Need of Day Nurseries
May 25, 1897 — Second Conference for the Study of Problems Concerning Negro City Life, Ware Memorial Chapel, Atlanta University, Atlanta GA
Among the important questions of to-day is the need of day nurseries in cities and towns where children of parents who, by force of circumstances, are obliged to earn a living by working in service, may receive good and wholesome influences during that period of life when impressions are easily made and character readily molded, either for good or bad.
Many parents in cities must do work which calls them away from home, a often they toil from early dawn till a late hour to keep the wolf from the door, and, because of their small wages, their children often are forced to do work too hard for them that their meager earnings may add to the support of the still smaller children left at home alone during the day without the care of a poor but loving mother; left alone during that most important period of their lives when good or evil principles will, by cultivation, become the ruling passion through life; left alone to grow up amid a multitude of unfavorable surroundings. With these existing circumstances, it does not need a prophet to tell what the result will be.
It is a daily experience to find a child of tender years left to tend the baby with but a scant meal of meat and bread, while the widowed mother is out at work. At a late hour the mother returns, tired and almost exhausted; she proceeds at once to satisfy the hunger of her unfortunate children, and then, in her humble way, as best she can, with their bowed heads at her side she teaches them to lisp the “Lord’s Prayer,” then all are lost in bleep. The majority of the children who would he glad to find protection in a day nursery are not blessed with even this limited knowledge of a good moral training.
Such circumstances are not only unfavorable to the physical condition of the children, but detrimental to the parent, because such a state of constant activity and anxiety exhausts the vital force. Do you ask the result? Why, the mother dies at an early age, leaving little children in the hands of chance, to be brought up, quite likely among the weeds of vice and sin, going from bad to worse, until they become a menace to society. If there had been a day nursery with good conscientious persons at its head, in which these children could have had their physical, mental add moral natures properly cared for at a small cost to the mother, they would have developed into characters with sufficient magnitude to lift humanity to a higher plane, in- stead of degrading it; and the mother would have no doubt lived out her three score years and ten.
If you will examine the records of the mortality of the Negroes of this city, you will find that about one-third of the deaths occurred among the children, and a closer investigation will disclose the fact that tile majority of’ these deaths occurred in families where parents were obliged to work out and therefore could not detect disease in their little ones until too late to be relieved by medical aid.
I will relate only two of the many cases coming under my observation which make a strong appeal for the establishment of day nurseries. A widowed mother, who worked for a family in this city, had a boy about six years of age. This mother left her little boy alone, asking each morning the family in the adjoining room to have au oversight over him during the day. For several nights when the mother re- turned from her work between the hours of eight and nine, she found her boy with flushed cheeks, sleeping restlessly. Being tired she did
not investigate the cause of this abnormal condition, but attributed it to exhaustion from play. Finally the child’s condition became alarming, and one night about nine o’clock the mother took it to the office of a physician. After a careful examination, the mother was told that her child was in the third stage of typhoid fever, and recovery depended upon immediate attention and good nursing. Then the mother, with team in her eyes, related her sad story.
The other case is that of a boy who went into a physician’s office crying, and with his clothes covered with blood. What was the matter? Why, the same old story. The boy had had an artery cut with a stone that was thrown by another boy whose mother was obliged to work away from home, that she might be able to pay her house rent and feed and clothe her children: and but for the interest the physician took in the case, there might have been a dead boy, a lawsuit, and a juvenile criminal; all because of the need of day nurseries.
Another evidence of the need of day nurseries is the large number of boys, almost babies you might say, to be found not only loitering and making mischief in the alleys, but even in the chain-gangs. Many are there because in early childhood they had no one at home to hold them in check, and, yielding to the influences about them, their minds became steeped in sin and vice; and they grew wise only in the knowledge of petty crimes.
If the absence of day nurseries affected the physical nature only it might not be so alarming, but seeing the effect daily upon the mental and moral natures, and not knowing to what extent these natures may be transmitted to coming generations, we ought to see plainly the necessity of administering the ounce of prevention by establishing day nurseries.
We need an institution where mothers who are obliged to be away from home in order that they may earn an honest living may leave their children and have the satisfaction of knowing that their little minds are lifted above the miry slough and prepared to shun the pitfalls that have been the destruction of many a young life born to be useful.
Source: Social and Physical Conditions of Negroes in Cities: Report of an Investigation Under the Direction of Atlanta University and Proceedings of the Second Conference for the Study of Problems Concerning Negro City Life, Held at Atlanta University, May 25-26, 1897 (Atlanta: Atlanta University Press), 1897, pp. 63-65.