Children's Interests/Mothers' Rights: The Shaping of America's Child Care Policy.Children's Interests/Mothers' Rights: The Shaping of America's Child Care Policy. By Sonya Michel (New Haven New Haven, city (1990 pop. 130,474), New Haven co., S Conn., a port of entry where the Quinnipiac and other small rivers enter Long Island Sound; inc. 1784. Firearms and ammunition, clocks and watches, tools, rubber and paper products, and textiles are among the many : Connecticut, 1999. xii plus 4l0pp. $35.00).
With the Department of Labor reporting that as of 1997-98 61.4 percent of families with children under the age of 6 had mothers employed full-time, it is time for the United States United States, officially United States of America, republic (2005 est. pop. 295,734,000), 3,539,227 sq mi (9,166,598 sq km), North America. The United States is the world's third largest country in population and the fourth largest country in area. to provide high quality, publicly-supported child care for all working mothers. Sonya Michel's Children's Interests/Mothers' Rights uncovers the elaborate history of child care policy in the United States to explain why we still do not have universal child care. Her central argument is that a deeply held ideal of the stay-at-home mother supported by a male-breadwinner-father fueled persistent resistance to maternal employment. The ideal of the stay-at-home mother in turn undermined the development of universal child care. Even the feminist movement of the 1960s, that challenged this ideology of motherhood, failed to mobilize efforts to provide public child care. The United States is thus left with the "dubious distinction of being the only democratic market society" that fails to see child care as a "boon to both children and mothe rs."
Michel traces the provision of institutional child care back to the establishment of the nursery by charitable reformers in the late 18th century. The condescension con·de·scen·sion
1. The act of condescending or an instance of it.
2. Patronizingly superior behavior or attitude.
[Late Latin cond of philanthropists toward poor women shaped 19th century child care arrangements, where children's clothes were fumigated and working mothers felt alienated al·ien·ate
tr.v. al·ien·at·ed, al·ien·at·ing, al·ien·ates
1. To cause to become unfriendly or hostile; estrange: alienate a friend; alienate potential supporters by taking extreme positions. from their children. In striking contrast to these class tensions among white women, in the African American African American Multiculture A person having origins in any of the black racial groups of Africa. See Race. community, where maternal employment was recognized as a permanent part of black family life, clubwomen's compassion for poor black mothers made the establishment of day nurseries an obvious practical solution. The legacy of 19th century child care, while enabling mothers to escape the worst aspects of poverty, affirmed wage-earning women as mothers, not workers. This constrained the possibility of claiming child care as a woman's right in the twentieth century.
Michel's exhaustive research shows that efforts to secure universal public child care have a long history of slow developments. Michel is particularly astute in analyzing the class dynamics of the players in the struggle for universal child care. The child care movement of the late-nineteenth century was made up of middle and upper-class women, not nursery workers or actual working mothers. This created distrust for institutional arrangements on the part of working mothers themselves. The cause of child care was further undermined at the turn of the century by leaders in social work and social welfare such as Jane Addams Laura Jane Addams (September 6, 1860 – May 21, 1935) was a founder of the U.S. Settlement House Movement and the first American woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. , Florence Kelley Florence Kelley (September 12, 1859 - February 17, 1932) was a reformer from Philadelphia.
She was the daughter of Congressman William Darrah "Pig Iron" Kelley. She was a self-made woman who renounced her business activities to become an abolitionist, a founder of the , Sophonisba Breckenridge and Edith Abbott Edith Abbott (September 26, 1876 – July 28, 1957) was a social worker, educator, and author. Abbott was born in Grand Island, Nebraska. Her younger sister was Grace Abbott.
In 1893, Abbott graduated from Brownell Hall, a girls' boarding school in Omaha. , who believed that child care created its own problems of delinquent and maladjusted mal·ad·just·ed
Inadequately adjusted to the demands or stresses of daily living. children. This view made the mothers' pension, which affirmed the mothers' place within the home, the dominant public policy through the Progressive Era, leaving efforts to secure child care behind.
The principled prin·ci·pled
Based on, marked by, or manifesting principle: a principled decision; a highly principled person. opposition to maternal employment persisted in the 1920s and 1930s, leading reformers to fall back on mothers' pensions rather than press
for government support of child care. Players during these decades included the U.S. Children's Bureau The Children's Bureau may refer to:
Even enormous demand for child care created by the defense economy build up of the 1940s did not change the dominant ideology The dominant ideology, in Marxist or marxian theory, is the set of common values and beliefs shared by most people in a given society, framing how the majority think about a range of topics, The dominant ideology is understood by Marxism to reflect, or serve, the interests of the of motherhood. While the federal government invested in child care with its Child Care and Protection Program of 1943, these facilities were still viewed as educational rather than social welfare services. The participation of working mothers in the wartime economy did pose a challenge to the dominant therapeutic perspective that pathologized the working mother, arguing that staying at home and perserving the democractic family was the healthy, proper role for mothers. Still, Michel argues, the therapeutic perspective was reinforced by conservative attempts to contain women's assertions of autonomy, and both continued to thwart public demand for child care services.
The post war years saw the free-standing child care movement gain momentum, while there was still no unequivocal acknowledgement that mothers belonged in the labor force. The post war debate on maternal employment and child care reflected this ambivalence about working mothers. In the 1950s and 1960s, the child care constituency was divided along class and race lines, with federal support for child care targeting low-income families as an anti-poverty measure. This forced non-poor parents to seek private alternatives, such as employer-sponsored, for-profit, or in-home services. As such alternatives grew, the gap between public and private services also widened. By the 1970s, the political climate included both the women's liberation movement Women’s Liberation Movement
appellation of modern day women’s rights advocacy. [Am. Hist.: Flexner, 396]
See : Feminism which endorsed universal child care, and the New Right, which gained strength from its opposition to it. The grass-roots, community activism of feminists was no match for the politically sophisticated lobbying of conservatives, and this continued to lock the child care i ssue within the framework of welfare reform. Michel concludes by explaining the failure of the United States to provide universal public child care in the present. She explains this on the basis of a range of factors, including the stigmatizing link between child care and charity, and the opposition to state intervention into the "private realm." She carries her initial point about the persistence of the ideal of the stay-at-home mother into the present: maternal employment and child care are still viewed as exceptional and pathological, an ideal that remained untouched until the feminist movement of the 1960s. Her instructive Epilogue ep·i·logue also ep·i·log
a. A short poem or speech spoken directly to the audience following the conclusion of a play.
b. The performer who delivers such a short poem or speech.
2. compares American child care to the system in Sweden, France, Japan, Australia and Canada.
Providing universal child care depends on the establishment of a unified coalition of parents from every class, feminists, the labor movement and all those committed to social justice. America, Michel concludes, "must recognize the value of child rearing,... and grant every woman the right to choose between caregiving and wage-earning." Michel's thorough going research and cogent COGENT - COmpiler and GENeralized Translator analysis of efforts to secure universal childcare are a much needed contribution to the history of motherhood and children, and essential reading for activists and policy-makers working to finally make childcare every mother's right in the United States.