Today in Feminist History: Women Want War Time Childcare

Today in Feminist History is our daily recap of the major milestones and minor advancements that shaped women’s history in the U.S.—from suffrage to Shirley Chisholm and beyond. These posts were written by, and are presented in homage to, our late staff historian and archivist, David Dismore.


January 19, 1944: Though the government is calling for more day care centers, it appears that lobbying by concerned citizens must be a part of the battle to actually establish them.

As women become an ever-greater part of America’s war effort, the need for day care centers for their children becomes even more critical—but the War Area Child Care Bill, introduced by Senator Elbert Thomas, Democrat of Utah, and passed by the Senate on a voice vote on June 30th, is now being blocked in the House by the Education Committee.

Members of the committee need to hear demands from their constituents, and the public in general, that the bill go to the House floor for debate and passage.

The bill has been endorsed by President Roosevelt, and would allow the Federal Government to finance up to 50 percent of state and local child care programs. But it goes farther than just providing funds for after-school supervision for older children and all-day care for younger ones. It includes everything from foster home and homemaker services to professional counselors to help women war workers decide on what solution works best for them in their individual situation.

According to Agnes Meyer, in a speech today to the annual convention of the Federation of Jewish Women’s Organizations: “The measure may not be a perfect piece of legislation, nor is it a cure-all for a very intricate problem. But it has the merit of encouraging for the first time a fully coordinated program, including health, recreation, education and general care for children around the clock and throughout the year.” 

Meyer has just returned from a tour of 28 war centers, and found “an appalling delinquency rate and daily child tragedies, yet, in spite of all the discussions, nothing comprehensive is being done about it.”

Figures released today show that more women than men are being hired in West Coast aircraft plants, and that this will continue to be the case for the duration of the war. Women already make up almost 44 percent of employees in factories that are members of the West Coast Aircraft War Production Council. Of their new employees hired in October, 55.7 percent were women, and in November, that rose to 56.94 percent, so the ratio of women to men on the job will be going even higher. Not only that, far more of those who are hired are now performing assembly line work, and far fewer are assigned to traditional stenographic or file clerk duties.

Since so many women are needed in such a wide variety of critical jobs, war industries are engaged in a vigorous recruiting program. That means, among other things, setting up day care facilities in or near plants, though apparently there’s more talk than action. Let’s remind our Representatives in the House that women are critical to the war effort, that having a safe, convenient, well-supervised place for their children to stay while they’re on the job is critical, and that our House members can help bring the day of victory closer by passing the Thomas Bill.

About

David Dismore is the archivist for the Feminist Majority Foundation. His journey from would-be weather forecaster to full-time feminist began with the powerful impression made by a photo and a few paragraphs about the suffragists in his high school history textbook; years later, he had his first encounter with NOW—in which he carefully peeked in a window before opening the door to be sure men were allowed. He was eventually active in the ERA extension campaign of 1978, embarked on a cross-country bikeathon for it in 1982 and even worked for pioneers Toni Carabillo and Judith Meuli.