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Is It Un-American for Mothers to Work?

By Diana Bowers-Smith

Posted on October 22, 2020

We want our nursery centers Brooklyn Eagle March 9 1947
"We want our nursery centers." Brooklyn Eagle, March 9 1947. Photographs from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, SWEL_0298; Center for Brooklyn History, Brooklyn Public Library.

In the wake of WWII, Brooklyn’s working mothers fought to continue government-funded childcare.

Women in Brooklyn have been leaders of social change on every conceivable political front, from the fight for racial justice and the right to vote, to equality around labor and reproductive rights. Women have also been at the forefront of protest efforts against the Vietnam War and for environmental justice. In this newest story from Urban Archive using CBH’s recently-expanded collections, we highlight Brooklyn women with powerful activist legacies, from ordinary women joining the workforce during World War II, to the formation of a barmaids union, to icons like Lena Horne.

Many of the women who joined the workforce in WWII were mothers, and as a result, New York City created the Mayor’s Committee on Wartime Care of Children. Through the committee, funding was allocated for the development of nursery schools and childcare centers. Government funding paid for two thirds of the operating cost for the centers. By 1944, there were 52 such centers serving 2,700 children between the ages of 2 and 10 in New York City alone.

By 1946, however, federal funding had dried up, and in 1947, New York state stopped funding these efforts as well. In response, a group of Brooklyn mothers and children protested in the streets, as shown above. The war had changed life permanently, and there was still definitely a need for affordable and accessible childcare. Unfortunately, funding continued to decrease, and government funding for childcare is very much still an issue today. Many Brooklyn mothers are now asking the same question displayed on the protest wagon in this week’s photograph: “Is it un-American for mothers to work?”

Learn more about Women’s Activism in Brooklyn and explore more historic stories of New York City activism with the hashtag #ActivismInTheFiveBoroughs.

Interested in seeing more photos from CBH’s collection? Visit our online image gallery, which includes a selection of our images. We look forward inviting you to CBH is the future to research in our entire collection of images, archives, maps, and special collections. In the meantime, please visit our digital collections, available here. Our reference staff are still available to help with your research! You can reach us at [email protected].

This post was co-written by Michelle Montalbano.

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