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Cooperative motherhood and democratic civic culture in postwar suburbia, 1940-1965.

On the evening of November 20, 1939, 18 mothers convened in Kensington, Maryland to finalize plans for a play group designed to enrich the lives of their preschoolers. The mothers had hired a teacher, rented a space, and agreed to study childhood education as well as to take turns assisting the teacher. After one successful year, the group named itself the Kensington Cooperative Nursery School, and thus became an early participant in what would soon emerge as a nationwide movement among suburban mothers: the cooperative nursery school movement. (1)

As the Kensington story suggests, co-op nursery schools were neighborhood preschools, owned and operated by mothers of the children who attended them. In addition to running the school, each mother regularly assisted the teacher in the classroom and committed herself to a parent education program. Like other nursery schools, co-ops offered stimulating social, physical, and intellectual experiences as well as maximum creative freedom to young children. They also meant to enrich the lives of mothers. These neighborhood enterprises reached the peak of their popularity in the immediate postwar period and so illuminate the lives of an important cohort of postwar suburban women.

Although this essay contributes to several streams in recent scholarship, my greatest interest in cooperative nursery schools centers on the meaning of civic association in the postwar suburbs. Scholars have been debating the meaning of suburban organizations since William Leavitt first broke ground on Long Island. While some observers extolled suburbanites for their avid participation in local associations, others saw suburban civic life as frivolous. (2) David Riesman, famously representing the latter position, could find little value in suburbanites' local associations. He worried that suburbanites had "retreated from the great problems of the metropolis, and perhaps the nation" to waste their considerable energies on issues "excessively trivial and small-scale," like zoning laws and elementary education. (3) He insisted that "suburban politics would seem to be child's play, enjoyable as recreation but hardly a challenge or a source of significant political experience." (4)

Distinguishing between suburbanites' frequent local gatherings and a meaningful democratic politics engaged the interest of many postwar thinkers, including so eminent a scholar as Jurgen Habermas. Habermas saw among postwar suburban dwellers a "fetishism of community involvement" that to his mind ironically prevented the creation of a genuine public sphere. For Habermas, rational-critical debate about issues of common interest constituted a public sphere, and he argued that postwar participation in the community discouraged this frank and contentious discussion. (5) Like Riesman, Habermas imagined suburban civic association as a form of socializing that featured competition for congeniality prizes rather than competition over ideas. (6)

These dark judgments of postwar public life reverberated for decades, and in some measure remain firmly entrenched in scholarly understandings of the period. (7) Nevertheless, counter arguments began to gain ground in the 1990s. (8) Political scientist Robert Putnam produced the most comprehensive of these revisions, arguing that the suburban kaffee-klatsch and PTA, far from distracting Americans from meaningful public life, actually sustained the country's most vital democratic engagement in the twentieth century. Drawing on substantial survey data, Putnam argued that Americans who were involved in local associations were more likely to vote, educate themselves on political issues, sign petitions, and write their representatives than were those who avoided organized groups. In his view, local organizations underwrote meaningful democratic politics. (9)

These contrasting perspectives raise fascinating questions about the meaning of postwar, suburban associations. (10) Did they represent an apolitical form of socializing? If and when politics came up, did local groups engage only local issues? Did such groups welcome or avoid contentious debates? More fundamentally, by what processes did suburbanites come to be politically engaged; what relationship might have existed between local association and democracy itself. Indeed, what sort of democracy could be said to exist in postwar suburban America, if any at all?

Suburban cooperative nursery schools provide one case for studying these issues. I chose them for two reasons. First, they represented a routine form of local organization in postwar suburbs. In the sprawling and fast-growing area around the Kensington Cooperative Nursery School, for instance, cooperative enterprises sprouted up continually from the 1930s through the 1950s. New residents created not only cooperative nursery schools but also cooperative book stores, grocery stores, gas stations, and drug stores. In fact, consumer co-ops were so prevalent in the area that they formed regional associations. Some residents, furthermore, joined and served as officers of a regional health care co-op. Residents formed cooperative housing units as well as co-ops to teach art, dance, and gymnastics to children. (11) Given how widespread the cooperative form was in this area, a case study of one strand of that cooperative movement will tell us about a broader set of suburban organizations than the nursery schools themselves. But the nursery schools were especially appealing to me for a second reason: they seemed likely to embody the expectations of the most pessimistic commentators on suburban associations. Each school served a very small group, literally focused on child's play, and would seem to have left little time for other civic or political activities. If ever an association were situated to match David Riesman's most condescending proclamations, it would seem to have been neighborhood nursery schools.

In exploring the meanings of these small, hyper-local organizations, however, I found something quite different. This essay argues first that cooperative nursery schools in the postwar period created a new form of domesticity that I call cooperative motherhood; and second that they were what democratic theorist Chantal Mouffe has called "institutions that foster identification with democratic values." (12) They embodied a democratic culture that incorporated but did not disappear into respect for expertise, that promoted participation, and that would be held up as the ideal by such cardinal documents of the 1960s as the Port Huron Statement, which insisted that "a democracy of individual participation" required "that the individual share in those social decisions determining the quality and direction of his life." (13) Finally, the essay argues that these small, local institutions supported democratic practices as well as social networks that directed members into others arenas of community life, including local and state politics. Far from training the focus of members on trivialities, cooperative nursery schools pulled them into some of the most significant political issues of the day, especially race relations and anticommunism.

Because this essay aims to discover the meaning of participation in local institutions, it is a local study. It analyzes especially three co-ops in suburban Maryland. The Silver Spring Cooperative Nursery School is one focus not only because it provided copious documentation but also because it served as a model for schools across the country when it began publishing handbooks in the early 1940s. The handbooks sold well; were used in the curricula of well-known universities; drew national press attention; and shaped publications on cooperative nursery schools by national associations of early childhood educators. (14) Even the renowned Arnold Gesell from Yale's Clinic of Child Development recommended Silver Spring's handbook. (15) The legitimacy of generalizing Silver Spring's experience to other co-op nursery schools is tested here by reference to that of two neighboring schools, the Takoma Park Co-operative Nursery School and Kensington Cooperative Nursery School, which also possess rich archives. These local test cases are then set in the context of evidence on co-ops elsewhere to suggest the meaning of such neighborhood organizations nationwide.

The heyday of the cooperative nursery school movement was between 1940 and 1965 as revealed by the growing numbers of co-ops and the emergence of co-op associations. In 1945, observers estimated only 20-30 co-ops in the entire country; by 1960, at least 1000 were operating. (16) The first association of co-op nurseries was founded in 1944 in Montgomery County, Maryland; the second in 1945 by schools in Seattle. California formed a statewide council of cooperative nurseries in 1948, and Michigan did the same very shortly thereafter. In 1960, the co-ops created a national body, the American Council of Parent Cooperatives. (17)

Several trends converged to produce this burgeoning of the cooperative nursery school movement during the postwar period. First, preschool education received a boost from the Works Progress Administration, which provided federal funds for nursery schools in the 1930s. (18) Second, innovation in the study of child development, suggesting that a healthy adult was formed in early childhood--or never--created anxieties about the proper socialization of children. (19) Additionally, the immediate postwar period produced a unique generation of middle-class mothers. Well-educated women who became mothers in the 1940s and early 1950s experienced a fascinating blend of pressures. On the one hand, the privilege of higher education still carried with it some notion of public responsibility, of duty to share the benefits of that privilege with a wider world. As one such mother later put it, "we were not oriented to just being a mother and being home." (20) This expectation among women of higher education would perhaps erode later, but it was very much alive among women who attended college in the 1930s and early 1940s. (21) On the other hand, these same women experienced postwar pressures to devote themselves to producing rich family lives. (22) These competing pressures found expression in institutions like co-op nursery schools, which focused on improved child rearing while requiring mothers to administer the institution and take responsibility for children and mothers beyond their biological kin.

Cooperative nurseries embodied other trends of the period as well. During the 1930s, a re-energized cooperative movement emerged as a practical response to high prices as well as a critique of corporate capitalism. (23) Nursery schools constituted a part of that movement. Furthermore, in response to totalitarianism abroad, America re-committed itself to democracy during the 1930s and 1940s, a set of values explicitly promoted by co-op nursery schools both in their organizational structure and their progressive philosophy of early childhood education. (24) Finally, intensified suburbanization immediately after the war fueled the growth of a co-op nursery school movement. Postwar suburbanization brought together strangers in search of community. Had these highly educated mothers with a sense of public duty reared families in the cities and towns where they grew up, they might well have turned to their extended families or to existing institutions like social settlements and mothers clubs for community. Indeed, some co-oping mothers and teachers had earlier experience in social settlements. (25) But, in the new suburbs, these women had an open field for creating new kinds of institutions altogether. Cooperative nursery schools were among the institutions they fashioned.

Montgomery County, Maryland, a fast-growing suburban area abutting Washington, D.C., was one of the hotbeds of the postwar cooperative nursery school movement. In 1944, nursery schools in the county formed the Montgomery County Council of Co-operative Nursery Schools, the first such association in the country. In 1949, it represented 9 co-ops. By that time, nursery schools in Montgomery County had joined those in neighboring Washington, D.C. and northern Virginia to form the Potomac Federation of Co-operative Nursery Schools, the first such multi-state association in the U.S. At that point, about 40 co-ops were operating in the D.C. metropolitan area. (26) The Kensington Co-operative Nursery School, Silver Spring Co-operative Nursery School, and the Takoma Park Co-operative Nursery School were early contributors to this surge. The Kensington School formed in 1940, following an experimental year as a play group. The Silver Spring Co-op was founded in 1941 by women who were studying the local school system as a project of the Montgomery County League of Women Voters. (27) The Takoma Park Co-operative Nursery School was founded in 1944 by a group of five women reportedly inspired by the Silver Spring and Kensington schools. (28)

In general, the mothers who founded these co-ops were well-educated white women who represented the upwardly mobile sector of the postwar middle class. One later claimed that they would have been the professional women of today except that they became mothers at a time when mothers were expected not to work for wages. (29) Of the 115 mothers who belonged to the three co-ops in the postwar period and about whom I have definite information, all but 14 (87%) had some higher education, and 36 (30%) had attended grad school. Almost all had worked for pay before they had children. Their paid work ranged across a spectrum that included classical music composition, speech therapy, professional acting, and labor organizing; most, however, were secretaries, teachers, or social workers. Their husbands, many of whom had served in the military during World War II and attended professional schools on the GI Bill, spanned the professional gamut, including architecture, journalism, law, psychology, medicine, and engineering. Many spent some part of their careers in the federal government. (30) In the 1940s and 1950s, most were just starting out in their professions and were not yet well-to-do, but, in the words of one participant, "we had prospects." (31) Although some Catholics and Unitarians were definitely involved in these schools, most were either Protestants or Jews. Through the postwar period, participants were overwhelmingly white, though in the early 1950s the schools' constitutions and by-laws made explicit their openness to all races, and they later recruited among black families. (32) All members had moved to Montgomery County from elsewhere. A few grew up in D.C. or Baltimore, but most migrated from other places on the East Coast or the Midwest. (33)

In creating cooperative nursery schools, these new suburbanites were creating a novel form of motherhood that I call cooperative motherhood. As other historians are beginning to show, women in the postwar suburbs were neither the isolated "captives" that David Riesman sketched nor the contented housewives in Leave It To Beaver. (34) They were often spinners of webs that connected them with their neighbors to create vital communities. In the case of co-oping mothers, they not only created institutions that gave them time to pursue interests beyond motherhood but also formed networks of adults who took responsibility for each others' children. Indeed, the co-ops acted as extended families for their members, and the relationships created in these institutions continued long after active involvement in the nurseries. (35) Cooperative mothers definitely put mothering above all other duties for women but also insisted that mothers should pursue extra-familial interests, sometimes including paid labor. (36) They furthermore did not see biological parents as the only adults responsible for children. Rather, cooperative mothers took direct and regular responsibility for other women's children and expected other women to take such responsibility for theirs. Cooperative mothers enmeshed their families in community, belying the stereotype of individual suburban families isolating themselves in bomb shelters.

In fact, co-op nursery schools pulled mothers into a very tight and demanding community, potentially oppressive in its expectations, but generally construed as a great boon by those involved. Like most other cooperative nursery schools in the country, the Silver Spring, Takoma Park, and Kensington schools were owned and operated by the 25-30 mothers whose children attended at any one time. They operated five mornings a week, usually with three- and four-year olds separated into same-aged groups. Each year, the mothers hired teachers to provide educational leadership. Each mother then assisted the teachers on a regular schedule--usually once a week or twice a month. In most cases, she also took her turn driving in the car pool. In addition, mothers met at least one evening each month to conduct business and at other times for parent education. Meetings routinely lasted three hours. (37) Members of the executive committees, of course, met more often, and at Silver Spring the executive board comprised one-third to one-half of the total membership! (38)

In addition, mothers headed up a long list of committees, each with a substantial burden of responsibility. Mothers had, for instance, to find housing for their schools each year, often resulting in a frantic hunt for an empty church basement or community recreation facility. (39) The transportation committee kept the car pool organized and had an especially difficult time when a driver or her child was sick. (40) Some mothers maintained the library; others contracted speakers for monthly parent education sessions. At least one mother represented each co-op on a county council of co-ops each month; another produced a regular newsletter and sometimes also headed up publicity. A mother had to organize the families to meet local health codes. (41) Someone had to oversee the incorporation process, annual taxes, insurance, and compliance with numerous and continually revised government codes regulating education and employment. (42) A committee of mothers handled the admissions process. (43) All members were expected to read books on child development. (44) As if these duties were not enough, mothers also cared for their schools' physical plants. (45) Equipment committees worked diligently to provide and maintain work benches, chairs, blocks, easels, and out-door play equipment considered essential to the school's programs. (46) Fundraising was constant. (47)

Of course, not every mother participated with equal enthusiasm. Some routinely missed evening meetings or arrived late on their car pooling day. Policies that allowed expulsion after too many unexcused absences responded to what some members perceived as lax participation. (48) Sometimes, mothers were delinquent with tuition or failed to supervise children adequately during their co-oping days. In spring 1954, two mothers were expelled from the Kensington school for such offenses. (49) The length of monthly meetings proved discouraging to some members as well. At one school, some disgruntled mothers suggested that monthly meetings, which began at 8:30 p.m., should have to end after two hours so that everyone could get home before 11:00. The motion did not carry, but the group decided that anyone was free to leave at 10:30 if she needed to. (50)

Despite evidence of chafing under the weight of cooperative obligations, most members seem to have followed through dutifully. In Montgomery County, the overwhelming majority of mothers attended their monthly meetings and fulfilled the basic requirements of membership. Moreover, the number of co-ops steadily grew in Montgomery County (and the country) throughout the postwar period, and many existing co-ops maintained waitlists. In 1962, the Montgomery County Council of Co-ops announced a severe shortage of nursery school teachers as the number of co-op schools continued to climb. (51) So, although not all mothers gladly met the challenges of cooperative membership, most seem to have considered the benefits greater than the liabilities.

Certainly, the volume and intensity of their common labor attached many co-oping mothers firmly to each other. Invariably, interviewees remarked on the tight bonds created among women in their co-ops. One mother later explained, "when you get that involved with a group ... it's a binding thing." (52) Another exclaimed, "We had a tremendous sense of community!" (53) In the words of another, "We really did have a feeling of great camaraderie." (54) In fact, the author of a national study of co-op nurseries titled it, "It's the Camaraderie." (55) The strength of these bonds is demonstrated by the fact that many women who co-oped with each other in the 1940s and 1950s are still in contact. Until 1997, one group from the Silver Spring school maintained a book group. (56)

Enduring relationships formed between children and adults as well. These resulted especially from mothers' regular participation as assistant teachers. During their classroom service, mothers not only kept children from jumping off mantels and sticking crackers in their ears, they also carefully observed the children. In some schools, mothers were even required to record conversations among children and then to bring these conversations to the teacher and sometimes to general membership meetings for discussion. Often, each mother was assigned a particular child to observe so that each child could be discussed at a general meeting of the members. (57) These discussions could be painful for some mothers, but, apparently, since all children suffered similar scrutiny and the goal was to understand and help each child, most later reported these sessions as very helpful. (58) Responsibility for observing children so closely deepened attachments between these adults and children. As one participant put it, "you were interested to know how the other children came out because you had worked with them." (59) Other women participating in the Silver Spring nursery assured prospective members that mothers' "interest and affection" would "grow and expand to include all children in the group." (60) Such connections were confirmed by a director of the Kensington school: "There is a family feeling in a co-op where each child becomes important and interesting and we find that parents seem as deeply concerned about another child's problems and as happy over his accomplishments as if he were their own." (61)

The same kinds of relationships formed in co-ops outside of Maryland. In Michigan, a study of co-ops throughout the state claimed that the members "tend to substitute for the grand-parents, uncles, cousins, and aunts of yesteryear." (62) In a national forum, the eventual guru of the co-op movement, Katharine Whiteside Taylor, quoted a cooperating mother as saying, "In our cooperative everyone is almost as interested in the other mothers' children as in her own." (63) Whiteside Taylor went on to argue that "cooperatives recapture for participating families some of the practical support and help that used to come from membership in large families ... In co-ops," she went on, "all the children are looked after by all the parents and feel they belong to all of them." (64)

In addition to binding members to each other and their children, cooperative motherhood gave women time for a life outside their families. Much evidence from the postwar period suggests that women in particular were pressured to find their purpose in family life. (65) While co-oping mothers certainly believed that their primary obligation was to their families, they were also quite explicit about the limitations of domesticity. They made clear that living an exclusively domestic life was so bad for mothers that it ultimately compromised the quality of their mothering. As one manual put it, time away from a child helps a mother "to enjoy him more and have a more creative relationship with him when she gains relief from the tensions of full time responsibility for his care." (66) Whiteside Taylor concurred: "No one should have to stay on duty twenty-four hours a day ... yet ... many young mothers really do just that." She warned that if those young mothers "are to keep their balance and perspective, they must have a few hours every week that they can call their own." (67) According to leaders of the co-op movement, mothering should be part of a varied life. Furthermore, co-opers usually did not justify mothers' free time by arguing that it would also serve their children. Most of the time, claims about mothers' needs were made bluntly on behalf of mothers as human beings. The group at Silver Spring argued that one benefit of the cooperative nursery school was that mothers won several free mornings a week to pursue their own interests. (68) Manuals from cooperative nursery schools in other parts of the country made this point as well. (69) Whiteside Taylor echoed this commitment in the early 1950s: "This bit of freedom gives mothers a chance to ... maintain the personal and community interests essential to feeling a part of one's world." (70) Indeed, co-opers agreed that domesticity alone could not fully satisfy a woman. Lillian Mones, a co-oping mother in the 1950s, summed it up: "It isn't that I wanted not to be with my children, but I wanted something besides my children." (71) These suburban mothers explicitly and publicly claimed that domesticity alone could not constitute a good life for women.

Participatory democracy was another cornerstone of cooperative motherhood. Cooperative nursery schools intended to be democratic institutions for mothers as well as to mold children into democratic subjects. Participants in the Silver Spring Co-op claimed in their handbooks "that the cooperative school has vitality because it is an expression of our democratic way of living." (72) In this regard, Montgomery County's cooperating mothers echoed others across the country. The credo of a school in suburban New York, for instance, insisted, "we believe in freedom of expression and the necessity for democratic control of both children and parents." (73) Another participant, this one in Connecticut, claimed that in running a co-op "there is, for all concerned, the thrill of democracy in action." (74) The Long Beach Council of Cooperative Nursery Schools maintained that co-ops provided both parents and children "a joyful meaningful experience in learning to share and cooperate in a democratic way of life." (75) A study of coops in the late 1950s concluded that co-op nurseries were important for "adult education in the processes of democratic living." (76)

The democracy practiced at the cooperative nurseries was the participatory version, later touted in the Port Huron Statement but rarely associated with postwar suburbia. It did not require consensus as later women's liberation groups often did but rather sought to involve every member in discussion of each issue and then to honor the majority opinion. (77) Every mother had an equal say in the decisions affecting the operations of her co-op, from selecting teachers and determining their salaries to choosing a vendor for juice and crackers. Monthly meetings went on so long precisely because the general membership discussed and voted on virtually every issue facing the school. Although members did elect officers to provide leadership and perform administrative duties, these officials served only one-year terms; their meetings were open to all members; and final decisions were made by the entire membership. Discussions--whether about tuition increases, civil defense measures, race relations, or educational philosophy--were often passionate, and motions were routinely defeated entirely or passed by small majorities. (78) In other words, members did not rubberstamp decisions already made by their elected officers; they did not squash disagreements in an effort to create congenial sociability. They deliberated on and made contentious decisions as a group. The Montgomery County Council of Co-operative Nurseries in fact emphasized that co-ops were for people who "like to talk things over." (79)

In this regard, the Montgomery County co-ops typified nationwide practices. Operating procedures and committee structures across the country mirrored those in Maryland. (80) These other co-ops also insisted on the importance of participation by every member. One claimed that the value of membership meetings was "the regular opportunity to discuss and ask." (81) Another handbook explored the responsibilities of each member, one of which was "to express any question she may have. It is an important part of membership to become articulate." (82)

Just as co-ops created democratic organizations for mothers, they shared a commitment to creating democratic children. (83) Co-op nursery schools throughout the country aligned themselves with progressive education, closely following such theorists as Dorothy Baruch, Arnold Gesell, and James Hymes, Jr.. The work of these scholars routinely appeared on the reading lists of the co-op schools, and their ideas were echoed in local publications and even interviews with mothers decades later. (84) These scholars saw the nursery school as a site for creating democratic citizens. By joining children of the same age under a dedicated teacher, these experts agreed, children experienced "equality" and came to understand that other people had rights just as they did; they learned to share and to take turns. They learned both to give and receive help, to lead and to follow. They experienced the division of "community responsibilities," and "acquired tolerance by observing differences among their peers." Most important to this democratic training, children learned to settle differences by talking them over, by having a chance "to defend their own rights and to recognize the rights of others." The teacher knows, "how important it is for children to experience the power that language gives them in effectively getting themselves across to others," which meant that all early childhood educators must "encourage ... verbal communication." (85) In the nursery school, "the rules by which [everyone] lives will be mutually understood and cooperatively developed--the way democratic peoples have always worked out their rules for living." (86)

In their own discussions, co-oping mothers echoed these beliefs. In 1942, for instance, mothers at the Silver Spring Co-op discussed Baruch's chapters on nursery school education and democracy. The conversation "covered the respect and regard for the rights of others, yet with the ability to stand up and defend one's own rights." (87) At Kensington, new mothers were routinely told, "Each child is encouraged to maintain his individuality, yet to become part of a group. This is the beginning of a democratic process." (88) By the time a child was ready for nursery school, Kensington mothers maintained, she "is likely to be able to accept the limitations which must be imposed to protect the rights of individuals and the good of the group as a whole." (89)

The same commitment to creating democratic citizens motivated mothers outside of Montgomery County. In Los Angeles, co-oping mothers insisted that they became "part of a democratic organization whose object is to help the children learn the true meaning of democracy." (90) A school in New York articulated one of its goals as helping each child "toward acceptance of life's limitations in a democratic society." (91) Mothers in Long Beach sought to "aid the development of children through democratic and constructive play situations." (92) A co-op teacher in Connecticut explained that the co-op offered "the child's first experience in democratic living wherein he learns how to accept himself and others." (93)

This emphasis on getting along with a group might appear to confirm what Riesman and other critics feared about suburban pressures to conform: Individuals seemed lost in the mass. But, mothers in the nursery schools had two defenses against the charge. First, they envisioned children themselves defining most of the "limitations" on life in their group. Each child was imagined as an active participant in establishing those boundaries not as a passive acceptor of pre-established group decisions. To facilitate cooperative development of each group's expectations, mothers were instructed to let children work through their own conflicts. At Kensington, mothers were told, "As much as possible, let the children solve their own problems." (94) In a discussion of aggression among children at Silver Spring, the group decided, "We couldn't prevent all [fights]. We don't want to. They are learning to live with other children, learning self-defense, self-control, thinking of others, and talking over differences." (95) At Takoma, mothers were expected to interfere with children's play only "to protect their safety." (96)

Moreover, early childhood educators and mothers in the cooperatives insisted that their curricula promoted individuality and creativity within group relations. They did so by encouraging self-expression and imaginative play as well as the frank expression of emotions. In fact, stimulating a child's imagination and allowing her the greatest possible freedoms were two of the mainstays of the progressive education practiced by cooperative nursery schools. Co-op nursery schools in Maryland and across the country provided children with such materials as clay, easels, blocks, dress-up clothes, saws (yes, real saws), and soft wood in order to give each child an exciting array of resources for self-expression. (97) Mothers were required to hang back, to refrain from directing children toward any particular activity so that every child had the freedom to pursue whatever captured her imagination each day and to pursue it in her own way. As one teacher instructed the assisting mothers, "make yourself as inconspicuous as possible. Let the creative initiative come from the children.... The great value of any creative work for the children is that it stimulates their own imagination." (98) Even during periods when a mother was reading a story or inviting children to sing around the piano, no child was compelled to participate. If a child preferred to continue painting, stacking blocks, or hammering nails, she was permitted to follow her own inclinations. Only during field trips, rest or snack times were children usually required to join the group. Through a curriculum aimed to stimulate children's imaginations and to allow them the greatest possible freedom both in relation to each other and the physical world, cooperative mothers believed "each child is encouraged to maintain his individuality, yet to become part of a group." (99)

The co-ops' commitment to folk music struck the same balance and constituted an area of the curriculum explicitly dedicated to democratic ends. Folk music enlivened the program at the Silver Spring Co-op in its earliest sessions because of music director and co-oping mother, Ruth Crawford Seeger. Stepmother of labor singer Pete Seeger, Crawford Seeger was both a modernist composer and scholar of folk music, whose participation in the folk revival aimed to empower the ordinary people supposed to make and sustain folk music. (100) At the co-op, Crawford Seeger emphasized folk music because, in addition to providing children with a deep well of cultural resources for understanding and expressing their own experiences, she claimed that folk music imparted "early experience of democratic attitudes and values." It did so because it was music that had "crossed and recrossed many sorts of boundaries and is still crossing and recrossing them." (101) Moreover, Crawford Seeger insisted, this music was democratic because it "invites participation" even by those without special musical gifts, and it encouraged improvisation by all participants. (102) The performance of folk music was thus imagined to stamp children with the habit of individual self-expression in the context of democratic participation. It became a centerpiece of the curriculum at the Silver Spring Co-operative Nursery as well as nursery and elementary schools around the country. (103)

Within the co-ops, democratic attitudes ruled the day in relation to experts as well. One hallmark of the postwar period was its commitment to expertise, and, in this, mothers in the cooperative nursery school movement were no exceptions. In fact, parent education was one purpose of the co-op schools, and this education exposed mothers to the latest scholarly thinking on child development and a range of related topics. (104) Nearly every month, mothers attended a presentation, discussed a book, or viewed a film by some expert in the field of child welfare. Monthly newsletters were often filled with reports on recent articles or books on children. The Montgomery County Council of Co-operative Nursery Schools sponsored a monthly speaker series and retained a child psychologist for all the co-ops to call on; its newsletter was often a series of columns by experts in child development. (105) And mothers seem to have been completely unembarrassed by their reliance on professional guidance. At one meeting of the Takoma Park coop, a speaker came to help members figure out when to seek "professional help" with their children. In response, "several mothers in the group spoke of how they had received psychiatric help, and that the insights gained were valuable in raising their families." (106)

In this case, however, interest in expert opinion did not signal feelings of helplessness or incompetence. Indeed, although their interest in expertise could hardly have been higher, these mothers ran their own educational institution. They might defer to teachers in the classroom, but they also hired those teachers, set their salaries, and could fire them. (107) In incidents at both Silver Spring and Kensington, teachers were severely called to account by the mothers who hired them. (108) Similarly, at parent education meetings where psychiatrists or pediatricians spoke, the experts were sometimes taken to task by the mothers present. Takoma Park's monthly newsletter reported the aftermath of one speaker's presentation: "Since we continue to parry the pros and cons whenever two of us get together, the [parent education] committee feels that a formal discussion of Dr. Maren's talk would benefit us all. Therefore, there will be no outside speaker at the February meeting. It will be a home-grown discussion ... ranging in any direction you wish to take it." (109) These kinds of discussions occurred constantly at Kensington, where mothers reportedly held "many different and sometimes conflicting theories of education." These came to a head each year as the members struggled to articulate the school's educational philosophy. At one point the group decided, "The only solution is to argue it out as amicably as possible each year." (110) Co-oping women, while deeply interested in expert opinion, did not turn off their own critical faculties in the face of experts. They heard out the experts and then exercised their own judgment in the context of a deliberating community. (111)

They sometimes demonstrated their critical distance from expert opinion by making fun of it. Jane Bowyer, president of the Takoma Park Nursery School in the early 1960s, often described recent publications on parenting in the monthly newsletter. In one instance, after reviewing an article from Scientific American that based its conclusions about child rearing on research with monkeys, she wrote: "I think one definite moral can be drawn however: If you have a child who seems to be part monkey, and you would like to further the cause of basic research, send him post-paid to Box 326, Madison, Wisc." (112)

Seeking out expert opinion thus did not necessarily work against democratic practice. Especially when engaged in the context of a discussing community, expert opinion connected mothers with a larger world of thinking, research, and learning. It did not subordinate them so much as supply them with materials to stimulate their own imaginations the same way that clay, paints, and blocks sparked those of their children.

Habermas, with his commitment to rational-critical debate, along with many proponents of what we now call deliberative democracy could not have asked for organizational practice or an educational agenda better fitted to their vision of self-government. Deliberative democrats insist that the best democracy does not exist where citizens participate in self-rule only by ticking off a preference for candidates or platforms drafted by political party operatives every couple of years. They require instead that citizens regularly come together to identify and discuss issues of common concern, that all have a say in articulating common problems and their solutions. These thinkers value talk. They argue that a vital democracy can exist only where citizens are regularly talking with each other. (113) Although some deliberative democrats aim for consensus and hope to solve problems without resorting to votes, others--Chantal Mouffe and Amy Gutmann, for instance--insist that conflict is inevitable in human life and so accept majority rule as the best outcome of democratic discussion. (114) Cooperative mothers were of this latter persuasion: they became and aimed to create deliberative, participatory democrats, citizens who valued talk and were good at it, who both belonged to groups and were independent actors, who demanded respect for their own rights and granted that respect to others.

Cooperative nursery schools, then, ran democratically and intended to create democrats of the children who attended. But, we are left with a final question: did these suburban, neighborhood associations monopolize their members or connect them to broader networks and issues. Were co-ops representative of the excessive localism that scholars so often impute to postwar suburban associations?

One way that local co-op nurseries connected women to networks beyond their neighborhood was through affiliation with the Montgomery County Council of Co-operative Nursery Schools (MCCCNS). This and other associations of co-ops brought mothers into contact with women outside their immediate neighborhood in many ways. Each co-op sent delegates to the monthly meetings of the Council, where issues of common concern were discussed. (115) The Council then connected local groups with other local institutions: MCCCNS represented the co-ops in relations with the local public schools, for instance. In the late 1940s, it began sending representatives to meetings of the Montgomery County Council of PTAs, and in the late 1950s delegates from MCCCNS served on the Citizens' Information Committee for School Board Elections. (116) MCCCNS also connected the local co-ops with a broad cooperative movement by, for example, recommending that co-ops buy their insurance from Nationwide Insurance Company, itself a cooperative business venture. (117) This association also made sure that each school knew about a national newsletter for cooperative nursery schools when it began publishing in 1957. (118) The newsletter connected schools to issues and people involved on the national education scene, and, through those connections, leaders in the cooperative nursery school movement helped later to shape Head Start programs, especially by designing the requirements for parent participation. (119) Participation in a local co-op nursery school, then, did connect members to issues and people beyond their own neighborhoods, and even to national issues of public policy.

Moreover, by moving parents into PTAs and school boards, co-ops involved parents in the most significant and controversial issues of the postwar period: race relations and anti-communism. Every bit of evidence from Montgomery County and beyond shows that co-oping mothers routinely became active in local Parent-Teacher Associations when their children went on to public school. Many assumed higher positions in the PTA as well. (120) As one group explained it, these mothers wanted to continue to "learn with and through children" when they went on to elementary school. (121) Intimate involvement with schools often led to interest in school-board matters and, for some, to service on school boards. For example, Ruth Nadel and Rose Kramer of the Silver Spring Coop were involved in a successful campaign to create an elected school board in Montgomery County. (122) Shortly thereafter, Kramer and Lucille Maurer, another co-oping mother, ran for school board and won. (123) Women from the co-ops supported these candidacies; some were deeply involved in the campaigns. (124) In fact the Silver Spring newsletter editor reported in 1952, "with everyone out campaigning ... the pre-election membership meeting was held with barely a quorum present." (125)

In the postwar period, PTAs and school boards were ground zero for struggles over the country's most significant political issues. As one beleaguered school board member put it: "In the short time that I've been on the Board, we've been involved with some of the most controversial and emotion-stirring issues of the day: school desegregation, violence in high schools, and sex education." (126) Racial justice was a particularly important issue for school boards and PTAs in the period. In Montgomery County, the black and white PTAs began joint meetings and discussions of race relations before the Supreme Court issued its decision in the Brown case. (127) Just afterwards, the County's School Board drafted its plan for integrating local schools. Even in this county where African Americans constituted less than 5% of the population and the state government's support for desegregation made compliance with the Supreme Court's decision inevitable, the local process of desegregation was agonizingly slow, fraught with tension, and threatened by violence. (128) Wherever schools were desegregating in the 1950s and 1960s, PTAs and school boards were wrestling with anything but trivialities.

In addition, the educational philosophies debated in every school board election and at every school board meeting were connected to larger ideological and political issues. School board elections were often the hottest elections in November not because suburban voters were obsessed with the insignificant but because the most important issues of the period were at stake in these elections. In Montgomery County, every school board election of the 1950s and early 1960s involved contests between candidates who identified as traditionalists or progressives. Invariably, the progressives won a majority of seats on the school board, but a minority of traditionalists also won, making the school board a site for heated discussion and controversial policymaking. Advocates of traditional educational curricula associated proponents of progressive education with communism, internationalism, and support for the welfare state, while insisting that their curricular preferences opposed those trends. (129) In decisions about how to educate their children, suburbanites were thus debating conflicting visions of America and its relation to the world; they were arguing over the proper relation between private and public life. These were not petty, local issues, draining energies away from the more serious conflicts of national life. They powerfully constituted the more serious conflicts of national life.

Women from the co-ops were involved in these struggles even when they described themselves as apolitical. (130) One woman, who described herself as not "formally involved in politics," went on to say that she and other mothers at the Silver Spring School in the late 1950s and early 1960s were "pro-integration." For that movement, she said, "We voted. We went to meetings. We very happily signed petitions about open neighborhoods and things like that. We listened to a lot of speeches." (131) Involvement in such enterprises as local co-op nursery schools connected women to issues well beyond those emerging within the walls of one neighborhood institution. As one member later put it: "All of this came to me because of the people I knew." (132)

That is precisely what the proponents of local association claim has been the case: that people who were connected to other people in any ways at all--even through unassuming neighborhood nursery schools--were more likely to act as engaged citizens than those who are more socially isolated. It would seem that the more social contacts one had, the more likely a relationship might draw one into ever wider circles of concern. (133) This was certainly true of the cooperative nursery schools in Montgomery County, Maryland.

If those who claimed not to be active in politics still belonged to political parties, voted, signed petitions, and attended political meetings, those who admitted to political interests went even farther. Several women from the Silver Spring and Takoma Park schools went on to hold public offices. After serving two terms on the school board, Rose Kramer was elected to the Montgomery County Council, where she worked especially on fair housing issues. (134) After her school board stint, Lucille Maurer won a seat in the state legislature, which she held for almost 20 years, and then served as state treasurer of Maryland until her death in 1996. (135) While in the legislature, she devised a formula for funding education in the state that aimed to equalize educational opportunity for all children in the state regardless of the relative wealth in their county or neighborhood. (136) The famous Esther Peterson, whose children attended the Silver Spring Co-op Nursery in the 1940s, went on to serve in three presidential administrations, once as Assistant Secretary of Labor and Director of the Women's Bureau. (137) After holding high office in PTAs, Ruth Nadel worked for twenty years in the Women's Bureau of the federal Department of Labor, that job resulting from a friendship formed in her child study days. In that position, Nadel designed the first day care center for federal employees, using the cooperative model "because that's all we knew back then." (138) Ann Remington Hull, who was president of the Takoma Park Co-op Nursery School in 1959, served for many years in Maryland's House of Delegates, her focus especially on child care, education, and fair housing. (139) Indeed, Hull and other women from co-op nurseries were deeply involved in coordinating the state's day care policies during the late 1960s and through the 1970s. (140) No doubt, this is just the tip of the cooperative school iceberg because I have been able to follow only a few postwar participants into later life.

The point, of course, is not that these women would have been lay-abouts if not for their experiences in co-op nursery schools. Many women joined co-ops because they were already ambitious and eager for involvement in public life; they did not become ambitious because of their work in the co-ops. Certainly, many women were already active in such local associations as the League of Women Voters or the Jewish Community Center before they became active in a co-op nursery school. Someone like Esther Peterson was on her way to national office not as a result of her experience with a local co-op school but because her work with a local YWCA in the 1930s led to her employment in national labor unions. But, all of these stories make precisely the same point: that membership in local associations often connected women to larger networks and issues that engaged them ever-more profoundly in public life and even sent some into political office.

Co-op nursery schools were perhaps unique among local, suburban institutions in their explicit commitment to creating democratic subjects and unrepresentative in their commitment to progressive political positions, but in other ways, co-ops probably represented other suburban organizations affiliated with larger federations. (141) Their stories suggest that local, suburban associations must not be dismissed whole cloth as trivial endeavors devoted to local gossip and draining energies away from public matters of genuine importance. Some at least must be seen as vital contributors to democratic governance. Many of the most common--co-ops of all kinds, PTAs and school boards--faced members with the most significant national problems of the postwar period, including racial justice and the anticommunist crusade.

Like so many other federated civic organizations, the cooperative nursery school movement began to decline in the mid-1960s. The decline resulted in large part from middle-class mothers' increasing involvement in the labor market after 1965 and the proliferation of other kinds of nursery schools and day care, which required less time of parents than the co-ops did. In Montgomery County and across the country, many co-ops continue to serve children and parents, but parent participation now poses a problem because, in many families, both parents work for wages and do so for longer and longer hours. In response, most co-ops have modified their requirements for parent participation. Some, for instance, have reduced the number of days that parents have to assist in the classroom each year. Others have allowed parents to buy-out their participation altogether by paying higher tuition than those who regularly assist the teachers, and still others have begun to let nannies or other caregivers fulfill the participation requirements. (142) For the adults involved, each of these modifications diminishes the schools' ability "to foster identification with democratic values," to borrow Chantal Mouffe's phrase again.

This diminution writ large may help to explain the decline in voter participation and political party activism that has characterized the twentieth century. (143) Of course, this decline in the exercise of the most basic aspects of self-rule has extended through most periods of the twentieth century and had multiple, varying causes in different periods, but it seems possible that one of the explanations for that decline in the period after 1965 was the waning of local organizations that intimately involved Americans in decision-making and connected them to larger issues and networks. (144) If democratic citizens are not born but made and the local institutions that make them are lost, then self-rule at all levels must suffer.


Some women in the postwar suburbs created a new form of motherhood: cooperative motherhood. It was a form of motherhood enmeshed in community and that insisted on broad networks of interested people to care for any one child. In the absence of extended families, cooperative mothers created networks of unrelated parents responsible for each others' children in very direct and continuous ways. Cooperative mothers avoided the unspeakable dissatisfaction with domestic life that Betty Friedan later called "the problem with no name" and claimed was rampant among isolated, suburban mothers. Cooperative motherhood explicitly maintained every mother's need for life outside of domesticity and, beyond that, promoted democratic participation. Indeed, in their co-ops mothers schooled themselves in democratic decision-making at the same time that they strove to infuse their children with democratic values and habits. Cooperative mothers valued expertise as well but generally considered their own collective judgment the paramount authority.

Moreover, co-op nursery schools spun members into other enterprises, including electoral politics. By teaching women a particular method of organization, building enduring social relationships, and connecting members to regional and national affiliates, co-op nursery schools helped to create the educational and political infrastructures of the postwar United States.

Finally, the co-ops suggest a particular link to the social movements of the 1960s. The form of democracy encouraged in the co-ops with its emphasis on the full participation of all people in the decisions that affected them was precisely the form of democracy advocated by early SDS and other social movements in the 1960s. Baby boomers often accused their parents' generation of complacency and conformity, and the younger generation did seek to change the direction of many policies and practices associated with their postwar parents. But, at the same time, social activists in the 1960s were actually advocating the form of democracy that many white, suburban women were promoting in their co-op nursery schools in the 1940s and 1950s. In that regard, the baby boomers were

not challenging but attempting to sustain the values of their parents' generation.


Deepest thanks to Ruth Nadel, whose generosity sparked this essay and then made the research possible. For their comments on this essay, many thanks to Jim Gilbert, Sonya Michel, and Christy Regenhardt as well as Peter Stearns and two anonymous readers for the Journal of Social History. Thanks, too, to Meg Lovell for her research at the Montgomery County Historical Society and for locating the Montgomery County Sentinel.

1. Kensington Play Group Meeting Minutes, November 20, 1939; Notice, Fall 1939; Rebecca Scheirer, "Kensington Nursery School," pamphlet, 1989; Kensington Nursery School, Inc. Archive (hereafter KNS). On the movement, see Dorothy Hewes, "It's the Camaraderie": A History of Parent Cooperative Preschools (Davis, CA, 1998), x-xii; Katharine Whiteside Taylor, Parent Cooperative Nursery Schools (New York, 1954), 1-10.

2. Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick, "A Meaning for Turner's Frontier," Political Science Quarterly 69 (September and December 1954): 321-353, 565-602. See also Robert C. Wood, "The Governing of Suburbia" in William M. Dobriner (ed.), The Suburban Community (New York, 1958), 165-180. For popular defenders of suburbia, see for instance, Phyllis McGinley, "Suburbia: Of Thee I Sing," Harper's Magazine, December 1949, 78-82; Ralph G. Martin, "Life in the New Suburbia," New York Times Magazine, January 15, 1950, 16+.

3. David Riesman, "Suburban Sadness," in The Suburban Community, 383. See also Riesman, "Flight and Search in the New Suburbs," Abundance for What? (Garden City, 1964), 19-27.

4. Riesman, "Suburban Sadness," 383.

5. Jurgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, trans. Thomas Burger (Cambridge, MA, 1989), 158, 163.

6. Craig Calhoun supports this reading of Habermas in his introduction to Habermas and the Public Sphere, ed. Craig Calhoun (Cambridge, MA, 1992), 22-29. David Riesman, The Lonely Crowd (1961; New Haven, 2001), 64-65.

7. Most recently, Lizabeth Cohen has made a case for the localism of suburban politics in the postwar period in A Consumers' Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America (New York, 2003), esp. Chapter 5. Earlier, Elaine May's study of postwar domesticity concluded that widespread gatherings of suburbanites were but "tenuous alliances among uprooted people." For her, the family isolated in a bomb shelter represented postwar life better than any study of collective action. Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era (New York, 1988), 25-26, front cover. Even Robert Fishman, a scholar who systematically refutes sharp distinctions drawn between urban and suburban life, seems to think that, so far as public life goes, central cities provide more vital models than suburbs. Robert Fishman, "Urbanity and Suburbanity; Rethinking the 'Burbs," American Quarterly 46 (March 1994): 35-39, esp. 39.

8. One spur to this re-evaluation was the broadened definition of "politics" offered by women's historians, a definition that encompassed women's and men's work in voluntary associations and that led to fresh understandings of American politics and state development in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. See, for example, Paula Baker, "The Domestication of Politics: Women and American Political Society, 1780-1920," American Historical Review 89 (June 1984): 620-47. When historians with this perspective turned their attention to the postwar period, they respected rather than disdained voluntary organizations and found in them both continuities with Progressive era activism and bridges to widespread political movements in the 1960s. See, for example, Susan Ware, "American Women in the 1950s: Nonpartisan Politics and Women's Politicization," in Women, Politics, and Change, ed. Louise Tilly and Patricia Gurin (New York, 1990), 281-299; Part II of Joanne Meyerowitz, ed., Not June Cleaver: Women and Gender in Postwar America, 1945-1960 (Philadelphia, 1994); Joyce Antler, "Between Culture and Politics: The Emma Lazarus Federation: Jewish Women's Clubs and the Promulgation of Women's History, 1944-1989," in Linda Kerber, et al., eds., U.S. History as Women's History: New Feminist Essays (Chapel Hill, 1995), 267-295; and Estelle Freedman, Maternal Justice: Miriam Van Waters and the Female Reform Tradition (New York, 1996); Susan Lynn, Progressive Women in Conservative Times (New Brunswick, 1992).

9. Robert Putnam, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (New York, 2000), especially Chapter 21.

10. I am certainly not the first scholar to take on such work. See, for example, Rosalyn Baxandall and Elizabeth Ewen, Picture Windows: How the Suburbs Happened (New York, 2000) and Sylvie Murray, The Progressive Housewife: Community Activism in Queens, New York, 1945-1960 (Philadelphia, 2003). My close alignment with Murray on many issues will be readily apparent in the course of this essay.

11. For instance, "Burtonsville Co-op Meeting Draws 243 for Elections," Montgomery County Sentinel (hereafter MCS), September 16, 1954, p. B-1; "Co-op Congress Elects Wheaton Area Delegates," MCS, May 10, 1956, p. 6; "Rockville To Get $500,000 Co-op Store," MCS, October 11, 1956, p. 1. Bannockburn: The Story of a Cooperative Community, typescript, Bethesda, MD, 1978, Montgomery County Historical Society, Rockville, MD. Ruth Nadel, interview with author, Washington, D.C., November 13, 1998. Flora Atkin, interview with author, Somerset, MD, December 3, 1998. On Group Health Association, see Jennifer Klein, For All These Rights: Business. Labor, and the Shaping of America's Public-Private Welfare State (Princeton, 2003), 148, 150, 153-54, 170-71. For cooperatives elsewhere in the period, see, for example, Klein, For All These Rights, Chap. 4; Murray, Progressive Housewife, 7; Cohen, Consumers' Republic, 25-26, 30, 49-52.

12. Chantal Mouffe, The Democratic Paradox (New York, 2000), 96.

13. Students for a Democratic Society, "Port Huron Statement," 1962 at http://coursesa. I join others in exploring links between activism in the 1960s and the decades just prior. See, for instance, Lynn, Progressive Women in Conservative Times; Murray, Progressive Housewife; Daniel Horowitz, Betty Friedan and the Making of The Feminine Mystique: The American Left, the Cold War, and Modern Feminism (Amherst, 1998).

14. Silver Spring Nursery School, Our Cooperative Nursery, (Silver Spring, MD, 1942); Silver Spring Nursery School, Inc., Our Cooperative Nursery, (Silver Spring, MD, 1949); Silver Spring Nursery School, Our Cooperative Nursery (Silver Spring, MD, 1954). Examples of national publicity include Barbara Hubley Finck, "Cooperation on the Home Front," Parents' Magazine, August 1945, 24-25, 60-66; Catherine MacKenzie, "Nursery Co-op," New York Times Sunday Magazine, April 17, 1949, 36; Margaret Hickey, "Co-operative Play Schools," Ladies Home Journal, May 1950, 23, 169-171. For sales of manuals, see Business Meeting Minutes, October 26, 1942; Newsletter, February 1949; Newsletter, April 1949, Newsletter, April 1951; Board Meeting Minutes, February 6, 1950; Board Meeting Minutes, May 22, 1950; Newsletter, November 21, 1952; Newsletter, February 1955; Silver Spring Cooperative Nursery School Archive, Silver Spring Nursery School, Inc., Silver Spring, MD (hereafter SSNS). On use in universities, by others forming co-ops, and in publications of national associations, see Membership Meeting Minutes, September 18, 1950; Board Meeting Minutes, November 2, 1953; Business Meeting Minutes, October 26, 1942; Membership Meeting Minutes, June 6, 1955; Newsletter, February 1946; Newsletter, February 1947; Newsletter, January 1949; Newsletter, November 1949; Newsletter, November 21, 1952; Newsletter, March 30, 1953; Newsletter, May 25, 1953; Newsletter, October 1953; SSNS.

15. Newsletter, March 1949, SSNS.

16. Hewes, "It's the Camaraderie", 79.

17. Libby Byers, "The Parent Cooperative Nursery School: An Experiment in Early Childhood Education," Ph.D. Diss., University of California at Berkeley, 1974, 127-135; Hewes, "It's the Camaraderie", 79.

18. Sonya Michel, Children's Interests/Mothers' Rights: The Shaping of America's Child Care Policy (New Haven, 1999), 118-149; Elizabeth Rose, A Mother's Job: The History of Day Care, 1890-1960 (New York, 1999), 144-152, 166-171.

19. Julia Grant, Raising Baby By The Book: The Education of American Mothers (New Haven, 1998), 137, 167. Clara Tucker, A Study of Mothers' Practices and Children's Activities in a Co-operative Nursery School (New York, 1940), 5.

20. Alma Lewis, interview with author, Silver Spring, MD, May 12, 1999. See also Barbara Miller Solomon, In the Company of Educated Women (New Haven, 1985), 158, 165, 167, 172.

21. Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique (1963; New York, 1974), 148-52. Friedan may well have been right to see in the postwar period two very different generations of suburban mothers. See also Susan Hartman, The Home Front and Beyond: American Women in the 1940s (Boston, 1982), 111-116.

22. May, Homeward Bound.

23. Cohen, Consumers' Republic, 25-26, 30, 49-52.

24. See, for instance, Proceedings of the First Constitutional Convention of the Congress of Industrial Organizations, Pittsburgh, November 1938, 9-10, 29-36; Final Report on the White House Conference on Children in a Democracy (Washington, D.C, 1940), Preface, 1-6; Franklin D. Roosevelt, "The Great Arsenal of Democracy," speech delivered 29 December 1940, Gary Gerstle, American Crucible: Race and Nation in the Twentieth Century (Princeton, 2001), 145-153; Cohen, Consumers' Republic, 63, 68-69, 95.

25. Hope Efron, interview with author, Washington, D.C., December 29, 1998. Sara Kirstein, "Model Cooperative Nursery," The Silver Spring Post, May 2, 1947, 13. Newsletter, April 1951; Newsletter, March 30, 1953; SSNS.

26. Our Cooperative Nursery, 1949, 47-48.

27. Ibid., 55-56. Our Cooperative Nursery, 1942, 7-8, 15

28. Newspaper clipping, "Takoma Park Cooperative Nursery School," 1952(?); "The Founding of the Takoma Park Nursery School," Loose Sheet, (early 1960s?); Takoma Park Co-operative Nursery School Collection (hereafter TNC).

29. Judy Frosh, interview with author, Bethesda, MD, May 12, 1999.

30. Atkin, Frosh, Efron, Nadel, and Lewis interviews. Rose Kramer, interview with author, Bethesda, MD, December 21, 1998. Lillian Mones, interview with author, Kensington, MD, December 30, 1998. Esther Peterson, Restless: The Memoirs of Labor and Consumer Activist Esther Peterson (Caring, 1997). Brigid O'Farrell and Joyce L. Kornbluh eds., Rocking the Boat: Union Women's Voices, 1915-1975 (New Brunswick, 1996), Chapter 4. Judith Tick, Ruth Crawford Seeger (New York, 1997). Newsletters: October 1962, October 1964, April 1965, February 1945, December 1945, January 1943, March 1945, June 1943, July 1943, October 1943, November 1943, January 1944, March 1944, May 1944, November 1947, February 1948, April 1948, December 1948, February 1949, November 1949, December 1949, January 1950, February 1950, March 1950, May-June 1950, November 1950, December 1950-February 1951, March 1951, April 25, 1953, February 1954, April 1951, December 19, 1952, January 23, 1953, February 20, 1953, March 30, 1953, SSNS. Nursery Crier: December 1962, January 1963, March 1963, April 1963, January 1964, March 1964, April 1964, May 1964, December 1964, February 1965, TNC.

31. Lewis interview.

32. Nadel, Frosh, Kramer, Efron Interviews. Membership Meeting Minutes, November 23, 1953; Membership Meeting Minutes, November 30, 1954, Membership Meeting Minutes, October 28, 1953; Membership Meeting Minutes, October 19, 1960; TNC. "Profile," The Nursery Crier (March 1964), 2-3. By-Laws, Silver Spring Cooperative Nursery School, in Our Cooperative Nursery, 1954, 75. Constitution of Kensington Nursery School, Inc., March 1958, Constitution File, KNS. Board Meeting Minutes, May 22, 1950, SSNS. Joan Vernick to Helen Widmyer, September 4, 1964, KNS. As in other neighborhood associations, the racial and class composition of the organization reflected the residential community: in 1960, the southeastern suburbs of Montgomery County were 98% white. United States Bureau of the Census, Eighteenth Decennial Census of the United States: 1960, Volume 1: Characteristics of the Population, Part 22: Maryland (Washington, D.C., 1963), 10-13, 39-40, 44, 52, 66.

33. These same demographics characterized co-ops elsewhere. Dorothy Brennan Kaufman, "A Descriptive Study of the Cooperative Nursery Movement in Michigan," Ed.D. Diss., Wayne State University, 1957, 93-107. Barbara Babad, "An Analysis of Work in a Cooperative Nursery School," M.S. Ed. Thesis, Bank Street College of Education, 1966, 19. Sally Marino, "The Westport Cooperative Nursery School," M.A. Thesis, Bank Street College of Education, 1957, 20-22. Tucker, Study of Mothers' Practices, 14. Hewes, "It's the Camaraderie," 79-80, 103-106.

34. Riesman, "Suburban Sadness," 388. Still, the image of the isolated suburban mother continues to have a hold on historians' imaginations. See, for instance, Grant, Raising Baby By The Book, 201. Some historians are showing women were not isolated: Murray, The Progressive Housewife, especially Chapter 6; Lynn Weiner, "Reconstructing Motherhood,: The La Leche League in Postwar America," Journal of American History 80 (March 1994): 1357-1381; Baxandall and Ewen, Picture Windows. In The Feminine Mystique, Friedan recognized that the earliest migrants to new suburbs were often very creatively engaged in such work as building co-op nurseries at pp. 346-348.

35. See, for instance, Kramer, Nadel, and Efron interviews.

36. This makes them centrists in Susan Lynn's categorization of positions on domesticity in the postwar period. Lynn, Progressive Women, 116.

37. See, for instance, Membership Meeting Minutes, December 9, 1952; Orientation Meetings Minutes, September 14, 15, 1953; TNC. Executive Board Meeting Minutes, August 27, 1953, KNS.

38. Board Meeting Minutes, January 6, 1948; Board Meeting Minutes, April 5, 1954; and Silver Spring Newsletter, October 1965, SSNS. See also, for instance, Executive Committee Minutes, June 8, 1955, TNC; Executive Committee Meeting Minutes, September 2, 1944, KNS. For committee structures, see, for instance, Membership Meeting, minutes, September 14, 1953, TNC; Our Cooperative Nursery, 1949, 38.

39. Our Cooperative Nursery, 1949, 50.

40. Membership Meeting Minutes, September 15, 1953, TNC.

41. See, for example, Membership Meeting Minutes, September 15, 1953, TNC.

42. See, for instance, Membership Meeting Minutes, September 2, 1952; Executive Committee Meeting Minutes, September 18, 1957; Membership Meeting Minutes, November 12, 1952; TNC.

43. See, for instance, Membership Meeting Minutes, December 9, 1952; Executive Committee Meeting Minutes, July 15, 1958; Membership Meeting Minutes, April 28, 1954; TNC. Our Cooperative Nursery, 1949, 24-25. Nadel and Efron interviews.

44. See, for instance, Membership Meeting Minutes, September 24, 1957, TNC. Our Co-operative Nursery, 1949, 38.

45. Orientation Meeting Minutes, September 10, 1957; Membership Meeting Minutes, January 23, 1957; TNC.

46. Membership Meeting Minutes, October 14, 1952, TNC. These expectations were common to co-op nurseries across the country. See, for instance, Sue Hickmott, "The Organization and Administration of Cooperative Nursery Schools, Ed.D. Diss., Columbia Teachers College, 1952, Chapters 2, 5; Naomi Wood, "Bannockburn Nursery School, Inc." in Bannockburn: The Story of a Cooperative Community, typescript, Bethesda, MD, 1978, 75-78.

47. See, for instance, Newsletter, May 1947, SSNS. Membership Meeting Minutes, May 20, 1941; Executive Board Meeting Minutes, November 14, 1951; KNS.

48. Membership Meeting Minutes, December 15, 1943, KNS. Executive Committee Meeting Minutes, June 8, 1955; Executive Committee Meeting Minutes, February 28, 1961; TNC.

49. Executive Committee to Mrs. M. E., 10 May 1954; Chairman to Mrs. M. F., 3 June 1954; KNS.

50. Membership Meeting Minutes, January 12, 1953, KNS.

51. "Agenda Items," Council Workshop, November 13, 1962, TNC.

52. Frosh interview.

53. Mones interview.

54. Nadel interview.

55. Hewes, "It's the Camaraderie."

56. Nadel interview.

57. Membership Meeting Minutes, January 23, 1957; The Nursery Crier, January 2, 1962, 1; The Nursery Crier, December 1961, 4; TNC. Nadel, Mones, and Efron interviews. Mothers of Younger Group Minutes, February 18, 1942, SSNS. That this was a common practice elsewhere is confirmed in Nathalia Walker, "Twenty Mothers Go to School," Parents' Magazine, September 1941, pp. 28-29; and Polly McVickar, The Cooperative Nursery School (Chicago, 1962), 14.

58. Mones interview for "painful"; other interviews confirmed "helpful."

59. Atkin interview.

60. Our Cooperative Nursery School, 1942, 6.

61. "County Tots Are Introduced to Outside World At Many Co-op Nursery Schools Operating Here," MCS, n.d. [1950s], Vertical File, Montgomery County Historical Society, Rockville, MD.

62. Kaufman, Descriptive Study, 8.

63. Whiteside Taylor, Parent Cooperative Nursery Schools, 17, 19.

64. Whiteside Taylor, Parent Cooperative Nursery Schools, 19.

65. See, for instance, May, Homeward Bound.

66. Our Cooperative Nursery, 1949, 13.

67. Whiteside Taylor, Parent Cooperative Nursery Schools, 11.

68. Our Cooperative Nursery School, 1942, 10. One article in Parents' Magazine charted the organization of one co-op, stating that the reason for the school was that mothers wanted to do war work. Ann Ross, "What Seven Mothers Did," Parents' Magazine, May 1943, pp. 32, 97.

69. Los Angeles Council of Cooperative Nursery Schools, A Preliminary Guide for Co-operative Nursery Schools (Los Angeles, 1953), 8. Long Beach Council of Cooperative Nursery Schools, Cooperative Nursery School Handbook (Long Beach, 1953), 1.

70. Whiteside Taylor, Parent Cooperative Nursery Schools, 11.

71. Mones interview.

72. Our Cooperative Nursery, 1949, 9.

73. Babad, "Analysis," 27.

74. Marino, "The Westport Cooperative Nursery School," 151.

75. Long Beach Council, Handbook, 2.

76. Kaufman, "Descriptive Study," 52. See also Hickmott, "Organization and Administration," 222; Whiteside Taylor, Parent Cooperative Nursery Schools, 1, 81.

77. Carmen Sirianni, "Learning Pluralism: Democracy and Diversity in Feminist Organizations," in John Chapman and Ian Shapiro, eds., Democratic Community. (New York, 1993), 283-312. This is the sort of democracy currently advocated by theorists Chantal Mouffe and Amy Gutmann, who value discussion and believe that conflict remains inevitable and so rely on political methods of making final decisions. Mouffe, Paradox of Democracy, esp. 8-16. Amy Gutmann, "The Disharmony of Democracy," in Democratic Community, 126-162.

78. For example, Membership Meeting Minutes, May 19, 1953; Membership Meeting Minutes, November 23, 1953; TNC. At Silver Spring, see, for example, Board Meeting Minutes, January 10, 1944 and Membership Meeting Minutes, January 9, 1950, SSNS. For Kensington, see, for example, Membership Meeting Minutes, September 11, 1947; Membership Meeting Minutes, November 18, 1953; Membership Meeting Minutes, April 24, 1952; Membership Meeting Minutes, May 18, 1953; Membership Meeting Minutes, February 10, 1954; KNS.

79. Montgomery County Council of Co-operative Nursery Schools, Co-operative Nursery Schools: A Handbook for Parents; A Guide for Organization and Administration (Wheaton, MD: MCCCNS, 1960), 1.

80. Babad, "Analysis," 22-24; Kaufman, "Descriptive Study," 142; Long Beach Council, Handbook, 1-4; Marino, "Westport Nursery School," 29-40 62-70; McVickar, The Cooperative Nursery School, 15.

81. McVickar, The Cooperative Nursery School, 21.

82. Los Angeles Council, Preliminary Guide, 29.

83. See, in addition to citations below, Katharine Whiteside Taylor, Parents and Children Learn Together (New York, 1967), 89-90.

84. Nadel interview. Hickmott, "Organization and Administration," Chapter 1. Our Cooperative Nursery School, 1949, 12. Our Cooperative Nursery School, 1954, 84. MCCCNS, Handbook, 1960, 2. Newsletters, April 1946 and December 19, 1958; Board Meeting Minutes, December 3, 1949, SSNS. Membership Meeting Minutes, March 4, 1941, May 6, 1943, June 10, 1943, January 12, 1949, KNS.

85. Quotes are from Dorothy Baruch, Parents and Children Go To School (New York, 1939), 206-213. The same ideas appear in Arnold Gesell et al., The First Five Years of Life: A Guide to the Study of the Preschool Child (New York, 1940), 310; Arnold Gesell and Frances Ilg, Infant and Child in the Culture of Today (New York, 1943), 4-6, 10, 347. James Hymes, Jr., Being a Good Parent (New York, 1949), 12, 18-25.

86. Hymes, Being a Good Parent, 35.

87. Minutes of Study Group Meeting, Group II, February 25, 1942, SSNS.

88. "Notes for New Assistant Mothers," 1952-53, KNS.

89. "Why Nursery School?" Notes for Orientation Meeting, September 1953, KNS.

90. Los Angeles Council, A Preliminary Guide, 7.

91. Babad, "Analysis," 28. Kaufman, "Descriptive Study," 3.

92. Long Beach Council, Handbook, 2.

93. Marino, "The Westport School," 9.

94. "Notes for Assistant Teachers," January 13, 1943, KNS. See also "Notes for Assistant Mothers, 1952-53; "Why Nursery School?" presentation for orientation, September 1953; KNS. Staff Meeting Minutes, December 8, 1942; Membership Meeting Minutes, October 13, 1945; Newsletter, November 1960; SSNS

95. Staff Meeting Minutes, December 8, 1942, SSNS.

96. Membership Meeting Minutes, September 14, 1953, TNC.

97. See, for instance, Dorothy Gibberson, "A Program Guide of 51 Parent Cooperative Nursery Schools and Parent Nurseries In California," Typescript, 1952; Our Cooperative Nursery School, 1949, 10-11.

98. "Notes for Assistant Teachers," January 13, 1943, KNS.

99. "Notes for Assistant Mothers," 1952-53, KNS.

100. Ruth Crawford Seeger, American Folk Songs for Children (New York, 1948), 3. Tick, Crawford Seeger, 229; Matilda Gaume, Ruth Crawford Seeger Memoirs, Memories, Music (Metuchen, NJ, 1986); Joseph N. Straus, The Music of Ruth Crawford Seeger (New York, 1995); Ellie M. Hisama, Gendering Musical Modernism: The Music of Ruth Crawford, Marion Bauer, and Miriam Gideon (New York, 2001). Robert Cantwell, When We Were Good: The Folk Revival (Cambridge, MA, 1996), 7-8, 22, 289-307; Benjamin Filene, Romancing the Folk: Public Memory and American Roots Music (Chapel Hill, 2000), 133-150; Michael Denning, The Cultural Front: The Laboring of American Culture in the Twentieth Century (New York, 1996), 42-43, 134-35, 283-85, 329, 360-61. See also John Glenn, Highlander No Ordinary School (Knoxville, 1996).

101. Crawford Seeger produced a songbook drawn from her experiences at the Silver Spring Co-operative Nursery School, the introduction to which has been called "one of the master texts of the expanding folk revival." Quoted in Tick, Crawford Seeger, 290. For quotations by Crawford Seeger, see Ruth Crawford Seeger, American Folk Songs for Children (New York, 1948), 22.

102. Ibid., 24.

103. Tick, Crawford Seeger, 341-42. Cantwell, When We Were Good, 269-310. Giberson, "Programs," 4, 13. Long Beach Council, Handbook, 13. Scrapbook, 1939-79, "Songs We Sing In Nursery School," 1940s, KNS.

104. On experts from the Mental Health Association, see, for instance, Membership Meeting Minutes, January 17, 1961; February 16, 1961; March 14, 1961; on literary experts, see Membership Meeting Minutes, April 28, 1955; on musicologists, see Executive Committee Meeting Minutes, September 18, 1957; TCN. See also Mothers Meeting Minutes, October 15, 1941; Membership Meeting Minutes, January 19, 1948; Newsletter, February 1962; SSNS.

105. For example, see Newsletter of the Montgomery County Council of Cooperative Nursery Schools, October 1962; Membership Meeting Minutes, October 28, 1953; Membership Meeting Minutes, October 17, 1956; January 28, 1958; Executive Committee Minutes, May 15, 1957; Jane Bowyer, "From the President's Desk," The Nursery Crier, April 1963, 1-2; TNC. Membership Meeting Minutes, March 15, 1954; Newsletter, November 1943; SSNS. Membership Meeting Minutes, March 4, 1941; Membership Meeting Minutes, January 12, 1949; KNS.

106. Membership Meeting Minutes, February 16, 1961, TNC.

107. See, for instance, Membership Meeting Minutes, February 10, 1954, February 17, 1954, KNS.

108. Membership Meeting Minutes, February 10, 1954; Membership Meeting Minutes, February 17, 1954; KNS. Board Meeting Minutes, October 10, 1945, SSNS.

109. Jane Mandel, "Parent Education Review," The Nursery Crier, February 1964, 1, TNC. Moreover, after hearing from doctors who recommended that all children with runny noses be sent home from school, the mothers at Kensington voted down the doctors' recommendation by a 2-1 margin because they thought the doctors were overcautious. Membership Meeting Minutes, April 24, 1952, KNS.

110. "Preliminary Report of Sub-committee Set Up to Define the Province of the Teachers," Fall 1954, KNS.

111. Julia Grant found that mothers of earlier periods were part of similar "interpretive communities." Grant, Raising Baby By The Book, 138-139.

112. Jane Bowyer, "From the President's Desk," The Nursery Crier, December 1962, 1-2. TNC. For other examples see Barbara Terris, Farnces Futronsky, "Quotes 'n' Quips," The Nursery Crier, November 1961, TNC.

113. Habermas Structural Transformation; Craig Calhoun, "Civil Society and the Public Sphere," Public Culture 5 (1993): 267-280. Mary Parker Follett, The New State (1918; University Park, 1998).

114. Mouffe, Paradox of Democracy, esp. 8-16. Gutmann, "The Disharmony of Democracy," in Democratic Community, 126-162.

115. Newsletter of the Montgomery County Council of Cooperative Nursery Schools 10 (October 1962), 3, TNC.

116. Board Meeting Minutes, October 28, 1947, SSNS. Executive Committee Minutes, April 15, 1958, TNC.

117. MCCCNS, Handbook, 1960, 1.

118. Executive Committee Minutes, October 16, 1957, TNC.

119. Hewes, "It's the Camaraderie!", 218-223. Some regional councils also made action on child welfare legislation one of their obligations. Los Angeles Council, A Preliminary Guide, 2.

120. Hewes, "It's the Camaradeie!", 115, 134; Babad, "Analysis," 15-16. Jean Eyman Ellingson, "School and Community Involvement of Former Cooperative Preschool Parents," M.A. Thesis, California State University, Chico, 1982. Whiteside Taylor, Parents and Children Learn Together, 294-311. Newsletter, April 1950, SSNS. Nadel interview.

121. Newsletter, October 1948, SSNS.

122. Kramer and Nadel interviews. MCS, November 1, 1951, 1, 6, 10.

123. Kramer interview. MCS, November 4, 1954, 1; October 27, 1960, 4.

124. Nadel and Kramer interviews. Newsletters, April 1951; May 1951; November 1952; November 1954; January 1961; October 1960; October 1964; SSNS.

125. Newsletter, November 21, 1952, SSNS.

126. A. James Golato to Mrs. Edward Gagley, October 9, 1969, File 1966-70, Box 2, Series I, Ann Hull Papers, Maryland Room, University of Maryland Libraries. (Hereafter Hull Papers)

127. Nadel interview. Newsletter, March 1954, SSNS. MCS, September 16, 1954, C-2; MCS, October 7, 1954, 1.

128. "Integration Views of Candidates Hit," MCS, October 23, 1958, 3.

129. Roger Farquar, "School Board Campaign Is the One to Watch," MCS, September 4, 1958, 4; Roger Farquar, "Arise Conservatives, The Times Needs You," MCS, September 1958, 4.

130. See, for instance, Lewis interview.

131. Lewis interview.

132. Lewis interview.

133. Putnam, Bowling Alone; Michael Walzer, "The Civil Society Argument," in Chantal Mouffe, ed., Dimensions of Radical Democracy (London, 1992), esp. 105-107.

134. Kramer interview. "Candidacies of Some Are In Jeopardy," MCS, September 8, 1966, 1+. "DAG Forces Chalk Up Clean Sweep," MCS, September 15, 1966, 1.

135. On Maurer, for instance, see "Mrs. Maurer Seeking Flexible Curriculum" MCS, October 22, 1964, 4; "We Take Sides," MCS, October 22, 1964, 1, C3.

136. "Report of the Governor's Commission on the Funding of Public Education," December 1978, Box 23, Lucille Maurer Papers, Maryland Room, University of Maryland Libraries, College Park, MD.

137. Martha Ross, Oral Interview with Esther Peterson, August 13, 1977, Washington, D.C., Microfilm, Library of Congress.

138. Nadel interview.

139. "Agreement Between Takoma Park Nursery School and Elizabeth Smyth," June 1, 1959; Hull to Kriemelmeyer, January 13, 1975; TNC. See "Maryland Cares About Early Childhood Programs," October 30, 1969, Box 4, Series I; 4-C's Folders, Box 4 and 5, Hull Papers.

140. Ibid.

141. For the significance of the federated form of organization, see Theda Skocpol and Morris Fiorina, "Making Sense of the Civic Engagement Debate," in their edited volume Civic Engagement in American Democracy (New York, 1999), 1-70.

142. "Kensington Nursery School Participation Policy," flier, 1999; "Parent's Role in Our Cooperative Programs," Luther Rice Co-operative Preschool, Silver Spring, MD, flier, 1999; in author's possession. Hewes, "It's the Camaraderie," 324.

143. See, for instance, Putnam, Bowling Alone, Chapter 2.

144. I am in agreement with Putnam and others who see vital connections between local civic involvement and engagement in national politics.

By Robyn Muncy

University of Maryland

Department of History

College Park, MD 20742
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