Paid Child Care for Working Mothers? All It Took Was a World War

From The New York Times authored by Lydia Keisling:

“I am typing this from inside an indoor playground in Portland. We are new to town, it’s the tail end of summer and my 4-year-old daughter can’t start her new preschool until next week. It’s also raining, and our house is full of boxes. We took a bus here and paid $11 to enter, and I am now in the awkward semiconscious state of the working parent without child care: looking down to try and remember what I wanted to write; looking up to determine whether the piercing scream is my child, or just my child’s fault. I will not make my deadline, but my daughter will be spared a gloomy afternoon inside the house, and I will be spared the guilt of letting her watch TV all day while I try to earn money.

It is painful, from this vantage, to read a piece in this newspaper, from 70 years ago, describing a different Portland scene: a room for children overlooking the Willamette River, “with windows on two sides to insure proper lighting and walls of pastel shades, in blues, yellows, apricots, depending on the exposure of the individual room.” In this paradise, one of the two new nurseries built by the Kaiser Company for the children of workers in its Portland shipyards, “the children will have an opportunity to live wholesome, happy lives” — so promises the article, written by the director of the company’s Child Service Department.

The mothers of these children were “welders, clerks, timekeepers and secretaries” many of whom had been recently mobilized for the workforce. The nurseries — a partnership between the federal government and the Kaiser Company — were open seven days a week, 12 months a year. There was an infirmary for sick children and food was provided. There was even a cafeteria where women could pick up hot meals to take home after work.”

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