The History of Daycare
Precursors to modern daycare
Infant schools began to appear in Great Britain and Europe in the early
In 1824 an eminent group of English reformers established an Infant School
Society (in Britain)1...
(In France,) a French Lutheran pastor, Jean Frédéric Oberlin, struck by the
poverty and degradation of children in rural areas of the Vosges, opened at
his own expense écoles à tricoter (knitting schools).
In Belgium, écoles-gardiennes opened to provide care and education for
children whose mothers worked outside the home.
Similarly in Germany, Kleinkinderbewahranstalten (schools of necessity)
existed primarily to "take care of children whose mothers were obliged to
In Italy, an abbot, Ferrante Aporti, opened an infant school in Cremona in
A forerunner of
today's so-called "progressive" on-site daycare was established in
Scotland in 1815 by Robert Owen for children of mothers who worked in
his cotton mill, with one "teacher" in charge of 100 children.
Children attended this "infant school" in New Lanark from the ages of 18
months to 10 years.3 Owen's only aim was to
keep the children healthy...until they were old enough to go to work in
There is some
debate about when day cares started in America:
Although the 1879 Fitch Crèche in Buffalo claims to be America's first
Elizabeth Rose writes that "the country's (United States) first day nursery
was founded by Quakers in Philadelphia in 1795."6
Sonya Michel largely agrees,
identifying it as the nursery at the
Philadelphia House of Industry, but dates it to 1798.
-- Children's Interests/Mothers' Rights, by Sonya Michel, ©1999, P.
Margaret O'Brien Steinfels
writes the 1828 "Boston Infant School...may have been the first day care
center in America..."7
Geraldine Youcha claims "A day nursery for the children of seamen's wives
and widows opened in Boston" in 1838.8
Mary Frances Berry notes "An infant school was organized in New York City in
surrounded infant schools, however.
...critics felt that separating young children from their mothers for
prolonged periods of time violated the laws of God and nature.10
(In Boston) other teachers reported that graduates of the infant schools
were "less teachable" than their untutored peers.11
Finally, an influential book by Amariah Brigham (in 1833) argued that (such
early) schooling might in fact harm young children.12
1 Past Caring, A History of U.S.
Preschool Care and Education for the Poor, 1820--1965
by Emily D. Cahan, ©1989 by National Center for Children in Poverty, p.
2 Ibid., p. 10
3 Ibid., p. 10
the Children: Childcare in America from Colonial Times to the
Present by Geraldine Youcha,
5 According to Tim Tielman in the Newsletter of the Preservation
Coalition of Erie County, June 1996
6 A Mothers'
Job: The History of Daycare, 1890-1960 by Elizabeth Rose, 1999, page 18
Who's Minding the Children, by Margaret O'Brien Steinfels,
©1973, P. 36
Youcha, op. cit., page 322
9 The Politics of Parenthood by Mary Frances
Berry, ©1993, P. 76
10 Emily D. Cahan, Op. Cit. P. 10
Ibid., P. 12
12 Ibid., P. 13