first appropriation for day care since World War II, the legislation represented a breakthrough. However, total appropriations never exceeded $7,000,060 for the entire country. The meager funding severely limited the program’s ability to meet the child care lobby’s goal: to provide child care for working mothers.

Before Congress passed the 1962 amendments, only a dozen states had plans for publicly supported child-care centers, and most had developed no standards or licensing requirements. The limited funds appropriated did little to stimulate child-care programs. In 1965 New York passed a bill enabling commissioners of public welfare to either provide day care directly or purchase it from an authorized provider. In 1968 Maryland established eight day-care centers for AFDC children and increased this number to seventeen in 1969. [21] Overall, state funding was scattered and unable to meet the demand for child care. Those states that developed day-care programs found they only had sufficient funds to serve the welfare population, but not low-income working women. [22]

Regulations in the legislation also discouraged states from expanding day care. To qualify for federal grants, the states had to have an approved plan for providing child-welfare services. If the plan included the use of day-care centers, the centers had to be licensed by the state. With funding so limited, welfare agencies were forced to use their grants to develop licensing standards instead of increasing day-care setvices. [23] Because public welfare departments could serve only the welfare poor, it was difficult to mobilize public support to expand federal programs: “nationally the attitude toward day care services (was) that they (were) for the poor and not the self-sustaining.” [24] Like all targeted programs, day care divided rather than unified its key constituents.

Although citizen interest in expanding day care was minimal, proposals to reduce the rising welfare rolls brought day care to the forefront of the national policy agenda. Senator Abraham Ribicoff, a New York Democrat whose state was especially hard hit, proposed authorizing an additional $5,000,000 in federal day-care support to put welfare mothers to work:

Among the poorest of the poor in our great cities are women who have been left alone with large families. Their plight is an urgent social problem. These mothers must work if they are to move toward independence and useful lives. . . . Day care is an integral part of the web of social services we must provide. [25]

Yet no day-care measures passed in the conservative Senate. The influential members of the Senate Subcommittee on Appropriations (98 percent male with an average age of fifty-eight) dismissed day care as “federalized baby-sitting. [26] When President Johnson asked for $3 million in federal matching funds for state efforts, the Senate slashed three-quarters of the request and in 1966 cut that amount in half. Eager to put welfare mothers to work, Congress was, nonetheless, unwilling to pay for services that would promote work.

Yet a stimulus to federal child care arose from a different source. The War on Poverty established competing child-care programs that sought to provide enriching, educational experiences for poor children and especially for black children. While day care was the most popular of all the antipoverty programs, its orientation toward minorities meant that all federal day-care programs were linked to racial issues.

Day Care in the War on Poverty

Although many psychologists and educators adhered to the nineteenth-century belief that intelligence was fixed and rates of child development predetermined, an alternative line of thought, beginning with John Watson and perpetuated by Dr. Benjamin Spock, suggested that outside influences could shape infant development. [27] Particularly influential was a book by University of Chicago psychologist Benjamin Bloom, indicating that early environmental influences affected intelligence, verbal aptitude, and personality traits. Bloom’s findings implied that children from disadvantaged environments might benefit from day care. [28]

The Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 provided day care as a by-product of other programs. For example, the adult-training programs specified that mothers in training receive child care. [29] The most important child-care program, however, was Operation Headstart, an offshoot of the community action programs. Influenced by child development research, Headstart operated on the premise that positive preschool experiences could give poor children skills to compete on an equal footing in elementary school. Throughout the nation, community action agencies ran hundreds of Headstart programs. While children of all races benefited from Headstart, the program disproportionately served black children. [30]

The placement of a major preschool program under OEO was a blow to the Children’s Bureau. The Headstart model not only conflicted with its remedial view of early childhood education, it also threatened to undermine its gains in setting licensing standards. In seeking to preserve their domain, Children’s Bureau staff articulated more definitively the distinction between custodial and educational day care.

Because of the enthusiasm which the Headstart program has generated in the public mind, the main focus of that program has been confused with broader purposes of day care. A clear distinction of the purposes of the two programs needs to be made. Headstart is designed primarily to provide educational enrichment for preschool children from deprived homes at or below the poverty level. . . . Its programs, however, do not usually operate during a full working day . . . . Day care services within the Child Welfare Services program are designed to protect and care for children usually for a full day because there are no other means to ensure adequate care for them. Such services are a part of Community programs intended to help keep children in their own homes who might in the absence of such day care services have to be separated from their families and placed in foster care. [31]

Headstart provided enriching experiences. Day care provided protection. Neither supported working mothers.

Many children entering Headstart were physically underdeveloped and socially unprepared for school. To enhance early development, Johnson’s Task Force on Early Childhood Education proposed establishing Parent and Child Centers to provide infant day care for children under three, health and welfare services, and extensive counseling for mothers. The counseling would break the poverty cycle by teaching poor mothers about the educational, health, and nutritional needs of their children. [32]

These centers, too, threatened the Children’s Bureau. As Gertrude Hoffman complained: “There is too much emphasis on providing parents jobs and training to break out of poverty. I am not opposed to these purposes except that a parent and child center is to help parents do a better job of parenting and increase their skills in rearing children.” [33] Despite such misgivings, the Children’s Bureau was given trial day-care programs to run. Although Johnson’s Task Force meant for the programs to break the poverty cycle, instead ‘the centers concentrated on putting welfare mothers to work. In Milwaukee, Child Care Centers Inc. trained women on AFDC to care for the children of other AFDC women who were participating in job training. The advantages of the program, according to its director Camille Wade, were threefold: “The children are the obvious ones to gain. . . . But beyond that, the women who work as day care mothers have been able to leave welfare, and the children’s mothers are learning jobs that will do the same for them. [34] Although pleased to be given jurisdiction over the programs, Children’s Bureau staff doubted that AFDC mothers “could realistically provide the kind of environment children need to avoid growing up as non-achievers.” [35]

As the Children’s Bureau tried to preserve its status as the champion of child welfare, the competing programs of the War on Poverty redefined day care as educational, not custodial. Thus, the federal agency most interested in promoting day care was thrust to the periphery of the national policy agenda. Instead the civil rights movement and the expanding welfare rolls took precedence.

Day Care and Welfare Expansion

After nearly a decade of disinterest, in 1967 eight day-care bills were introduced during the first session of the 90th Congress. Five of the bills were to provide federal assistance to improve educational services in day-care centers; three were to amend the Economic Opportunity Act to provide day care for poor children so their mothers could participate in the antipoverty job training or employment programs. [36] Women ‘s Bureau head Mary Keyserling noted the newly found interest with surprise: “In contrast to previous years in which the subject was either ignored or hostile, this year all of the comments [by members of the Appropriations Committee] were supporting of day care and some members insisted that there was not enough day care research.” [37]

The renewed interest in day care reflected both the popularity of Headstart and the continued expansion of the welfare rolls, which increased by 214 percent between 1960 and 1968. With welfare reform more politically pressing, in 1967 Congress amended the Social Security Act to encourage welfare mothers to get off the rolls and into the job market. A new Work Incentive Program (WIN) required the states to establish community work and training programs. Welfare mothers couldn’t participate in training and work, however, unless states also established daycare programs. [38] The Children’s Bureau was charged with developing guidelines for the WIN day-care program – quickly. The rush to provide day care threatened to erode any sort of national guidelines. And Children’s Bureau staff feared that whatever minimal standards were established would not apply to other federal progiams : “My concern is that we may end up with different day care programs with different requirements and standards.” [39]

The fears were realistic for by 1967 a conglomeration of federal child-care programs was divided among six federal agencies: the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, the Office of Economic Opportunity, the Department of Labor, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Department of Agriculture. To coordinate the diverse daycare programs, Congress instructed OEO, the Women’s Bureau, and the Children’s Bureau to develop a master plan. The task increased tensions between the three organizations, each of which had its own definition of what day care should do. Children’s Bureau staff were most concerned with keeping regulations precise and consistent. Gertrude Hoffman, the staffer in charge of day-care standards, argued that “care of infants and tiny babies is so full of hazards that I believe many of the suggested standards should read ‘must’ instead of ‘should.’ For example, a telephone must be available.” [40] She also charged that:

the Women’s Bureau was repeatedly asking for names of people who would wink at standards in cities like Baltimore and Chicago . . . where the project would fail . . . if standards for day care [had] to be met. . . . The projects should fail if it meant lowering fire and safety standards for children. . . . They only want the experience and expertise of us specialists where we agree with whatever they design. The lives of the children in this program are the least important items. [41]

The final guiddines did nothing to ease these fears. They excluded the specific regulations developed by the Children’s Bureau, and they allowed the administering agency to waive the guidelines if the waiver would “advance innovation.” [42]

Despite the fuss about standards and the pressure to reduce the welfare rolls, in 1968 Congress appropriated few funds for day care and made no increase in 1969. Why not? One reason was that most male Congressmen still didn’t recognize that women needed child care to work. Congress also was hampered by fiscal restraints imposed by the Viemam War. Finally, as the furor of the civil rights movement wound down, there was a widespread backlash against spending on social programs that benefited the poor, especially the black poor.

Day Care for the Liberation of Women

The federal government did not ignore working women entirely. To repay the hundreds of women who had worked in his campaign (and also to delay demands for an Equal Rights Amendment), in 1961 President John Kennedy established the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women, the first presidential body ever created for this purpose. The Commission was charged with “developing recommendations for overcoming discrimination in government and private employment on the basis of sex and for developing recommendations for services which will enable women to continue their role as wives and mothers while making a maximum contribution to the world around them. [43] The Commission gave women a forum for organizing and for making policy recommendations. During the 1960s, similar state organizations created an unobtrusive but extensive women’s network. [44]

The Commission’s first report, American Women, documented widespread sex discrimination in employment and education. It recommended the creation of an Interdepartmental Committee on the Status of Women and a Citizen’s Advisory Council on the Status of Women. These commissions sponsored conferences on the status of women and generated a climate more conducive to the discussion of women’s goals and needs.

Two laws advanced the status of women. In 1963 Congress passed the Equal Pay Act, the first comprehensive federal bill prohibiting employment discrimination. The Act banned sex discrimination in employment and required employers to provide equal pay for equal work. [45] Operative in 1964 as an amendment to the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act, the Act established an unwieldy and ineffectual mechanism for enforcing equal pay. It authorized the Department of Labor to make regular inspections, investigate complaints, and, if the complaint was valid, take the employer to court.

Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act further advanced women’s rights by making sex discrimination in employment illegal. [46] But the EEOC, which was primarily interested in racial discrimination, ignored complaints of sex discrimination.

In 1966 at the third National Conference of Commissions on the Status of Women, women who were frustrated by the government’s inertia when it came to equal rights for women formed the National Organization for Women (NOW). [47] Initially, NOW was a top-down organization with no grass roots base. Its members sought to break down legal and economic barriers blocking equal employment opportunities. However, NOW also recognized that women’s problems were linked to broader ‘issues of social justice. It established seven task forces to recommend action on such issues as discrimination against women, the family, and the problems of poor women. In 1967 NOW proposed a six-point Bill of Rights that included child-care centers. [48] But child care was never a priority for NOW, and as child-care legislation moved through Congress, no NOW members testified on behalf of the bills.

NOW spoke for a small fraction of the women’s movement. The broader women’s movement that swept across the nation in the late 1960s consisted of small groups lacking any formal structure, centers, or coordinating committees. No overseeing organization directed the activities of the groups, which shared only a common culture but were politically autonomous. Indeed, they opposed any hierarchical power structure on principle, for hierarchy was the weapon of male domination. Instead, the primary political project of this minimally organized branch of the women’s movement was consciousness raising, an activity which took place in small rap groups. Rather than seeking political change, the rap groups sought to instill personal change by attacking the effects of psychological oppression and by developing self-esteem and a sense of solidarity among their members. [49]

A radical arm of the women’s liberation movement developed out of some student and antiwar protest groups among women who were alienated by their treatment by male radicals. [50] These feminists argued that women’s oppression centered in the family, because families freed men to work by harnessing women to child rearing. This unnecessary, and ultimately destructive, arrangement deprived children of the company of men and women of the company of adults. Families also made possible the exploitation of women by training them to perceive work outside the home as peripheral to their true role as mothers. [51] As one feminist ardently proclaimed:

One of the worst things that happens to a woman when she announces that she is pregnant is that she is congratulated and praised as if she has accomplished the most difficult task in the world. . . She is seen as being of great worth, possibly for the first time in her life. Women who have been leading active, working lives are made to feel as if only now are they finally settling down to the real business of life. [52]

Radical feminists claimed that women could only be liberated by having no children and by refusing to enter into any family relationships.

Most feminists recognized that such a vision was utopian and unrealistic. Women would continue to marry and have children. Day care was critical to women’s liberation because it would free “‘women from the traditional tasks of child rearing.” [53] Day care could also radically transform societal child-rearing practices if day-care centers were staffed by both women and men and if children were taught nontraditional sex roles. Communal day-care centers founded by feminists became part of an alternative school movement, which was hostile to all public education. However, because parents active in alternative schools rejected public education, most were also uninterested in any form of government child care. Thus, one group of feminists rejected child rearing entirely, while another rejected the idea of public child care.

Despite aspects of the women’s movement that made it hostile to or uninterested in day care, some feminists did recognize the importance of public child care for women’s liberation. In November 1969, several loosely knit feminist groups gathered in New York to create a national organization. They formed the Congress to Unite Women and established a political agenda that included employment equality for women, free twenty-four-hour child-care centers, and, until such care was available, the right to deduct child-care expenses from taxable income. [54] The right to a tax deduction would have benefitted middle-class women, but it was not an issue that poor women were likely to rally around.

The women’s movement played only a minimal role in the debates over child-care policy. NOW filed complaints against corporations receiving federal funds, while the grass roots women’s liberation movement sought personal change. The movement’s absence was partly due to disinterest in organized political activity and partly because federal day-care policy ignored the needs of the college-educated, white, middle-class women who dominated both its branches.

Community Action and Family Values

Although middle-class women remained on the sidelines, at the end of the decade Congress nearly passed a substantial day-care program. And it seemed that the new Republican administration was fully behind the measure. In his message to Congress on January 19, 1969, President Richard Nixon promised national action on day care:

So crucial is the matter of early growth that we must make a national commitment to providing all American children an opportunity for healthful and stimulating development during the first five years of life. … We are pledged t0 that commitment. [56]

All American children. Proponents of national day-care legislation heard Nixon promise to expand day-care provision beyond its welfare base.

The only problem was that seven months later Nixon made a guaranteed annual income the heart of his domestic agenda. In an August 11 speech to Congress, where he laid out his Family Assistance Plan he linked day care to welfare reform. The success of the FAP in setting welfare recipients “on the road to self-reliance” depended on expanded day-care facilities. Although Nixon promised that day care would help in the development of the child, provide health and safety, and “break the poverty cycle,” it now had a firm base in welfare reform. [57]

In the first eight months of the 92nd Congress, ten child-care proposals were introduced. Two bills became the forerunners of the Comprehensive Child Development Act (H.R. 6748). The first, introduced by Representative John Brademas, provided federal grants to both public and private agencies for educational preschool and day-care programs to meet the needs of poor children, all children aged three to five, and children of working mothers. The Brademas bill funded states based on a formula of 50 percent of the proportion of poor and 50 percent of the proportion of children aged three to five. Applications for grants could be made by any number of local organizations, including community action agencies and local education agencies. A similar bill proposed by Senator Walter Mondale tacked child care onto a two-year extension of the Economic Opportunity Act. The Mondale bill allowed any city, county, or other unit of government or any public or private nonprofit agency to apply to become a “prime sponsor.” [58]

As the Comprehensive Child Development Act moved forward in the House and Senate, it seemed that Nixon would indeed fulfill his promise to all young children. Yet when administration officials testified before Congress, they objected to the provisions allowing local community groups to become prime sponsors. They proposed instead that prime sponsors be limited to state governments or to cities of over 500,000, a condition that would prevent the local community action agencies from sponsoring day-care programs. Civil rights advocates defended the provisions allowing cominunity action groups to be prime sponsors. [59] For Marian Wright Edelman, author of the Mondale bill and prominent civil rights activist, local control was the crucial issue. Community organizations could operate like the Child Development Group of Mississippi, a controversial community action program where Headstart had been “perhaps the most important social catalyst for change in the state. It helped poor parents understand new ways of having an effect on their children’s education.” [60] Only through local control could child care circumvent the racially segregated southern public schools:

The heart of this bill . . . is the delivery mechanism. Those of us who have worked with the poor, the uneducated, the hungry, the disenfranchised, have had long and bitter experience in how legislative intent is thwarted in the process of implementation . . . . We think this [local administration] essential and those concerned with equal opportunity and civil rights will oppose any control of this child legislation to the states. [61]

As Evelyn Moore, Director of the Black Child Development Institute, explained: “It is to the advantage of the entire nation to view the provision of day care/child development services within the context of the need for a readjustment of societal power relationships.” Day-care centers could “catalyze development in black and other communities” but only if consumers of child care made up at least two-thirds of the representatives among prime sponsors. [62] Thus, a proposal for day care now became embroiled in the struggle for racial equality.

By September 1971, the FAP had passed in the House and was awaiting Senate action. But day care faced another hurdle – it had become a threat to the FAP. The income limit in the day-care bill was $6,960 for a family of four. [63] The level of eligibility for FAP was only $4,320. If the day-care bill was passed in its present form, it could drive up the costs of welfare reform and kill the FAP.

Advocates of working women responded that the higher limit was necessary if the bill was to provide any support for the working class. Mary Keyserling, now a private consultant, testified against the administration’s proposed income limit. Keyserling explained that a lower cutoff would exclude most mothers in two-parent households, who had the most pressing day-care needs: 81 percent of dual-earner families had incomes over $7,000, high enough to make them eligible for any federal subsidy but too low to pay the cost of quality child care. An income limit of even $5,000, the final compromise, meant that the program would shut out most of the working poor and all of the middle class. [64] Thus, even as Nixon sought to woo the forgotten Americans, he agreed to income limits that would exclude them.

Two years after committing his administration to day care, Nixon vetoed the Comprehensive Child Development Act, the nation’s first and only attempt to provide federal support for all young children. Why did he compromise on and then turn against a program that could have provided a base for building political support among the “forgotten Americans?” In his veto message Nixon denounced the bill as a program that would plunge the federal government “headlong financially into supporting child development [and] would commit the vast moral authority of the national government to the side of communal approaches to child-rearing against the family centered approach.” [65] This statement represented a concession to right wing proponents of family values, who saw day care as a Communist conspiracy to destroy the family. [66] In the final hearings on the bill, spokesmen for the fledgling voice of the Moral Majority launched a tirade against the measure. Rep. Durward Hall exclaimed:

Can anyone realize, believe, or even imagine he is here today hearing and debating the question of taking the children away from families and training them as wards of the state? . . . It is a question of collectivized child raising, and it perverts all the traditional cultures if you now suddenly assume or believe as inherently defective that families of America would insist on raising their own children. I see this as a long step toward socialization of our nation. [67]

Similarly, Rep. John Schmitz protested:

It is becoming possible for a government to root out the basic unit of society – the family – and replace it with state control. . . . A free people today must, therefore, be constantly on its guard against such unwarranted incursions into the life of the family. [68]

And in the eyes of Rep. John Rarick, “This amendment insults motherhood and, if passed, will destroy the home.” [69] Equally damning was the idea that the bill would revive not only community action but also the controversial Office of Economic Opportunity. Indeed, Mondale explicitly promoted his child-care bill as a mechanism to revive OEO:

At the local level, through community action and other related programs, OEO has helped poor people to share in the planning and decision-making processes of their communities. They, as well as others, serve on the boards of neighborhood councils, community action agencies, and delegate social agencies, thereby constituting one of the largest voluntary efforts in the country. In helping to determine the use and allocation of significant sums of money, they and their community action agencies have exercised an impressive degree of sound judgment and responsibility. This unique and successful effort in citizen participation is the heart of the OEO anti-poverty program. . . .The lessons of the past should be used to give OEO a new vitality. [70]

But Nixon had already converted OEO’s function from social action to research and he had no intention of allowing the War on Poverty to be revived through the back door. [71] As he explained in his veto message:

Upon taking office, this administration sought to redesign, to redirect – indeed to rehabilitate – the Office of Economic Opportunity. . . . which had lost much public acceptance in the five years since its inception. . . . If this congressional action were allowed to stand, OEO would become an operational agency, diluting its role as incubator and tester of ideas and pioneer for social programs. [72]

Finally, day care had became hostage to Nixon’s proposal for welfare reform. If the day-care bill had been enacted, it would have increased the cost of the FAP by $20 billion, whereas the administration had allocated only $1.2 billion. Still deeply committed to welfare reform in 1971, Nixon could not let a day-care measure undermine his chances of success.

The Legacy of Child Care

Child care represented a social right for children, care that would grant them a modicum of security and the opportumty to develop in a healthy and enriching environment and thus share in the nation’s full heritage. Child care also represented a civil right for women, a right to work without constraints imposed on the basis of gender.

Day care could have become a program that would have helped the most forgotten Americans, working-class women who were in the labor force. Though the income limit was set low enough to exclude most working women in two-parent families, the measure would have provided a foundation upon which to build a more comprehensive program.

Throughout the policymaking process, however, day-care legislation divided rather than united its potential supporters. Some programs promised support for working families as well as the welfare poor. However, limited funding meant that in practice day care became an income-targeted program, serving only welfare recipients. Other programs targeted poor children and excluded working- and middle-class taxpayers. Yet attempts to expand beyond this minimal base triggered the antagonism of social conservatives, who feared government intrusion in child rearing.

Debates over day care also revealed the issues that were to mobIlize the Moral Majority: an antipathy to state intervention and a nostalgia for the traditional family. In vetoing the legislation, Nixon won the loyalty of this nascent constituency and began building a New Right center for Republican party politics of the 1970s and 1980s.


1. Joint Hearings before the Subcommittee on Employment, Manpower and Poverty and the Subcommittee on Labor and Public Welfare, 92.nd Congress – First Sess., S. 1512, May 13 and 20, 1971, p. 58.

2. Gilbert Y. Steiner, The Children’s Cause (Washington, D.C.: Brookings’ Institute, 1976), p. 5.

3. Ibid., p. 9.

4. Ibid., p. 10.

5. Patricia G. Zelman, Women, Work and National Policy: The Kennedy Johnson Ye ars (Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1980), p. 9.

6. Mary D. Keyserling (oral history, Lyndon Baines Johnson Library Oral History Collection, Austin, Texas, October 22., 31, 1968), p. 30.

7. Margaret O’Brien Steinfels, Who’s Minding the Children? (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1973), pp. 66-70; Victoria L. Getis and Maris Notes Vinovskis, “History of Child Care in the United States Before 1950.” In
Child Care in Context: Cross-Cultural Perspectives, ed. Michael Lamb, Kathleen Sternberg, Carl-Philip Hwang, and Anders G. Broberg (Hove and London: Lawrence-Erlbaum, 1 992.), pp. 199-2.02.

8. Erika Streuer, “Current Legislative Proposals and Public Policy , ‘ Questions for Child Care.” In Child Care, Who Cares, ed. Pamela Roby (New York: Basic Books, 1973), p. 59.

9. NA, RG 102., Box 832., File: Day Care of Children of Working Mothers. Draft of Position Statement on Day Care, March 9, 1962.

10. Keyserling (oral history) , p. 22.

11. Steinfels, Who’s Minding the Children, p. 72..

12. NA, RG 102., Box 832., File: Day Care of Children of Working Mothers. Letter from JaCob Javits to Katherine Oettinger, May 6, 1958.

13 . For a discussion of welfare expansion and public reaction, see Chapter 5.

14. NA, RG 102., Box 8 3 2., File: Day Care of Children of Working Mothers. Discussion of Day Care Legislation at Women’s Bureau, December 6, 1961.

15 . NA, RG 102, Box 832., File: Day Care of Children of Working Mothers. Detailed Summary of Public Welfare Amendments of 1962. Letter from Gertrude Hoffman to Theresa Jackson, February 6, 1961.

16. NA, RG 102., Box 832., File: Day Care of Children of Working Mothers. Letter from Elinor Guggenheimer to Raymond Gallagher, February 2.8, 1962..

17. NA, RG 102., Box 832., File: Day Care of Children’ of Working Mothers. Day Care Services, Form and Substance by Gertrude Hoffman.

18. NA, RG 102., Box 832., File: Day Care of Children of Mothers. Letter from Margaret Wainwright to the President, February 14, 1962.; letter from G.H. Randles to the President, April 9, 1962.; letter from Raymond Stauble to the President, February 2.6, 1 962.

19 . Congressional Record, July 9, p. 1 2.052.

20. NA, KG 102., Box 1150, File: Aug. 67. Federal Funds for Day Care Projects.

21. NA, RG 102., Box, 1150, File: March 68-0ct. 68. Narrative on Day Care Developments.

22. NA, RG 102., Box 1005, File: March 6s-Jan. 66. Memo on Day Care Services, February 2.0, 1963.

23. NA, RG 102., Box 8 3 3 , File: Day Care May 1966. Highlights of Maryland Program for Day Care Services.

24. NA, RG 102., Box 1150, File: Aug. 67. Daytime Programs for Children.

25. Ben Bagdikian, “Who Is Sabotaging Day Care for Our Children?” Ladies Home Journal (November, 1966): 86.

26. Ibid.

27. For a discussion of the transition from Watson to Spock, see William M. Tuttle, Jr., Daddy’s Gone to War: The Second World War in the Lives of America’s Children (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), chap. 26; see also J. McVicker Hunt, Intelligence and Experience (New York: Ronald Press, 1961).

28. Benjamin S. Bloom, Stability and Change in Human Characteristics (New York: Wiley, 1964).

29. NA, RG 102:, Box 1005, File: March 6s-Jan. 66. Background for discussion of day care services, April 9, 1968.

30. Sheldon Danziger and Daniel Weinberg, Fighting Poverty: What Works and What Doesn’t (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986), p. 157. See also state records of the community action programs from the Office of Economic Opportunity in the National Archives.

31 . NA, RG 102., Box 1150, File: Aug. 67. Daytime Programs for Children.

32. Steiner, The Children’s Cause, p. 54.

33 . NA, RG 102., Box 1150, File: March 68-0ct. 68. Letter from Gertrude Hoffman to Mrs. Franc Balzer, September 2.3, 1968.

34. NA, RG 102., Box 1150, File:, March 68-0ct. 68. “Another Mom Takes Over While Mother’s at School.”

35. NA, RG 102., Box 1150, File: March 68-Oct. 68. Program Memo on Income Maintenance and Social Services Programs.

36. NA, RG 102., Box 1150, File: Aug. 67. Bills Introduced Relating to Day Care.

37. NA, RG 102., Box 1150,File: March 68′:”Oct. 68. Conference with Mary Keyserling, March 8, 1968.

38. NA, RG 102., Box 1150, File: Aug. 67. Letter from Bert Seidman to , John Gardner, August 9, 1967; Stevanne Auerback, “Federally Sponsored Child Care.” In Child Care, Who Cares?, ed. Pamela Roby (New York :
Basic Books, 1973), p. 180.

39. NA, RG 102., Box 1150, File: March 68-0ct. 68. Day Care Services Outsi,ae ,the W1n Program, August 6, 1968.

40. NA, RG 102., Box 1150, File: March 68-0ct. 68. Comments on Standards of Care for Infants.

41. NA, RG 102., Box 1150, File: Aug. 67. Memo from Gertrude Hoffman, April 2.7, 1 9 67.

42. NA, RG 102., Box 1150, File: March 68-0ct. 68. Federal Interagency Requirements for Day Care.

43. Quoted in Irvin D. Solomon, Feminism and Black Activism in Contemporary America (New York: Greenwood Press, 1989), p. 44.

44. Ethel Klein, Gender Politics (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1984), p. 23.

45. Kim M. Blankenship, “Bringing Gender and Race In: U.S. Employment Discrimination Policy.” Gender and Society, 7 (1993): 204-226.

46. See Chapter 3 for a more detailed discussion of the employment provisions of the Civil Rights Act.

47. Jo Freeman, The Politics of Women’s Liberation (New York: David McKay, 1975), P. 55.

48. Ibid., p. 80.

49. Ibid., p. 118.

50. Doug McAdam, “Gender as a Mediator of the Activist Experience: The Case of Freedom Summer.” American Sociological Review, 5 (1992):1211-1240.

51. Linda Gordon; “Functions of the Family.” In Voices From Women’s Liberation, ed. Leslie Tanner (New York: New American Library, 1970), pp. 182-1 84.

52. Vickie Pollard, “Producing Society’s Babies.” In Tanner, Voices From Women’s Liberation, pp. 197.

53. Louise Gross and Phyllis MacEwan, “On Day Care.” In Tanner, Voices From Women’s Liberation, p. 199-200.

54. Elizabeth Hagen, “Child Care and Women’s Liberation.” In Child Care, Who Cares?, ed. Pamela Roby (New York: Basic Books, 1973), p.284; Evelyn Leo, “Saturday Afternoon at the Congress to Unite Women.” In Voices From Women’s Liberation, ed. Leslie Tanner (New York: New American Library, 1970), p. 127.

55. Freeman, Politics of Women’s Liberation, p. 76.

56. Joint Hearings before the Subcommittee on Employment, Manpower and Poverty and the Subcommittee on Labor and Public Welfare, 92nd Congress, First Sess., S. 1512, May 13 and 20, 1971, p. 758.

57. “Nixon: The First Year of His Presidency.” (Congressional Quarterly 1970): 75A, 77A.

58. Erika Streuer, “Current Legislative Proposals and Public Policy Questions for Child Care.” In Roby, Child Care, Who Cares?, pp. 52, 56.

59. Steiner, The Children’s Cause, p. 105.

60. Rochelle Beck and John Butier, “An Interview with Marian Wright Edelman.” Harvard Educational Review, 44 (February, 1974): 68; Marian Wright Edelman, “A Political-Legislative Overview of Federal Child Care Propos als.” In Raising Children in Modern America: Problems and Prospective Solutions, ed. Nathan B. Talbot (Boston: Little Brown, 1974), pp· 304-318.

61. Hearings on S. 1512, pp. 367-368.

62. Testimony of Evelyn Moore at Hearings on S. 1215, pp. 366-369.

63. There was considerable ‘controversy over the income limit, and as the bill moved through Congress, the limit was revised several times. On September 30, 1971, when debate was held in the House, the income limit was $6,970, the low budget for an urban family of four set by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Congressional Record, Sept. 30, 1971, p.34293. For a detailed discussion of the income controversy, see Steiner,
The Children’s Cause, pp. 110- 113.

64. Testimony of Stephen Kurzman, Assistant Secretary for Legislation, Department of Health, Education and Welfare, on S. 1512, pp. 761-763.

65. Quoted in Margaret O’Brien Steinfels, Who’s Minding the Children? (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1973 ), p. 19.

66. Carol Joffe, “Why the United States has no Child Care Policy.” In Families, Politics and Public Policy, ed. Irene Diamond. (New York:Longman, 1983), p. 171; Gary Allen, Nixon’s Palace Guard (Boston:Western Islands, 1971), p. 112; John Osborne, The Th ird Yea r of the Nixon Watch (New York: Liveright, 1972), p. 195.

67. Congressional Record, Sept. 30, 1971, p. 34290.

68. Ibid., p. 34305.

69. Ibid., p. 31305.

70. U.S. Congress, Senate, 1st Sess., Economic Opportunity Amendments of 1971, Report to accompany S. 2007, July 30, 1971, p. 12.

71. Charles Hamilton and Dona Hamilton, “Social Policies, Civil Rights and ·Poverty.” In Fighting Poverty: What Works and What Doesn’t, ed. Sheldon H. Danziger and Daniel H. Weinberg (Cambridge:Harvard University Press, 1986), p. 301; Carl Lieberman, “Legislative Success and Failure: The Social Welfare Policies of the Nixon Administration.” In Richard M. Nixon: Politician, President, Administrator, ed. Leon Friedman and William Levantrosser (New York: Greenwood Press, 1991), p. 108.

72. Veto of Economic Opportunity Amendments of 1971. The President’s Message to the Senate Returning S.2007 Without His Approval. December 9, 1971. Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents, December 13, 1971, p. 1634.

Categories: child care, histories, welfare
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