ECE History

At ECESF’s 9th Annual ECE Leadership Conference, Patty Siegel delivered her keynote address, stressing the importance of both knowing our history, and weaving personal story into the historical narrative, as part of making the change we need to transform the early care and education our youngest receive.

We are honored to be able to share her last keynote with you, and dedicate these pages to her memory of course, but more importantly for her, to continue her advocacy for a world more centered on the importance of caring for humans and our youngest. Please take a moment to contribute your story, and/or a moment in history that is important to our ECE narrative.

Patty laid out ECE history in the United States in the form of a TV series, starting with WWII and moving up to the present. You can view the keynote here. (This keynote is worth listening to despite the quality of the recording and the end being truncated, the speech spans 3 Youtube videos.)

We have modeled the following information after her speech, using her TV series framing. We have added a prequel, with our series now starting before WWII with the depression-era WPA, and have added relevant details to many of her seasons.

We believe knowing early care and education and related education and social movement history informs our work and decisions in practice and policy. We have gathered some information here, and want to build a growing and dynamic history to inform our work. Is there something important you’d like to see added? Contact us.

Prequel: WPA

The first federal funding for child care came in 1933 as part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) with the goal of providing jobs for teachers, cooks, janitors and others unemployed in by the Great Depression. Though the programs were promoted at the time as important for all children, because of the employment-focus of the funds, these programs ended in 1943 as unemployment decreased and WPA ended. Yet, these programs proved so popular among the families served, they built a base for future support for funding child care programs, moving communities to advocate for child care to be funded out of the Lanham funds.[1]

Season 1: WWII

In 1942 the Lanham Act, which granted federal monies to fund and maintain public infrastructure and works, was passed.[2] This act funded child care sites and center for children whose parents were working for the war effort.[3] Communities had to prove that they were in need of child care due to their involvement in defense industries. [4] At the end of war when men came home a majority of the sites closed with the argument given that people didn’t needed the child care sites anymore as men began to replace women in the labor force, and many women were pushed back into unwaged domestic labor. Many California families and providers thought otherwise:

  • In California parents and child care workers turned their attention towards the capitol and worked to maintain child care. “California was the only state to convert war-time centers into a statewide child care system”.Washington, Massachusetts and New York approved funds but not enough to keep a majority of their sites open. [5] 
  • “Mothers and community activists in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area galvanized supporters immediately after hearing that the Lanham Act centers were slated to close.” They held meetings and printed leaflets and urged their local representatives to argue their case at the state and federal level. Some of this organizing led to various countywide parents groups like that in Los Angeles. A major theme in these conversations was that women needed to work and couldn’t just abandon their children during the day.[6]
  • A survey in San Francisco showed that of 898 people surveyed, 88% said that “publicly funded child care was irreplaceable”.[7]
  • This debate about public funding continued for years after the war in the California legislature, with some saying that women didn’t need access to child care outside of wartime and others saying it was crucial for their families. In order to please both parties in the Senate, California ended up funding child care centers only on a “means tested basis”, meaning that centers during peacetime would only be funded for those families who couldn’tafford to pay for child care otherwise.[8]

In 1954 a landmark Supreme Court decision was brought down, Brown v. Board of Education. You can learn more here.

Season 2: War on Poverty

Federal funding waned until the 1960s when child care was framed as an issue of poverty. In 1964 President Johnson declared a War on Poverty in the U.S. Included in his plan was Head Start, which has become the longest sustained child care program in the country. Patty Siegel puts forward that the takeaway from Head Start was that child care was not a silo, it was a part of the war on poverty as a whole, and that child care did not and does not exist in isolation.

Season 3: National Child Care Bill

In 1971 the Comprehensive Child Development Act was passed by Congress but vetoed by Nixon. This would prove to be a huge setback in the history of child care funding in the United States.

The Raising of America documentary series outlines this really important history.

Would you like to hold a viewing? ECESF can arrange to bring this series to you or hold a community viewing. Contact us to learn more about hosting or scheduling a viewing.

During this time San Francisco was a landmark leader for child care legislation and funding – with, Patty stating, nonprofits receiving more funds than anywhere else in the country. Some of San Francisco’s work led to state wide efforts for expanding funding and support including Governor Jerry Brown’s 1975 expansion of alternative child care program resources around the state.

You can learn more about how California’s Proposition 13 & 98 fit into this history here.

In 1979 Alan Cranston introduced Bill S4 – Child Care Act of 1979. This bill would “(1) provide assistance to the States in improving the quality and coordination in child-care programs; (2) assess the need for child-care services in the Nation; (3) provide assistance to families who cannot pay the full cost of child-care services; and (4) strengthen the functioning of families by seeking to assure that parents are not forced by lack of available programs or financial resources to place a child in an undesirable facility.[9]” While it was eventually shot down by Congress, it did start a discussion: Who will be the prime sponsor of these provisions? Schools? Or mixed-delivery?

Season 4: 1986-1990

In the late 1980’s the Children’s Defense Fund introduced the Campaign for Act for Better Child Care and they worked on this bill around the country. The bill was introduced in 1988 and finally passed in 1990.

Patty Siegel discussed various mobilizing efforts in San Francisco of which she was most proud. One was a protest around the Federal Building where children and adults encircled the building with paper to symbolize families and children being locked out of child care.

The Child Development Block Grants were a major victory for early care and education around the country. Some features of the grants included that states received money and then decided how the funds would be appropriated. It also put in place a parent choice system, with some states having only had a parent choice voucher system and no mixed delivery. This bill did open money for Family, Friend, and Neighbor care, which Patty Siegel described as critical for people with swing shift jobs or those who work nights.

Season 5: Making Child Care Better and Welfare Reform, 1990-2000

During this time there were congressional hearings about funding and success of CCBDG. Welfare reform led to increased funding for child care but not enough funding for quality. It also led to stricter rules for families receiving welfare including work and school requirements and time limits.

Season 6: Let’s Fix It, 2000 to 2008

This time period led to concerns about quality, vouchers, and license-exempt care. With new requirements there were not necessarily new funding sources. Prop 10 led to First 5, which gave county level supports. Growing concerns and action led to no new federal money, but new layers of requirements with no funding for implementation.

Learn more about AB212 and CARES here, and SF Wages+ and C-Wages here.

Season 7: Great Recession, 2008-2009

In 2008 funding fell rapidly. California alone lost one third of its prior levels of funding.

Season 8: Rebuild/Strengthen the system

After loosing over $1M, child care funding was restored in 2015 and 2016. The Child Care Law Center recognized that while there were great victories in the 2015-16 budget, ‘Significant work lies ahead for the child care and early education community considering that the Legislature cut nearly $1 billion from child care funding and 110,000 child care slots from 2008 through 2013. The reinvestment in the last two budget years returns 67 percent (71 percent using the annualized amount) of the funding cuts made and approximately 33 percent of slots lost in the past.”[10] For Fiscal Year 2016-17 the total child care spending in CA was budgeted as $1.8 billion. [11]


Patty ended with a call for stories.

Are you documenting your stories?

Your story is part of San Francisco’s Early Care and Education Narrative. Early care and education is being talked about nationally, at the state level, and in San Francisco. Those who provide our children with care and education every day, who study and experience what infants, toddlers, young children and providers need, have important insights to share. That’s you!

Document your stories. Patty Siegel talked about the impact telling our collective stories can have. Create a place to collect your and your community’s stories–it can be the file folders, an electronic file, or whatever works for you–but take a moment to save those stories so they are ready!

Share your story! Let our community and elected leaders know about what we need to provide quality care and education and why our children, families, and community need it.  Share your story here–we will help build a collective narrative of San Francisco’s ECE community of parents, teachers, and children–and let you know great times to write letters to the editor, engage in social media, or contact leaders.



[1] Cohen, Abby J. “A Brief History of Federal Financing for Child Care in the United States.” The Future of Children. N.p., Summer 1996. Web. 21 Oct. 2016.

[2] Cohen, Abby J. “A Brief History of Federal Financing for Child Care in the United States.” The Future of Children. N.p., Summer 1996. Web. 21 Oct. 2016.

[3] Child Care in California Study Guide

[4] Cohen, Abby J. “A Brief History of Federal Financing for Child Care in the United States.” The Future of Children. N.p., Summer 1996. Web. 21 Oct. 2016.

[5] Fousekis, Natalie Marie. Demanding Child Care: Women’s Activism and the Politics of Welfare, 1940-71. University of Illinois Press, 2011. 39

[6] Fousekis, Natalie Marie. Demanding Child Care: Women’s Activism and the Politics of Welfare, 1940-71. 39-47

[7] Fousekis, Natalie Marie. Demanding Child Care: Women’s Activism and the Politics of Welfare, 1940-71. 48

[8] Fousekis, Natalie Marie. Demanding Child Care: Women’s Activism and the Politics of Welfare, 1940-71. 39-64

[9]S. 4 (96th): Child Care Act of 1979.” N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Oct. 2016.

[10]Analysis of Child Care Provisions in the California State Budget for Fiscal Year (FY) 2015-2016.” Child Care Law Center. August 3, 2015. Web. Oct. 2016

[11]Child Care Analysis – California State Budget FY16-17 — Child Care Law Center.” Child Care Law Center. N.p., 27 July 2016. Web. 21 Oct. 2016.