During World War II, as women stepped in to fill jobs vacated by men in the armed services, the federal government established public child care centers in local communities for the first time. When the government anunced plans to withdraw funding and terminate its child care services at the end of the war, women in California protested and lobbied to keep their centers open, even as these services rapidly vanished in other states. Analyzing the informal networks of cross-class and cross-race reformers, policymakers, and educators, Demanding Child Care: Women's Activism and the Politics of Welfare, 1940-1971 traces the rapidly changing alliances among these groups. During the early stages of the childcare movement, feminists, Communists, and labor activists banded together, only to have these alliances dissolve by the 1950s as the movement welcomed new leadership composed of working-class mothers and early childhood educators. In the 1960s, when federal policymakers earmarked child care funds for children of women on welfare and children described as culturally deprived, it expanded child care services available to these groups but eventually eliminated public child care for the working poor. Deftly exploring the possibilities for partnership as well as the limitations among these key parties, Fousekis helps to explain the barriers to a publically funded comprehensive child care program in the United States.
Natalie M. Fousekis is an associate professor of history and the director of the Center for Oral and Public History at California State University, Fullerton.