By Michelle Peng, All Our Kin intern
March is Women’s History Month, dedicated to the phenomenal women who have broken barriers and created opportunities for those who have followed. At All Our Kin, we have been reflecting on women’s narratives of excellence, solidarity, and strength–narratives that often remain untold. One such narrative is the long history of child care advocacy in the United States–a history that has always been driven by and centered around women. We honor the legacies of child care advocates, and look to their leadership in shaping our work to elevate family child care today.
The work of nurturing and educating our youngest children has historically been considered “women’s work,” taken on by mothers who cared for their own children without compensation, and enslaved or employed women caring for other people’s children. Unsurprisingly, child care work often fell to women of color. Even today, the demographics of the child care workforce continue to reflect patterns of power and privilege. Ninety-four percent of child care workers are female, and nearly half are women of color. As a result of the traditional devaluing of women’s work, particularly the work of women of color, the profession of early childhood education is often overlooked in both policy and practice. The average wage for child care workers is $9.62 per hour, despite what we know about the critical importance of early care and education to the vitality of children, families, and communities.
And yet, as long as these trends have existed, there have been women–child care providers, parents, advocates–who have resisted. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, women demanded support for the hard work of raising children. Progressive Era reformers like Jane Addams and Julia Anthrop fought for Mother’s Pensions that supported widowed mothers raising children. Decades later, poor, black women like Ruby Duncan pushed for programs that supported women and children nationwide in what became the Welfare Mothers’ Movement. Beyond these examples, there have been countless leaders who have fought for families and children, whether during the Progressive Era, the New Deal, the Women’s Rights Movement and the Welfare Mothers Movement of the 1960s, or the advocacy in the wake of welfare reform in the 90s, which led to the founding of All Our Kin. The actions of these activists brought national attention to the work of child care and often resulted in policies that better supported mothers and children.
In 2018, women continue to make history in the field of early childhood. Just last week, Congress passed the largest increase to child care funding in history, a bipartisan deal that included an additional $2.37 billion for the Child Care and Development Block Grant and $610 million for Head Start (including a $115 million increase for Early Head Start). The credit for these unprecedented investments in child care goes to the early childhood professionals, mothers, and advocates across the country who have been relentless in pursuit of the supports that our educators, children, and families need and deserve.
Even as we celebrate these victories, we know that there is still work to be done. At All Our Kin, we will continue to partner with the family child care providers in our network, and the families they serve, to keep the momentum going and secure big wins for our youngest children and the educators who care for and love them. And while we look towards the future, we will continue to honor the advocates, the women, who have brought us to this point. During Women’s History Month, and every day, we know that our work would not be possible without the narratives they shared, the changes they catalyzed, and the women they empowered.
For more information about the history of child care work in the United States, check out the National Women’s Law Center report: Undervalued: A Brief History of Women’s Care Work and Child Care Policy in the United States