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Unfair to Babies!

Unfair to Babies!


By: Erik Hans Krause

Date: November 8, 1938

Source: Krause, Erik Hans. Unfair to Babies!: A Helpless Infant Can't Go on Strike: It Depends on Your Care. Rochester, NY: WPA Federal Art Project, 1938. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

About the Author: Illustrator Erik Hans Krause was born in Germany in 1899 and moved to New York City. Unable to find work during the Great Depression, he joined the Works Progress Administration as a graphic artist.


Until the twentieth century, most governments did not get involved with child care. In the 1930s, as parents suffered under the financial stresses of the Great Depression, the U.S. government broke from tradition to promote good child care habits and to offer day care to working parents. Artists from the Works Progress Administration, such as Erik Hans Krause, created posters to further government goals.

Formal child care was rarely needed in preindustrial societies. In these agrarian societies, adults placed their offspring nearby while they worked and used various devices such as cradleboards to keep very young children out of harm's way. In general, child care was not seen as the exclusive task of mothers, but was shared with fathers, older siblings, servants, and neighbors.

These arrangements became strained as market-based demands sped up the pace of production and factories drew workers out of homes and fields. It became difficult for family members to blend child care with paying work. Reformers deplored situations in which children were either left alone or in the care of sisters only slightly older than their charges. In response, the first nurseries were established in the 1890s. However, not all reformers believed that the nurseries and day care were best for children. The U.S. Children's Bureau, founded in 1912 as a branch of the federal government, called for a policy that would support mothers so they could stay at home with their children. By 1930, nearly every state had passed some form of mother's pension law but the pensions were not enough to support low-income mothers. The coming of the Great Depression forced more mothers into the work force and led to increased government efforts to protect the health and safety of children.



See primary source image.


Public opinion in the United States has been slow to accept the ideas of maternal employment and child care. Although the popular media frequently reported on the spread of "latchkey children," such stories typically blamed working mothers, not a lack of affordable child care. Day care centers set up by the federal government during the Great Depression and World War II lost funding shortly after the war ended. In 1946, Congress refused to pass the Maternal and Child Welfare Act that would have continued federal funding for child care. During the Korean War, Congress approved a public child-care program as a way of enabling women to take the place of military-age men in the workforce but then refused to appropriate funds for it. Finally, in 1954, Congress found a non-controversial approach to child care when it approved the child-care tax deduction. This legislation enabled low to moderate income families to deduct some child care costs from their income taxes provided that the child care services were needed to permit the taxpayer to hold gainful employment.

By the late 1960s, Congress began urging poor and low income women to enter the workforce. It did so to reduce the number of Americans receiving welfare in the form of Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC). In 1996, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act replaced AFDC. Though more public funds for child care became available than ever before, problems of supply and quality continue to limit access to child care for welfare recipients who are compelled to take employment. Moderate income families must cope with ever-rising cost for child care. For all families, the quality of child care is compromised by the high rate of turnover in the field as the result of low pay and poor benefits.



McKinzie, Richard D. The New Deal for Artists. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1973.

Michel, Sonya. Children's Interests/Mother's Rights: The Shaping of America's Child Care Policy. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1999.

Rose, Elizabeth. A Mother's Job: The History of Day Care, 1890–1960. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

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