Illinois at War, 1941-1945
A Selection of Documents from the Illinois State Archives
DOCUMENT 46COMMUNICATION FROM MRS. WM. D. BATTEY CONCERNING DAY-CARE
August 25, 1945
In Chicago a few war industries such as the Republic Drill Company and Douglas Aircraft maintained on-site day-care centers to supervise and nurture those employees' children who were not yet of school age. These centers helped working mothers by way of minimizing commuting times, discouraging absenteeism, and promoting worker morale. On the job mothers could concentrate on the tasks at hand without the distraction of worrying about the welfare of their youngsters.
Unfortunately the large majority of female workers with children did not enjoy the same peace of mind. Contemporary newspapers were full of accounts of unsupervised very young people and teenagers. Welfare workers found infants locked in automobiles on plant parking lots. "Latchkey" youths commonly wore home door keys tied to strings around their necks. Children left home alone died in tragic fires on numerous occasions. Movie houses served often as all-night baby sitters where kids dozed in front of the same features shown again and again. Teenagers without benefit of parental control sometimes became involved in serious crime as well as less harmful mischief.
At the war's onset Chicago had several private day-care centers as well as several public facilities operated for the underprivileged by the Works Progress Administration (WPA). The WPA was abolished by Congress along with other federal relief agencies in 1943 and at that time the Chicago Board of Education took over its nurseries. By 1945 there were 117 day-care centers in Chicago, 48 of which were maintained by the Chicago Board and in part subsidized by the federal government. Despite these numbers there were never enough centers to accommodate the city's children and the centers which did exist were chronically understaffed. Grandmothers, aunts, sisters, and neighbors often assumed child care responsibilities while mothers worked. But thousands of Chicago's young people were sadly neglected while their parents produced the tools of war. Chicago was not alone in this circumstance. The same conditions prevailed in smaller cities and towns but in lesser concentrations.
Points to Consider
What was Mrs. William D. Battey going to do if her child's day-care facility closed?
Why was Mrs. Battey working?
Should day-care have been subsidized by the government in late 1945?
Should it be subsidized today?