"The Suspect Matron": A History of Sheltering Arms Day Nursery and the Origins of the American Childcare Worker (1890-1940) Open Access

Spangler, Stephanie Mae (2012)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/08612p37f?locale=en


In the United States, there are more than 11 million children under the age of five that
require care outside of the home.1 Recent scientific studies have proven that the first five
years of life are pivotal for neurological developmental.2 The most developmentally
significant years, for many American children, consequently, are those spent in the
childcare system. Despite this proven significance, the childcare worker retains one of the
lowest occupational statuses in the United States. Reasons for the marginalization of the
childcare worker are multifaceted, but one unstudied explanation is the historical origins of
the profession itself. Originating in the late nineteenth century in the form of the "matron"
in day nurseries, this occupation has always experienced low wages, long hours, and
My thesis will argue that the foundational period from 1890 to 1940 provides a key
framework for understanding the marginalization of the profession over the course of the
next century. Scholars such as Linda Gordon, Sonya Michel, and Mary Frances Berry have
written extensively on the class tensions and conflicting motives between the elite
founders of the day nurseries and the poor women for whom they advocated. These works,
however, have not included a consideration of the figure of the matron. The matron is not
only an essential actor in this childcare narrative, but also a lasting result of the negative
influences of the conflicting intentions within the day nursery movement of the early
twentieth century.
1 NAACRA. (2009). Parent's Perceptions of Child Care in the United States.
2 Jack P. Shonkoff and Deborah A. Phillips. From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early
Childhood Development.
National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. 2000.

Table of Contents

Introduction 2
"Tainted Work" 13
"Caught in the Crossfires" 30
"Work of the Heart, Not of the Mind" 49
Conclusion 66
Bibliography 71

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