A Different Kind of Welfare State
A Different Kind of Welfare State
California’s Child Care Coalition in the Age of Protest, 1966–71
Abstract and Keywords
This chapter looks at the new voices that began speaking for child care, both in California and across the nation: black mothers in the welfare rights movement and white middle-class women in the feminist movement. While black and white poor mothers organized in CPACC and around welfare rights, a more visible women's movement developed among predominantly the white middle class. In 1966, the National Organization for Women (NOW) emerged out of frustration over the government's unwillingness to enforce Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which made discrimination by sex as well as by race illegal. With seasoned women's rights, labor feminists, and a few black women at its helm, NOW quickly moved to the forefront of the struggle for women's equality.
In the fall of 1970, Lynne Monti and Willie Mae Addison composed a letter rallying the mothers in the California Parents’ Association for Children’s Centers (CPACC) to action. “This has been a bad legislative year for Children’s Centers in Sacramento,” wrote the two activist mothers. Association members needed to do more than send in dues; they needed to motivate other parents in their centers to rejoin the fight for child care.1 The letter was occasioned by an impending major defeat for the child care coalition: the passage of a bill that moved the centers into the Department of Compensatory Education and gave enrollment priority to former, current, and potential welfare recipients. Monti and Addison were both divorced, single mothers. Monti was white, and Addison was black. Both had spent short stints on welfare before taking the helm of CPACC. Both worked for community agencies created with War on Poverty funds and had become involved in a political movement that reached beyond child care, Monti in the women’s movement and Addison in the welfare rights movement. Both saw child care as central to poor women’s quest for autonomy, dignity, and equality.
To take advantage of new poverty‑related federal child care funds, California legislators proposed legal and administrative changes to the children’s centers. The coalition vociferously fought the shift to federal funding in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Whether as a result of well‑intentioned but underfunded War on Poverty programs, or of politicians wanting to reduce the welfare rolls, federal child care funds threatened a unique segment of the social safety net that had persisted in California into the 1960s. This alternative vision grew out of a public assistance philosophy that put women at its center and assumed that the key to keeping women and their children out of poverty was affordable, good-quality child care. Early childhood educators believed (and rightly so) that the shift to federal funds and the welfare policy priorities connected to these (p.142) funds would undermine their professional status and the quality of the centers. Federal child care funds had two goals: employment for welfare recipients and serving the greatest numbers at the lowest cost. As a result, the state’s working poor feared that access to child care would be limited to welfare recipients. Most working mothers did not see themselves as fundamentally different from those on welfare (many, in fact, had been forced onto welfare for short periods of time themselves), but they desperately did not want their child care program to be viewed as a welfare service. Unfortunately, fears of a stigmatized welfare identity, whether applied to the mothers themselves or their children’s centers, made it difficult for the working poor to navigate the volatile political vortex of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
The explosion of social movements in the period meant that mothers in CPACC were no longer the only voice of poor mothers in political debate. A generation of poor women had been galvanized by the War on Poverty’s Community Action Program (CAP), which encouraged “maximum feasible participation” from poor people and drew many of the nation’s impoverished citizens into politics and activism. Others took political action because of the degrading nature of the welfare system. As a result, the nation’s poorest women began speaking for themselves and forming welfare rights organizations. They pressed for increased public assistance while establishing child care alongside other community services. Concurrently, middleand upper-middle‑class women, many of whom had participated in other movements for social change, began to speak out for women’s rights and women’s liberation. They also made demands for child care, although they did not focus their efforts on public child care legislation. Yet even with new activism from welfare recipients and middle‑class feminists, the front‑line advocates for publicly subsidized care remained those who benefited from the state’s centers—working mothers and the teachers who cared for their children. Despite the experience and political savvy of the child care movement, the unique welfare vision that had persisted in California fell victim to change in the late 1960s and early 1970s: generational shifts in the child care coalition, new ideas about child care that emerged from the War on Poverty and the women’s movement, and increasing hostility in the state and the nation toward welfare recipients.
A Leadership Transition
By the mid‑1960s, early childhood educators and teachers in the child care coalition were seasoned advocates. For almost two decades Theresa Mahler had been the chief legislative organizer for the California Children’s Centers Directors and Supervisors’ Association and had the support and assistance of other veterans such as Winona Sample, Violet Steiner, and Docia Zavitkovsky. Mahler was an astute and sophisticated lobbyist. During each legislative session she wrote (p.143) trenchant analyses of bills and distributed her summaries to educators across the state. She also employed a well‑practiced system for rallying educators as well as parents with children in the state’s centers. As other public preschool and compensatory education programs proliferated, the directors and supervisors took on the role of extolling the positive benefits of the children’s centers and emphasizing in particular their “educational advantages.”
The Parents’ Association faced a bumpier road in the late 1960s but survived into the 1970s because there was, as Lynne Monti recollected, “a structure in place.”2 Mary Young, whose daughter had long ago “graduated” from the child care centers, had wanted to retire as CPACC’s legislative advocate for some time. As her daughter, Deborah Young, recalls, “I remember her saying once that she couldn’t find anybody to take her place. Nobody seemed to step forward and she couldn’t leave the child care in the lurch by just saying, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ So until they found somebody to take her place, she stuck with it. She was loyal. Even if it meant more sacrifices.”3 Mothers active during this transition period remember Young as the legislative mastermind for the parents’ group. Fay Love, one of the mothers to infuse energy into the parents’ association in the 1960s and early 1970s, reflected on what Young meant to CPACC and organizers in San Francisco: “She was a whiz…. Mary would open her home up to us…. She was the one who taught us about the bills, what bills we should support and what bills we don’t support…. She introduced us to a lot of legislators. And she taught us letter writing. You didn’t only go to Sacramento; you also had to write letters and spread [the word] among your parents so they would know what was going on.” Young’s influence stretched across the state. Ellen Hall of Long Beach, president of CPACC in 1967, recalled that Young “would get the word down to the different areas to say, ‘Write, write, write because they need to know that you want that center open. And as a parent, you’re the only one that can do that.’” Young’s successor had big shoes to fill.4
Despite the changing clientele and turnover in leadership, the Parents’ Association continued to recruit mothers committed to the organization and who could be tutored in child care advocacy. Moreover, the centers themselves preserved the collective memory of a movement that relied on a new cadre of activists every few years. Fliers about local, citywide, and statewide parents’ association meetings were plastered on center bulletin boards, teachers watched children while the parents held their potluck dinner meetings, and Theresa Mahler continued to mentor parents in the art of advocacy.5 The retirement of CPACC’s seasoned lobbyist did not go unnoticed, however. At the Northern Section of the Directors and Supervisors’ Association meeting in December 1966, participants conferred about the need for “reactivation of parent groups throughout the State.” With the turnover in leadership there was “not the same enthusiastic activity in regard to legislation as in the past.”6
(p.144) While the level of parent activism waned momentarily, a new group of mothers and a handful of fathers soon emerged who believed that parents must maintain a voice in the political process. In 1966, Sharon Godske, a mother from San Francisco, volunteered to replace Young as legislative advocate for CPACC. Godske, a University of California at Berkeley graduate with a B.A. in political science, was the mother of two. She had returned to work outside her home in 1963 so her husband, Michael, could finish college. In order for Michael to focus on his studies, the Godskes enrolled their two daughters in the Argonne Children’s Center located in the city’s Richmond District, a neighborhood known for its Russian, Irish, Chinese, and Japanese immigrants and for its cool summer temperatures. Like most parents, the Godskes selected the center because it was close both to San Francisco State University, where Michael was finishing his degree, and to the University of California, San Francisco, where Sharon worked in the continuing education department.
When asked how she ended up as CPACC’s legislative advocate, Godske initially responded, “I don’t remember.” After a moment of thought, she said, “I think it’s because nobody else would do it. I really do. Plus the fact that I had a background in political science and I was aware of what was going on politically. I knew where Sacramento was. I knew the difference between the Assembly and the Senate and I knew what a Senate Bill or Assembly Bill was.”7
Godske picked up where Young left off, helping to organize letter‑writing campaigns, speaking at hearings, and meeting with local assemblymen such as John Vasconcellos (D‑San Jose), thirty-four and recently elected, who immediately identified himself as a friend of the state’s child care program.8 Over the next five years the legislative advocate job changed hands many times. After a year of traveling the state, writing letters, and talking to legislators, Godske turned her efforts back to her family and a troubled marriage. As she recalls, “I didn’t give it as much as I probably could have. And now I probably would be able to give it a lot more time and effort and energy. At that time, my voices were too scattered to do as good a job as I would have liked to have done.”9 Godske’s marriage dissolved in 1968, and she, like the majority of parents in the state’s centers, became a single mother.
Although Godske did not remain as legislative advocate for long, she was part of a cohort of dedicated parents who filled the leadership vacuum that Young’s departure created and included Willie Mae Addison, Fay Love, Bettie Keesee, and Lynne Monti. These parents, and the teachers who organized alongside them, continued to articulate their vision of a welfare system that not only served the state’s most impoverished citizens but also offered affordable, educational child care for the working poor.
In the late 1960s the War on Poverty continued to have a profound influence on the children’s centers and the national perception of child care. Initial funding decisions for Head Start had a long-term impact on the federal government’s most famous compensatory education program, and the ripple effect influenced state officials’ approach to all public preschool programs. During Head Start’s initial 1965 eight-week Summer Program, for example, some early childhood education experts determined that the government should spend $1,000 per child. Jule Sugarman, deputy director of Head Start, settled on a dramatically lower amount, $180 per child, which the administration announced without evaluating or trying to compromise with the higher funding suggestions. As a result, once the Johnson administration proclaimed the Summer Program a success, it became difficult for experts to lobby for additional funds. Behind this decision lay Lyndon Johnson’s conviction that it was more important to create a “massive” health and education program than one that “served a smaller number with a higher level of care.”10
A similar dilemma shaped debate over the children’s centers. The focus on child care for the poor and disadvantaged brought much‑needed national attention to early childhood education but propagated the assumption that public programs should serve only the neediest families. Theresa Mahler expressed the concerns of those who had long touted the educational merits of the centers in a speech she delivered at the twenty-fifth anniversary conference of the Children’s Centers Directors and Supervisors’ Association:
I must continue to emphasize how unfortunate it seems to many of us who are interested in education that all preschool programs are considered by the general public to be for the disadvantaged only. The publicity given to programs like Head Start created this impression. Therefore all preschool is considered to be Compensatory Education by the general public and most of those in the field of education who have no actual experience with nursery or preschools…. Right now the chief interest appears to be in how to get the most children into a preschool program for each dollar spent, with a woeful inattention to the quality of the educational program offered.11
Despite educators’ best efforts, both policymakers and the public increasingly equated child care with compensatory education.
In the late 1960s, after decades of neglect and inattention by the nation’s politicians, child care became a prominent item on the congressional agenda. In 1967, for example, members of Congress introduced eight child care‑related bills.12 Five aimed to improve the educational standards for child care, and the other three amended the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 to expand child care (p.146) so that poor mothers could enroll in job training and employment programs. None of these modest bills passed. The bill with the most profound impact on the Children’s Centers, however, was not explicitly about child care but rather welfare reform. The bill, which became law in 1967, amended the Social Security Act and authorized federal funds to purchase child care services for past and present welfare recipients and even for those deemed likely to go on welfare in the near future. The federal government offered these funds to states on a three‑to‑one matching basis, and initially without restraint on the amount of child care funds a state could request, although very little money was actually appropriated under the new law.
What proved to be most notable about this welfare reform bill was its mandatory work requirements for AFDC recipients, known commonly as the Work Incentive (WIN) Program.13 Any welfare client who turned down employment or a job training program—“females and males alike, mothers as well as fathers, even in single parent, female‑headed families”—would be refused government aid.14 For mothers with young children the law signaled a major departure from the original premise of AFDC, which had insisted that mothers stay at home to care for their children. A state, however, could not force a mother to work unless the state established child care, and because most states did not have well‑established child care programs, welfare mothers with young children could not participate in the WIN Program. Without child care, WIN job training and placement offices would turn these women away.15 Ironically, for those who had fought to preserve the Children’s Centers’ educational function, the state best poised to take advantage of these new child care funds was California.
This fixation on welfare-to-work policies was a direct response to the swelling welfare caseload during the 1960s and to a growing public association of welfare with racial and ethnic minorities. In 1960 close to 3.1 million Americans received ADC; by 1970 the number had soared to approximately 8.4 million.16 Female‑headed households made up 75 percent of all AFDC cases. In California, the number of welfare recipients had risen from 375,000 in 1963 to close to 1.6 million in 1970.17 By 1960, although whites still made up the largest single group receiving Aid to Needy Children (California’s welfare program), people of color—primarily blacks and Hispanics—made up 60 percent of recipients.18 The “new state’s rights rebellion brewing in the West” took “welfare fraud [as] its rallying cry.”19 Appealing to the racism of white workingand middle‑class constituents, politicians spoke in coded language about the “undeserving poor” wasting honest taxpayers’ money. With the rising numbers of welfare recipients, fiscally conservative members of Congress and California’s newly elected governor Ronald Reagan focused on programs that were punitive and aimed at reducing the size and cost of AFDC. For those in the California legislature who had grudgingly supported child care over the years or wanted to reduce state (p.147) spending, newly available federal funds seemed like a perfect way to shift social costs away from Sacramento and move families off welfare at the same time.
The Conservative Response
An argument for financial independence became increasingly important as white, property‑owning Californians led a major anti‑welfare tax revolt.20 Since counties paid for one-third of the state’s welfare budget and property taxes for homeowners rose considerably during this period, some blamed the easiest available target: rising welfare costs. Despite the relatively small proportion of the welfare budget allocated to ADC nationally, it received a disproportionate amount of the hostility.21
This climate elevated Ronald Reagan, the anointed leader of a grassroots conservative movement that emerged in the late 1950s, to lead the assault on welfare from the state house. The Democrats’ triumph over the Republicans in the 1958 state elections turned out to be a Pyrrhic victory, fueling a right‑wing resurgence that steadily gained strength. When two‑term Governor Edmund G. Brown decided to run for an ill‑advised third term, the state was no longer the liberal stronghold it had been in the early 1960s.22 Berkeley’s free speech movement, the Watts riots, and the farm workers’ movement all contributed to some Californians’ sense that the state was out of control. Reagan, a former Democrat who supported Helen Gahagan Douglas’s senatorial candidacy against Richard Nixon in 1950, was perfectly positioned to lead the assault and spearhead a conservative resurgence. Speaking against the radicals on college campuses, promising to control or contain inner‑city violence, and pledging to reform the state’s outdated welfare system, he won the governorship in 1966. In his inauguration speech delivered on a sunny but brisk January morning, the newly elected governor made his views on welfare clear. “We are a humane and generous people,” he said, “but we are not going to perpetuate poverty by substituting a permanent dole for a paycheck. There is no humanity or charity in destroying self‑reliance, dignity, and self‑respect.”23 Reagan’s views of the state’s welfare recipients resonated with lower‑middle-class homeowners who had watched their property taxes rise well above the national average. These Californians frequently pointed to “welfare” and the state’s undeserving poor as the causes of their high taxes. They blamed not only welfare recipients themselves but also the generosity of liberal legislators in the state’s capitol.24 Ronald Reagan sounded like the man to reverse this spending trend.
With antiwelfare sentiments running high, advocates continued to emphasize that the children’s centers permitted working mothers to be financially independent. The growing suburban backlash went hand in hand with a larger reaction against the War on Poverty. It surfaced not only in wealthier suburban (p.148) communities in the San Francisco Bay Area and in Orange County but also in Los Angeles’s working‑class suburbs—and even among some of the working poor who took advantage of the state’s child care program. Some mothers worried that the lack of attention to keeping child care affordable reflected the poverty‑focused policies of Governor Brown and other liberal Democrats, and a few joined the backlash against spending on social programs that aided the poor, especially African Americans.25
In April 1966 Grace J. Angstman composed a letter to Assemblyman Corley Porter (D‑Compton), the South Los Angeles County legislator who had been a vocal supporter of child care since the late 1940s. Angstman touched on themes that mothers had been emphasizing since the end of World War II: “I am only an ordinary mother trying to be assured of competent supervision of my minor children so I can support them and work without the constant worry of their running loose and, possibly getting into trouble.” At the same time, her letter also reflected the shifting political landscape of the late 1960s. Angstman was aware of the unsettling events around her: local and national race riots, War on Poverty programs perceived to be prioritizing services for African Americans, and increasingly violent clashes between antiwar demonstrators, the police, and National Guard. She could not contain her anger as she wondered where a white, low‑income working mother’s child care needs fit in this racialized political context. After politely thanking Porter for his continued support of child care, Angstman asked, “Must we desperate parents move to Watts, create a riot, loot, and be directly or indirectly responsible for deaths (and be colored), in order to even be heard, let alone receive any consideration? To date, it appears, unless one breaks the law, gets arrested, causes untold expenses (the National Guard), yet, claims emotional strain—perhaps shoplifts—and makes headlines, he or she cannot be heard…. if one creates anarchy, the Governor is nothing but sympathetic with ‘the plight of the poor people’ and the world is their oyster.”26 Although Angstman had benefited from a state‑sponsored social program of subsidized child care, she drew clear distinctions between herself and African Americans who benefited from War on Poverty programs and other forms of government aid. The letter reflects the discontent felt by some white working people who voted for Ronald Reagan that year.
Black Women Speak Out
Angstman represented the perspective of some white working‑class women in the children’s centers, but her views by no means reflected those of the majority. Indeed, many active mothers believed that parents’ groups forged interracial understanding. As Marjorie Caro, an immigrant from England with a son in one of the centers, described it, “I find the best example of racial/social integration (p.149) that works…. The mothers are from differing ethnic groups and widely differing social backgrounds, but we have one thing in common—we are determined to do the very best we can for our children, and we work as hard as we can to that end, both in our jobs and in our homes.”27 Caro and long‑time leaders of the coalition stressed commonalities rather than differences.
Angstman’s and Caro’s comments came as more and more African American women, both in the California Parents’ Association for Children’s Centers and in the welfare rights movement, began pressing for improved social services for themselves and their families. Fay Love was one of the increasing number of black women in CPACC. By the late 1960s, she recalls, “most of the leaders were black.” Lynne Monti described the parents’ association as “pretty mixed … my recollection is it was primarily black and white but a fairly substantial mix…. I don’t remember anything but real partnership.”28 The number of African Americans using the centers increased throughout the postwar period, first as the centers began serving more single mothers and then after they began accepting welfare recipients in the late 1960s. By 1974, black children made up 27 percent of those enrolled.29
Love, a single mother with two daughters, left her husband in 1962 after five years of marriage. Born and raised on a farm in Shaw, Arkansas, a rural community approximately thirty miles southwest of Little Rock, Love was the youngest girl of thirteen children born to Loretta and Ed Turner. Ed Turner occupied a place in the southern rural economy that receives little attention. He was an African American landowner who harvested a variety of crops on his two hundred–acre farm. Love grew up aware of segregation and inequality but does not remember experiencing racial discrimination until she came to California. As a young woman, she admired her father’s business sense and her mother’s community involvement; her mother served as treasurer of the local PTA for forty years, long after her last child had graduated.
The Turners encouraged their children to pursue their education; all eleven who survived childhood finished high school, and a majority of them graduated from college. After high school, Love’s parents gave her a train ticket west. Her older sisters had moved to the San Francisco Bay Area at their parents’ suggestion because, Love remembers, they “really wanted us to move forward, to get the best that we could get.” Moving to California “was one of the ways of doing it.” In Oakland, she met her future husband, Sam Love, who worked for the railroad, a job that afforded black men a certain amount of status in the 1940s and 1950s.30 In 1952 Sam joined the military and became one of the six hundred thousand African Americans who served in the Korean War. While he was away, Love’s mother became ill, so she returned to Arkansas to be close to home and attend Philander Smith College in Little Rock. After Sam returned and Fay finished college, the two were married at her sister’s house in Oakland. They purchased (p.150) a home in the Fillmore District of San Francisco, one of the city’s predominantly African American neighborhoods, and joined the 35 percent of blacks in the United States who owned homes.31 Love settled into married life, working at the post office until she gave birth to Deborah in 1957 and Beverly in 1959.
As it turned out, Fay and Sam had different visions of what it meant to have children and a family. Sam wanted to continue living a carefree life and spending as he pleased, while Fay believed the children should come first in terms of their attention and finances. These differences could not be overcome, and the couple separated. Fay and her two girls moved into a flat in 1962. As she recalls the transition, “When I paid the moving van, I had three dollars and sixteen cents. But my kids were happy. I was happy and we still are. Because I had made up my mind, I can do this! My mom would have taken my girls until I got fairly situated. No, I kept my girls with me and I survived.”32 Love never regretted her decision, but like most single mothers she had to juggle multiple responsibilities to make it on her own.
Initially, Love relied on her niece to help with child care, but eventually her niece needed a higher paying job and, as her daughters started getting older, Love wanted care that was a “little more constructive.” She happened upon the San Francisco child care centers in her search for an education‑based program. Immediately, Love realized how good the centers were for her daughters and for her. In addition to being in a structured educational environment, her daughters learned how to cook and sew, were taught healthy eating, and were exposed to “democratic principles and democratic ways.”33 Love viewed the centers as a blessing because the teachers were sympathetic to the difficulties faced by single working mothers. “Children’s Centers and Mrs. Mahler…. they helped me out so much. Because they worked with me with an understanding: this woman is trying, she’s trying. They gave me a lot of breaks, you know … The perks were like maybe I could be fifteen minutes [late] because I had to ride the bus. I had no car. And maybe it took me a little long.”34 Like her mother, Love believed deeply in education and community service. At her very first parents’ meeting at the John Muir Child Care Center, when the president of the council planned to step down, there was no logical replacement because most parents in the group were new. The head teacher pointed to Love and announced, “She’ll do it.” Love agreed and stayed involved for almost a decade.
Just as Love was assuming an active role in CPACC, 350 miles to the south in Compton’s Nickel Garden Housing Project, Johnnie Tillmon, also an African American migrant from Arkansas, began organizing poor mothers on Aid to Needy Children. The biographies of the two women are strikingly similar. Both were children of Arkansas farmers, both valued hard work, and both claimed not to have experienced racial discrimination until they moved to California. With the death of her father in 1960, Tillmon, a single mother of six, moved to (p.151) Los Angeles to be close to her brothers. She spent most of her adult life working in laundries, both in Arkansas and in southern California and took pride in the fact that she could support her family and be self‑sufficient. In many ways all that separated Love and Tillmon was luck. Love suffered a debilitating back injury while jumping from a second-floor window to escape an apartment fire but was back in the workforce after a year. In 1963, Tillmon’s arthritis and other physical ailments forced her to quit working permanently.
At first, Tillmon resisted the idea of public assistance. “One of the reasons I didn’t want to go on welfare,” she recalled, “was the attitude I heard people talk about … not in Arkansas, but here.”35 Once on welfare, she noticed that people treated her differently. She was politically active before she went on ANC, serving as shop steward for her union and secretary of a local Democratic Party club. Given that experience, and frustrated by the negative attitudes toward welfare recipients, Tillmon organized a group that eventually became Aid to Needy Children Mothers Anonymous, one of the first grassroots organizations founded and sustained by welfare mothers.36 Tillmon encouraged women like herself to become politically active and work to improve community programs for their children. ANC Mothers Anonymous advocated not just for welfare rights but also for education, job training, and child care programs that would allow mothers to move off welfare and become self‑sufficient. She later became the first woman president of the National Welfare Rights Organization. In a 1972 article in Ms. magazine, Tillmon declared boldly, “Welfare Is a Women’s Issue.”37
For Fay Love, working in the Children’s Centers Parents’ Association, and Tillmon, an emerging leader in the welfare rights movement, the critical issue was the same: Poor women with young children must have child care. Despite their similar biographies and the razor‑thin economic margin separating them, Love was praised for her independence and survival skills whereas Tillmon and mothers like her were vilified as lazy dependents of the state. The demonization of welfare drove an artificial wedge between welfare mothers and the working poor, making it difficult for these natural allies to work together toward a common goal. Nevertheless, especially at the local and regional levels, there were important points of contact between the child care and welfare rights movements and between working women and welfare recipients.
Tillmon’s organization represented one of many welfare rights groups emerging across the country that opposed work requirements, the invasiveness of welfare regulations, and the power of caseworkers. In 1967, under the leadership of George Wiley, a former leader in the Congress of Racial Equality, a national convention was held to pull together these disparate groups. The National Welfare Rights Organization (NWRO) provided a unified voice for the grassroots efforts of hundreds of welfare rights groups and helped these organizations coordinate demands for better services. While national and regional groups (p.152) had similar goals, local activists had more diverse interests such as establishing child care centers, job training offices, youth programs, and health clinics. They viewed such services as part of their “own war on poverty.”38
Willie Mae Addison, an African American mother of four who divorced her husband in 1962, embodied both movements. Addison had been forced to go on welfare for a short period of time in 1966 and understood what it meant to depend on assistance from the state. Employment and affordable, high‑quality child care had allowed her to stay off welfare since then. She became involved with CPACC when she became president of the Jane Addams Center’s Parents’ Association in 1964, and by 1968 her passionate advocacy and leadership skills had gotten her elected president of CPACC. At a meeting of the Directors and Supervisors’ Association in 1969, Addison informed the audience, “I think the Children’s Centers is the greatest program I know of.” She continued forcefully, “We’re going to the moon, we’re going everywhere else; let’s take some of the money and build Children’s Centers.”39
For Addison, advocating for state‑sponsored child care and welfare rights went hand in hand. She founded three welfare rights organizations in the South County communities of Carmelitos, a housing project in Long Beach, the Central Area, and Hawaiian Gardens, and was active in many other community groups. Whether she was working for child care or welfare rights, her goal was to improve services for the poor and enable them to achieve financial independence.40 Addison had honed her activist skills in the National Adult Participation Program (NAPP), funded by the Office of Economic Opportunity as a means of insuring “maximum feasible participation” of community members like Addison. Trained as a social worker, she worked for a short time as a teacher’s aide in a Head Start Program and was hired as a supervisor by the North Long Beach Neighborhood Center in 1968.41 Funded by the Office of Economic Opportunity, the center operated a twenty-four-hour crisis center; sponsored a Big Brother and Big Sister program; and provided free food, clothing, and furniture for the city’s neediest.42 Reflecting on her efforts, Addison said, “It’s rewarding work…. Poor people—kicked down by other agencies—come here and are surprised to find that we really care about them and are willing to help.”43 As California waged its child care battles in the late 1960s and early 1970s Addison and others like her who straddled the gap between the welfare rights movement and CPACC spoke to the importance of child care for poor women’s ability to provide for their families, educate their children, and increase their opportunities.
The California Commission on the Status of Women
The importance of child care both to women on welfare and to the working poor emerged in a series of hearings held by the California Commission on the Status of Women in October 1968. When John F. Kennedy created the President’s (p.153) Commission on the Status of Women in 1961, he did so at the suggestion of the newly appointed head of the Women’s Bureau, Ester Peterson, and Secretary of Labor Arthur Goldberg. While the commission obligated the president to study the problems confronting women rather than promote specific policies, it represented the first government‑sponsored organization to examine women’s status in American society. Its 1963 report, American Women, did not advocate dramatic changes in women’s roles; in fact, it reinforced women’s responsibilities as wives, mothers, and homemakers while ignoring welfare policies and other issues relevant to single mothers.44 At the same time, commission researchers amassed statistics and facts that supported some of the “complaints and problems” reported by housewives and women workers.45 Most important, the commission acknowledged that a growing number of women were working outside their homes. Their children, the report argued, needed affordable quality child care.46
Despite California’s progressive tradition the state was among the last to establish a Commission on the Status of Women, in part because political leaders believed women faced few inequities in the “golden state.” In 1965 two black Democrats in the legislature, Mervyn Dymally and Willie Brown, provided the leadership behind the proposal for a state commission.47 The California commission took a much stronger position on child care than the president’s commission had done. In its second report, published in March 1969, the commission declared that “it is safe to say that the single biggest problem of the working mother—at all economic levels—is adequate care of her children while she is on the job” [emphasis in the original].48
From its inception the commission conducted surveys and held conferences to expose the “sharp disparities in opportunity between men and women in a wide variety of areas” and recommended policy changes so that California women could make “their maximum contribution to the society.”49 The commission compiled statistics about women’s place in the workforce, their lack of political power, and their educational opportunities. Working women with small children made up 11 percent of the state’s female labor force, which meant that 256,000 families needed child care. Female‑headed households made up 10 percent of all California families, and 62 percent of them were below the poverty level with incomes below $3,000 a year. In its starkest examples the commission cited statistics from South Los Angeles, including the nationally famous black neighborhood Watts. In South Los Angeles in 1965, 26 percent of families were headed by a single mother; in Watts alone, 110,000 children needed child care.50 Finally, the commission echoed an argument long made by parents and other child care advocates: With 80 percent of the children in the children’s centers from single‑parent households, it was “clear that were the centers not available so that the parents can be self‑supporting, state or local government would have to provide far more costly assistance at a greater total tax load.”51
(p.154) California’s next governor, Ronald Reagan, showed little enthusiasm for the Commission on the Status of Women. He discouraged its members from making recommendations that required state money and instructed them to look to the private sector for solutions. Indeed, the governor, like many in the male‑dominated legislature, only grudgingly supported the commission. In an era when national and state attention began to focus on women’s equality, most agreed to sponsor the continuation of the commission because they knew it would not be smart politics to vote against the “women’s committee.” Vern Sturgeon, Reagan’s legislative liaison, scribbled across an internal Governor’s Office memorandum: “Nobody likes it but only a few have the nerve to vote against it. This is a subject that members joke about but almost all are afraid to vote against.”52
Despite the governor’s indifference, the commission moved forward with its agenda. In order to investigate Californians’ child care needs in more depth, the commission held hearings with the senate and assembly Social Welfare Committees in San Francisco on October 17 and 18, 1968. The commission made it clear that although they understood that many preschool education programs existed in the state, the hearings’ purpose was to survey state services that provided “care of children which takes place all day, primarily to meet the needs of working parents.” Reminded of the governor’s words, the hearings would facilitate a blueprint for the “future of day care services by both public and private bodies.”53 As had been the case since the legislature held hearings on child care starting in 1945, a diverse array of voices from powerful government officials, early childhood education experts and social workers, and employed mothers spoke to the issues. Marking a definite shift from normal committee hearings, the commission held an evening session in order to accommodate the schedules of working mothers. Lending credence to Vern Sturgeon’s view that legislators did not take the commission seriously, most members from the Senate and Assembly Social Welfare Committees did not attend and sent members of their staff to stand in their place.
Sensing the gravity of the shifting political context, Theresa Mahler realized that the state’s poorest women were being pitted against each other. She pleaded with the commission not to overlook the working families struggling to stay off public assistance in their effort to focus on providing child care for welfare recipients. “In our desire to establish all kinds of programs for those who are in WIN, or are on AFDC,” Mahler contended, “we should not lose sight of the needs for expanding programs for parents who are doing their self support, because otherwise we are moving these parents in and tossing the others out. I am hoping that all over the state consideration will be given to the fact that there are many families, not exactly living in the ghetto, but just one notch above, and it only takes a hairs breadth of their not being able to continue to get services or not being able to get in.”54 Mahler believed that the state should fund child care (p.155) for all these needy families. Having watched single mothers teeter precariously just above the poverty line and having listened to their personal stories, Mahler spoke both as a child care expert and a direct observer of what the children’s centers had meant to the more than 600,000 children who had come through the program since 1943.55 Her historical view of the children’s centers, especially her memory of the elimination of Lanham Act centers in 1945, led her to caution state officials that reliance on federal funds would compromise the “continuity, the security it gives parents to know this is an ongoing program.”56
Espanola Jackson, president of California Welfare Rights, followed Mahler and state education officials. Like Mahler, she grasped the importance of child care for poor women, whether working or on welfare, but she did not see education‑based care as the ultimate solution. Her views reflected those of California Welfare Rights and her San Francisco neighborhood, Bayview–Hunter’s Point. In the early 1960s, Jackson’s Merchant Marine husband had abandoned her and their six children. After she failed in efforts to force him to pay child support, Jackson had no choice but to go on welfare.57 Jackson, who had resided in the city’s oldest African American neighborhood since the 1940s, represented just one of many in her community forced onto public assistance. She remembered that as young as six she wanted to be like her grandmother, a preacher and community leader, and “go around and help people.” In 1966, after five days of rioting in Hunter’s Point, precipitated when police fatally shot a black teenager in the back, community members gathered to express growing frustration over the economic inequality between blacks and whites in San Francisco.58 Jackson attended a meeting at the Economic Opportunity Board office, a War on Poverty–funded organization, at which someone started talking about welfare rights. After that meeting she mobilized women in her neighborhood, encouraging them to think of public assistance as a right and not a privilege. At the first gathering of representatives from the state’s more than one hundred welfare rights groups in 1968, Jackson was elected president.59 Having been given a job by a Community Action Program and seeing the benefits of maximum feasible participation in her neighborhood, Jackson applied that approach to child care as well. In her testimony, Jackson spelled out the community control perspective. “Our number one goal,” she maintained, “is to employ welfare recipients, not others, in our welfare centers, child care centers, as well as any other centers that involve our mothers’ children. I’ve been sitting here as everyone talked about ‘we’ as though ‘we’ in this hearing are ready, but we have to give mothers of those in need rather than mothers that are wealthier the jobs in our day care centers in order to be useful and get off the welfare rolls.”60
To Jackson, community control of social service programs ensured that those initiatives met the needs of poor people. Poor citizens had founded their own children care program through Community Action Programs; Jackson was less (p.156) concerned about a child care worker’s level of training than whether she came from a neighborhood in need. Women on welfare sought jobs that paid them enough to feed and clothe their families and cover child care while they were at work. Like Mahler and other women in the child care coalition, Jackson recognized that child care was key to keeping women off public assistance. “Right now,” she observed, “there are still mothers dropping out of their [job training] programs because of not having child care centers in the communities in which they live.”61 Jackson represented women whose perspective was shaped by race and position near the bottom of the economic ladder, a place not far from that occupied by advocates in CPACC.
Soon after Jackson spoke, Bettie Keesee stepped up to the microphone to represent the California Parents’ Association for Children’s Centers. In 1968 Keesee, whose daughter had been in the centers for eleven years, followed Ellen Hall as president of CPACC. Keesee, a service clerk at a linen company in Oakland, had struggled to raise her daughter and make ends meet. Described by another mother active in CPACC as “really smart and really hard working,” she had become politically savvy during her years in the organization.62 She struck just the right tone as a passionate mother advocating an expansion of the state’s program to include those coming off welfare; at the same time, she reinforced that centers remained essential for low‑income workers like herself. “I’m a concerned mother,” Keesee began. “The name is not important—perhaps you could call me Mrs. Statistic.” Keesee emphasized that not only was she “speaking as one of the 85 percent of parents with children in the centers from one‑parent families” but she was also there “to speak for the parent and child who are not as fortunate…. I’m here to speak for the waiting child!”63 Like an earlier generation of child care activists, Keesee viewed her personal child care needs as part of a larger struggle that many mothers like her faced.
What might Jackson and Keesee have said to each other as they sat waiting before or after testifying? Single mothers separated by race and the slimmest of economic margins, they proposed different types of child care for poor families. It is possible that they talked about poor mothers’ collective needs. Perhaps Keesee tried to convince Jackson that teachers in the state’s child care centers took excellent care of both black and white children. Keesee had advocated alongside black mothers in CPACC and seemed to understand the needs of poor mothers, whether employed or on public assistance. Jackson might have talked to Keesee about organizing an interracial poor people’s movement, “because,” as she put it, “when you’re poor you’re all in the same boat.”64 It is equally possible, however, that they might not have exchanged a word.
More sharply divided by the politics of a stigmatized and racialized welfare state than by their actual needs, the child care coalition and welfare rights groups did not always agree on what kinds of services they desired. Yet both (p.157) supported the Child Care Construction Act of 1968. Jackson and Tillmon preferred a community‑controlled program, but with such desperate need for safe, affordable care they welcomed the prospect of new children’s centers in poor neighborhoods across the state. In this they resembled the black activists who twenty years earlier had pushed to create the privately funded Avalon Child Care Guild and for state‑sponsored care at the same time. Introduced by Senator Mervyn Dymally (D‑Los Angeles) and Assemblyman Alan Sieroty (D‑Beverly Hills), the Construction Act provided funds to build new child care centers for the first time since World War II. Sieroty, an eager first‑term legislator from the west side of Los Angeles, one of the wealthiest districts in the state, had asked Venice, the one impoverished community he represented, what he could do for its neediest residents. He recalled that “there was a lot of disagreement about things. But the one thing they did agree on was child care.”65 Sieroty was also influenced by the powerful women in his district who, two months later, formed Neighbors of Watts, “a group of women motivated towards some measure of narrowing and bridging the social and economic gaps between these two communities”—Beverly Hills and Watts.66 The group’s primary goal was to assist the organization Johnnie Tillmon helped form, ANC Mothers Anonymous of Watts, with the seed money and eventual funding for the child care center they had been trying to create since 1963.67 To ensure success in the senate, Sieroty partnered with Dymally, elected the state’s first black senator in 1966 and a seasoned advocate for child care.
The coalition mobilized quickly around the measure. With overcrowded school districts taking back child care facilities for elementary school classrooms and the increasing number of mothers with children under the age of six in the labor force, both educators and parents understood the pressing need to fund new centers. In San Francisco, Theresa Mahler let her legislators know that without additional state money for operation, the new children’s center slated to open in Bayview–Hunters Point, which had been built with city funds, would have to keep its doors closed. She wrote state Senator George Miller (D‑Contra Costa) that “this becomes more and more difficult to explain to the many, many parents needing the service.”68
At first glance it seems surprising that Ronald Reagan, the governor who touted reducing the cost and size of government as a key goal of his administration, signed a bill to allocate $2.8 million in additional funds to children’s centers. Knowing Reagan’s position on social spending, Mahler and other advocates framed child care as a means of keeping women off of welfare. When Agatha Cohee, a leader in the Directors and Supervisors’ Association, wrote to Reagan regarding the importance of centers to the working poor, she openly catered to the governor’s conservative views: “You might see it also as a means by which families can help themselves to be financially independent instead of relying (p.158) upon welfare.”69 When Mahler composed her letter to Caspar Weinberger, who supported the program both when he was in the state legislature and then as the state director of finance, she emphasized the coalition’s longstanding argument about self‑sufficiency: “No other program served the needs of families of working mothers who are doing everything they can to remain self‑supporting and independent, and off the public assistance rolls.”70 Dymally had inserted an amendment to the Child Care Construction Act that allowed California to take advantage of the federal government’s Work Incentive Program (WIN) child care funds, which covered 75 percent of costs. The Department of Health and Welfare emphasized the workfare aspects of the measure. The Construction Act would provide child care so parents could, as Reagan emphasized in his inaugural address, turn a “relief check to a paycheck,” ultimately “reducing current cost for social benefits for some of these people.”71
When Reagan signed the Child Care Construction Act he approved the first capital outlay for the program in twenty-five years. In all, the state built twenty new centers. The Venice School District, which inspired Sieroty’s legislation, submitted plans for a children’s center to serve 125 children.72 In the early summer of 1969, the San Francisco Children’s Center Parents’ Association held a special program celebrating the opening of the first of two new centers in Bayview–Hunters Point, the Burnett Children’s Center. Many leaders of the parents’ association attended the ceremony, including Fay Love, Bettie Keesee, and Willie Mae Addison, who flew up from southern California. They invited new parents and members of the community. Perhaps Espanola Jackson was in attendance.73 Under the aegis of the Department of Education, the center served seventy-five children in one of San Francisco’s neediest communities.74
Child Care and the Women’s Movement
While black and white poor mothers organized in CPACC and around welfare rights, a more visible women’s movement developed among predominantly the white middle class. In 1966 the National Organization for Women (NOW) emerged out of frustration over the government’s unwillingness to enforce Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which made discrimination by sex as well as by race illegal. Formed by Betty Friedan, author of The Feminine Mystique, and other leaders of state and national commissions on the status of women, NOW spelled out its main goals as “to take action to bring women into full participation in the mainstream of American society now, assuming all the privileges and responsibilities thereof in truly equal partnership with men.”75 With seasoned women’s rights, labor feminists, and a few black women at its helm, NOW quickly moved to the forefront of the struggle for women’s equality.
From its founding, NOW identified universal child care as one of its primary (p.159) goals. The organization’s original statement of purpose advocated for “a national network of child‑care centers and other social innovations to enable more women to work while raising a family.” For members of NOW, child care would relieve women of the sole responsibility for childrearing. They could enter the workforce and simultaneously begin sharing parenting responsibilities with men, and child care centers would eventually be seen as an essential public service, similar to public schools.76 Despite its demand for universal child care, however, NOW devoted the bulk of its energies to winning abortion rights and advancing the Equal Rights Amendment.77 It did not assume a leadership role in federal or state legislative campaigns. Indeed, the head of National Task Force on Child Care bemoaned the fact that women in her own NOW chapter were more interested in employment discrimination and pay equity than in child care.78 As Aileen Hernandez, president of NOW in 1970, remembers it, “In the very early days of NOW, there were some excellent ‘papers’ on a variety of subjects and one of them was on child care. My impression from those days was that while NOW identified child care as an issue, it never became a real national priority, although some local chapters took it on.”79
At the same time, younger women in major cities formed women’s liberation groups. Unlike NOW, which stressed legal and political equality, they focused primarily on equality in the private realm. The groups, as Sara Evans writes, “had little use for formal politics or detailed policy discussions for the first year or two.”80 These predominantly white women, many of whom had been active in civil rights, antiwar, and New Left organizations, realized that as they worked for the liberation of others they needed to address inequalities they personally experienced that were based on sex. They formed consciousness‑raising groups and criticized women’s roles in the family much more readily than the President’s Commission on the Status of Women or NOW had done. Espousing democratic principles and practices in much the same way that black women advocates of community control did, many groups focused on self‑help and building alternative institutions rather than legislative solutions. San Francisco Women’s Liberation, a feminist coalition, held a mass meeting in May 1970 and began distributing a newsletter soon thereafter. By the end of the year, the publication had 1,400 subscribers. The newsletter raised the topic of child care but did not highlight it as an issue for immediate action. The issue was suggested as a future workshop topic as the newsletter reported on parents working to establish a center at San Francisco State College and proposed a babysitting exchange to meet members’ immediate child care needs.81 In short, an affordable, quality public child care program did not hold the same urgency for these young, single women as it did for the working poor and women on welfare.
NOW chapters were established in both San Francisco and Los Angeles by 1967. Although local chapters developed their own priorities, funding child care for the (p.160) working poor did not make the top of their lists. San Francisco NOW did not have a contact person for child care issues until late 1969 and did not establish a child care committee until June 1970. In 1971, San Francisco NOW finally identified child care as one of the chapter’s three top priorities, but by then the children’s centers had already faced their most serious challenges. It is equally unfortunate that the policies and initiatives on which NOW concentrated did not address poor women’s needs. On the national level as well, NOW members interested in the issues surrounding poverty had a difficult time rallying the membership to the cause.82 The women who joined San Francisco NOW seemed to have no idea that many women in their own city had been working for child care for more than twenty‑five years. The chapter committed to providing child care for membership at meetings and described doing so as a step toward “getting the ball rolling for free day care centers everywhere.” Although they began to organize a child care committee and listed it as a major goal of the chapter in 1971 there is no evidence that the NOW membership actually took action on a state level before 1973.83
By the early 1970s, however, NOW and other women’s movement organizations had begun conversations with the child care coalition. The evidence suggests that during CPACC’s final years, working‑class parents made an effort to collaborate with women in NOW. For example, The Covenant, the CPACC newsletter that parents began publishing in February 1972, included information on the National Organization for Women in a section on organizations working toward similar goals. CPACC notified its membership that “COVENANT draws your attention to the activities within this group devoted solely to legislation affecting children, child care centers, and single parents” and urged parents to look past the “flamboyant if not downright ‘nasty’ newspaper articles” about NOW.84 Lynne Monti, active in both movements, was the driving force behind CPACC’s move to connect with the women’s movement.
Just as the women’s movement gained momentum in 1965, twenty‑one year‑old Monti drove back to San Francisco in her Nash Rambler packed with her possessions and her two young children after deciding to separate from her husband. Confident she had made the right decision but deeply concerned about how she would support her family, Monti began searching for a well‑paying job that allowed her to “make as much money as a man.” She had no job skills; “the only thing, honestly, I knew how to do was nothing.”85 That summer, however, Monti was one of two women accepted into Safeway’s grocery checker training program. With a job lined up, she began the search for affordable care for her children. Eventually, she found her way to the San Francisco Unified School District’s Francis Scott Key Children’s Center. Monti faced more than just the nine-to-five worker’s dilemma. As a grocery checker, she often had to work nights and weekends, making it necessary to cobble care at state centers with more expensive and less reliable in‑home care.
(p.161) Born to Thomas Hicks Beeson Jr. and Viola Ana Christina Hansen Beeson on July 25, 1943, activism was Monti’s heritage despite her initial resistance to it. Her grandfather was a socialist who had joined the farm holiday movement in Madison County, Nebraska, during the Great Depression. The Farm Holiday Association often intimidated potential buyers at farms repossessed by banks and put up for auction by staging “penny auctions” so association members could purchase farms for a few dollars at most and return them to their original owners.86 Monti’s mother, Viola Beeson, “was sort of raised in politics and passionate about it.” She had a sporadic relationship with the Communist Party and in 1946 ran for the Omaha School Board on a child care and integration platform and with strong support from the black community. She did not, however, win. That same year she also traveled with three‑year‑old Lynne to Washington, D.C., as part of a grassroots effort by women from across the nation to demand the continuation of price controls after the end of the war.87 In the early 1950s she headed up the Ethel and Julius Rosenberg Defense Committee in Omaha. Eventually, the Beeson family fled Nebraska in 1953 because of Viola’s political activities. They settled in San Francisco and initially lived in a predominantly African American neighborhood where Monti was one of only two white students in her class. We “moved to the Western Addition, near the Fillmore,” she recalls. Her mother “really did it because I think philosophically her identification with the oppressed was so great that she wanted to live in the ghetto.”88
Rebellious and independent as a young woman, with a mother who worked long hours, Beeson navigated the city without much supervision. She met her future husband, Thomas Monti, in Mountain Lake Park when she was only thirteen, and the two youngsters bonded through their love of the outdoors. They had dated for three years when Beeson became pregnant during her senior year in high school. She told her sister, and they discussed abortion, but the couple decided to marry and have the baby. They were too young to marry without parental consent, so, Monti recalls, “we falsified our IDs … and got married the next day at City Hall in San Francisco at seventeen.” After their daughter, Lisa, was born in 1961, the Montis moved to Nebraska, to a farm close to where Lynne had spent her childhood. They tried farming for a year, and then Thomas enrolled at the University of Oklahoma. By that point Beeson “was really wildly unhappily married.” After confronting her husband about his extramarital affairs she decided that she needed to leave, wrote him a note, and headed to California with their two children.89
After securing employment and child care, Monti joined her center’s parents group. Bold, straightforward, and driven by a strong sense of social justice, she quickly developed into one of the San Francisco parents’ association’s key activists. “The people who emerged as leaders in the parents’ association,” she reflects, “were very confident, probably hard‑working, capable, upwardly mobile, (p.162) leadership, strong leadership. You know, you had to want to do it. They couldn’t make you do it. You can go to a meeting and be quiet, but … the people who emerged were very sophisticated, outspoken, capable people.” Monti served as the organization’s legislative advocate starting in 1969, held numerous other positions, and was elected president of CPACC in 1971. Like many mothers before her, she was mentored by Theresa Mahler, who taught her how to navigate the legislature, conduct herself as a lobbyist, and inspire and motivate other parents. She used these skills both in CPACC and for other organizations and causes related to child care.
Monti traversed between many worlds in the late 1960s: her job as a grocery checker, her life as a student at San Francisco City College, and her child care activism as well as her responsibilities for two young children. At City College, she and other mothers pushed the administration to establish a child care center. In order to pursue her college degree, Monti decided to go on welfare. When asked about that experience she responded, “Being on welfare—I was already poor. But to have time and to be twenty‑seven years old and to go to school … I just thought I’d found heaven. I had more time with my kids. I could study. I had more flexibility
(p.163) in my schedule. They were happier…. I just felt so lucky. I also happened to have a social worker that was very supportive of me and really believed that women should get an education.”90 That positive experience may well have had something to do with skin color; as a white woman, Monti did not face the same negative stereotypes from caseworkers that black mothers did. By the late 1960s some caseworkers could not have helped internalizing what they had been told about black welfare mothers being immoral, irresponsible, and undeserving of financial assistance.91 Yet in many ways Monti’s situation resembled that of black single mothers on welfare who had children while married and then either left or were abandoned by husbands. Unfortunately for black women in a position similar to Monti’s, many white people were predisposed to see them in a one‑dimensional fashion, as women who had illegitimate children, bore additional children to increase welfare checks, and lacked the desire to work.
Soon Monti joined the rapidly expanding women’s movement in the Bay Area. As she describes her feminist viewpoint, “I think I’ve always been a feminist, I mean, in my heart of hearts. I am an independent person…. My grandmother drove tractors; she liked to be outdoors. I was raised by a single parent and my mother very much was a feminist long before it was an ideology.” Monti’s feminist child care activism won her a place on the advisory board of the state Commission on the Status of Women, and in 1971 she attended her first meeting of the Bay Area Women’s Coalition. Formed in 1969 by representatives of more than thirty women’s organizations, ranging from Women’s Liberation to the AAUW and NOW to the National Negro Business and Professional Women, they agreed on nine key issues for the coalition to address and placed “developing government sponsored child care” first on the agenda.92 Monti eventually chaired the child care committee for the coalition. She described the coalition of educated, professional women and their tacit support of child care:
Although for a long time … I couldn’t quite figure [it] out, I’ve reflected on … why child care didn’t seem to be more embraced as a feminist issue. I think the reason was that they were very supportive. I participated all the time, went to all the meetings, was a regular member, but I was the child care person. If I brought an issue, they’d pass it. They trusted me…. They were supportive of that. But they weren’t part of the childcare movement. They really were not part of the child care community. They were supportive of it, but in general, at least in San Francisco, … they tried to break through the glass ceiling in professorships and law offices, and affirmative action and businesses, in government jobs. Most of them, many of them, did not have children and it wasn’t a gut issue for them in the same way. Many of them, frankly, were better educated … not working class, not poor women…. If you asked them to do anything, they’d do it. [But child care] wasn’t their issue.93
(p.164) Under the best of circumstances the differing needs of middle‑class feminists and poor working women remained a barrier to a unified women’s movement that could rally around universal child care. Individuals like Monti, especially those rooted in feminism and the left politically, were a bridge between the two movements.
Tying Child Care to Welfare
Monti was pulled into child care organizing for CPACC. She observes that “it was a big deal to go lobbying…. it’s hard when you work all day and sometimes even two jobs and then you try to do this and you still have kids and we didn’t ever really have any staff support.” Monti’s legislative baptism took place during one of the biggest challenges the child care coalition had faced since the centers had become permanent in 1957: mobilizing against legislation to move the children’s centers into the Office of Compensatory Education.
In the spring of 1970, Jerry Lewis, a Republican assemblyman representing San Bernardino, introduced AB 750 with the “legislative intent that maximum federal reimbursement be obtained” for child care.94 AB 750 would consolidate all preschool, custodial day care, and children’s centers under the state Office of Compensatory Education. Simultaneously, in anticipation of the new federal welfare funds and at Governor Reagan’s suggestion, the State Department of Finance recommended a $4 million cut in children’s center funding. Since 1965 children’s centers had been permitted to enroll children of welfare recipients, but the law did not require them to do so. This bill directed the Department of Education (DOE) and the Department of Social Welfare (DSW) to enter into a contract whereby federal child care funds for welfare recipients would be paid by the DSW and the DOE would continue to oversee the state’s preschool programs. Most educators and parents viewed Lewis’s bill as fundamentally altering the “administration, eligibility, and the funding of the Children’s Centers.”95 For the directors and mothers, the proposed transfer represented a move away from education as a priority toward welfare‑oriented goals. Sharon Godske maintained that this administrative shift would mistakenly lump the families with children enrolled in the centers with “disadvantaged” families. Godske contended, “While our children may be economically deprived, they are not culturally deprived and in need of the special help offered by any of the Compensatory Education programs.”96
For Theresa Mahler, the changes represented a step toward reliance on federal funds, a threat to local control, and a move away from supporting the employed single mothers whom the centers had been serving since the 1950s. Mahler saw placing the children’s centers under compensatory education as formalizing the public’s association of child care with antipoverty programs such as Head Start and community centers.97 Docia Zavitkovsky, whose perspective was also (p.165) shaped by having lived through the federal government’s cuts to Lanham Act funds, said, “My personal feeling is that if you can possibly operate a quality day care program without federal funds, don’t ask for trouble by getting them.”98 Godske agreed, pointing to recent cutbacks in Head Start funding.99 As Monti recalls, “There were really two legitimate positions about accepting or not accepting federal funds.” Theresa Mahler “was against federal funds because she had seen … what had happened when federal funds were cut off overnight to the state of California and child care centers were closed overnight.” Mahler also feared a loss of “control over the quality of the program.”100 Others favored taking more child care funds, no matter where they originated, in order to expand the service to more families.
AB 750 exposed a divergence of opinion among members of the child care coalition as well as their liberal supporters in the legislature. A number of educators and policymakers from southern California held a different view from that of Mahler and CPACC. For those in Los Angeles who had witnessed the Watts riots and the problems of urban poverty firsthand, “the possibility for huge expansion” of child care trumped keeping the centers funded by money from Sacramento. Los Angeles reported twelve thousand children on waiting lists every year from 1968 through 1970.101 In its report on the Watts riots, the Los Angeles Police, Fire, and Civil Defense Committee noted that “the need for child care centers was one of the most frequently expressed needs of the community as heard by this Committee.”102 Dorothy Snyder, the recently appointed director of children’s centers for Los Angeles City Schools, understood the concerns voiced by opponents but supported AB 750 because of the heavy demand and long waiting lists in her district.
Mahler rallied the Northern California Directors and Supervisors as well as the parents’ associations to oppose this legislation. A pamphlet went out to parents with the headline Children’s Centers Are in Jeopardy. The flyer implored parents, teachers, and friends of the program to write to their legislators and the governor and plead with others in the community to do the same: “TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE—WRITE NOW!!!” Editorials appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle and the Sacramento Bee maintaining that “Children’s Centers Should Not Be Cut” because they “have proved themselves from the economic standpoint. They also have permitted families to be self‑supporting without the stigma of accepting welfare. A cut and trim pen in this area is not good economics nor is it good humanity.”103
The Northern and Southern California Sections of the CPACC converged in Sacramento to encourage members of the assembly and senate to vote against AB 750, and both Fay Love and Lynne Monti remember vividly Mahler’s rallying cries to incite parents to walk the legislature’s halls or attend an upcoming hearing. Thinking back fondly, Love describes the parents’ activities:
(p.166) When [the] legislature was in session and according to how many bills were introduced, sometimes [Lynne and I] went twice a week. Sometimes we went every week for weeks…. Ms. Mahler would call me at three o’clock in the morning if she found out something that she thought we should [know]. Because she knew at the time what I was doing, I could get away a little bit better than others, you know. And especially she knew when I was in the post office, if it was my off day. My off day belonged to Theresa Mahler…. Because she knew I had a good friend who could pick up the girls for me.104
Love, Monti, and anyone else they could rally piled into Monti’s old Volkswagen and drove the eighty‑plus miles from San Francisco to Sacramento, leading a caravan of two or three cars full of parents. The coalition’s scanty financial resources coupled with the mothers’ straightened circumstances to make lobbying a challenge. Monti struggled to finding the proper attire. As she says, “When I went up [to Sacramento] the only two kinds of clothes that I had at that time were grocery checking clothes and what I called my Cinderella clothes. My mother had made me the most exquisite evening clothes … my hot pink French peau de soie mini skirt and matching coat. And that’s what I wore to Sacramento!”105 Each parent was assigned to a legislator and given marching orders. Lawmakers had become accustomed to the invasion. Mervyn Dymally would exclaim, “Look! Here comes Theresa and all of her gang” when coalition lobbyists entered a hearing room.106 Parents from CPACC fanned out across the capitol to try to solidify support and attempt to change the minds of those who favored the bill.
Such tactics had little impact on legislators. Neither Republicans nor Democrats understood the coalition’s objections to the bill, given that it allowed California to provide child care for a larger constituency. AB 750 passed both houses of the legislature by an overwhelming margin. When it landed on Governor Reagan’s desk, many in his cabinet recommended that he veto the measure. He seemed swayed, however, by the bill’s main sponsor, Assemblyman Jerry Lewis, who pointed out that “Republicans have long talked about the need for efficiency in government. We have demanded that something be done about cracking the welfare cycle. AB 750 will be a significant step in our effort to accomplish both of these objectives.”107 Reagan signed the bill into law on September 20, 1970, officially transferring the administration of children’s centers to the Office of Compensatory Education and, in effect, making public child care a workfare program.
The final bill did include some compromise provisions pushed through by child care advocates and their legislative supporters. The modifications intended to ensure that the centers’ new structure, priorities, and focus on AFDC mothers should not eliminate “families of working mothers who receive no welfare assistance—the families for which the service was instituted so many years (p.167) ago.”108 Fiscal concerns, however, soon supplanted this provision. By October 1971, children’s centers directors and supervisors began complaining about limits on attendance for children of the working poor who did not qualify under federal welfare‑related funds. The DOE explained these limitations as based on budgetary concerns and the mandate to “maximize federal participation” in the program. Supervisors also reported that some parents refused to be certified eligible for child care by the welfare department because they regarded certification as an invasion of their privacy. The working poor, whose children were already in children’s centers, resented having to be classified as “as former or potential recipients” by a welfare caseworker.109 It was akin to being stamped with the stigma of welfare.
AB 750 had a very personal impact on the child care coalition, displacing John Weber, the statewide children’s center supervisor since 1946, and leading to the retirement of Theresa Mahler. Reagan signed AB 750 into law while Weber was on a two‑week vacation in Mexico. When he returned, all of his files and his entire office had been moved into the Office of Compensatory Education and placed under the control of Jeanada Nolan, chief of the Bureau of Compensatory Educational Programs. Nolan, a former social worker and director of the Sacramento Parent Participation Preschools, had been hired by the DOE when the Bureau of Compensatory Education was established in 1965. Nolan had faced her own struggles with finding child care as a single mother in Sacramento. As she recalled, “I used to take [my son] by streetcar out to Sutterville to the Children’s Home and leave him and then take a streetcar down to work by eight o’clock in the morning. That’s not easy. And then [back] again at night.” With a degree in social work from Fresno State and a master’s in early childhood education, Nolan had excellent credentials for the job. She knew, however, that those in the child care coalition who had worked with John Weber over the years would not welcome her presence. Nolan remembers, “This was a very painful time for a lot of people. I think it was probably less painful for me than for John. It was terrible for John. I know that Docia and Theresa were completely supportive of John. They probably felt terrible about it. Who’s this upstart? Me. I mean, John didn’t lose anything; he just didn’t get the promotion that he would have liked, which would have been the Chief of the Bureau. His co-workers saw him as the logical person, and he wasn’t selected and I was. Needless to say, that didn’t make it easy for me to be there.”110 Weber wrote to Lawrence Arnstein, “I will admit this all came as a severe shock to me after having served as children’s center supervisor for the past twenty-four years.”111 Weber remained with the Department of Education for a few more years as the director of child care food service and then quietly settled into retirement earlier than he would have liked.
The passage of AB 750 was also a devastating blow for Theresa Mahler. Reliance on federal funds and prioritizing welfare over education signified the destruction (p.168) of the child care vision Mahler and the child care coalition had fought so hard to preserve. By 1971 she had been supervisor of the San Francisco centers for more than twenty years and had devoted her free time to lobbying legislators in Sacramento and mobilizing educators and parents closer to home. She retired the next summer.112 Many in the city and across the state saw this as a great loss for California’s poor families. Letters and cards poured into Mahler’s office. Lorna Logan, a head teacher at a San Francisco center, captured the sentiments of teachers and parents. “I will always remember our long struggle together,” she wrote, “and I shall always be grateful to you that you wouldn’t give up, so I was helped not to give up either! But the community owes so much to you in the many ways you have helped to bring child care to its poor families.”113 The coalition lost its longtime leader.
The legislation marked a substantial shift in the centers’ clientele. Children benefited from the expansion; enrollment rose from approximately 17,300 in 1969 to 23,300 by June 1971. In the six years since the Social Security Amendments of 1967, however, the program was transformed from a service for the working poor to a welfare provision. In April 1968 AFDC families made up 14 percent of children in the state’s centers; by 1973, current, former, or potential AFDC recipients made up 87 percent.114 Many single working mothers no longer qualified. Sharon Godske understood that access to the children’s centers had provided her family with opportunities that they would not have had otherwise. Placing their children in the center gave the Godskes “peace of mind to go on and do what we had to do and know that the kids were being taken care of and not costing us an arm and a leg…. I don’t know that we would have made it without going on some sort of public assistance…. There’s no way we would have been able to do it.”115
Across the nation, the liberal architects of the War on Poverty overlooked the working poor. Policymakers failed to realize that requirements they placed on child care would alter local programs and favor mothers on public assistance over those with low‑wage jobs and young children. White, middle‑class feminists in California overlooked poor working mothers as well. They focused efforts on alternative child-rearing methods and “universal child care goals,” not recognizing a program and coalition of activists operating in their backyard. In California, the option of being a poor, working mother without being subjected to scrutiny by a welfare caseworker disappeared. Child care advocates nationwide suffered crushing defeat when Richard Nixon vetoed the Comprehensive Child Development Act in December 1971, which would have provided care on a sliding scale for any family that needed it.
(1.) Lynne Monti and Willie Mae Addison to Parents, Aug. 19, 1970, box 8/1, Parents’ Association, California, 1970–71, Theresa S. Mahler [hereafter TSM] Papers, Pacific Oaks College at Pasadena [hereafter POCP].
(2.) Lynne [Monti] Beeson interview with author, May 2, 2006, San Francisco.
(3.) Deborah Young interview with author, Nov. 25, 2005, Larkspur, Calif.
(4.) Fay E. [Love] Williams, interview with author, July 12, 2006, Antioch, Calif.; Ellen Hall Mitchell interview with author, Feb. 8, 2006, Long Beach.
(5.) San Francisco Unified School District, Children’s Centers Division, Legislative Bul‑letin, May 10, 1968, box 8/1: Organizations, California Children’s Centers, Directors and Supervisors’ Association, State Legislative Data, 1968–70, TSM Papers, POCP.
(6.) Northern Section, California Children’s Centers Directors and Supervisors Association, Legislative Committee Meeting, Dec. 28, 1966, box 8/1: Organizations, California Children’s Centers Directors and Supervisors’ Association, Northern Section, 1966–69, TSM Papers, POCP.
(7.) Sharon Godske interview with author, March 11, 2006, Berkeley.
(8.) California Blue Book, 1967, 124. Winona Sample also speaks about how critical Vasconcellos was to the child care coalition from the late 1960s forward. Winona Sample interview with author, Nov. 21, 2005, Folsom, Calif.
(9.) Sharon Godske interview with author.
(11.) Theresa S. Mahler, “Legislation—1968—with a Few Glances at 1967,” presented at the twenty-fifth annual conference, California Children’s Centers Directors and Supervisors’ Association, May 4, 1968, box 4/2, LHD, 1968, TSM Papers, POCP.
(13.) Steiner, The Children’s Cause, 19; Ray H. Johnson, Associate Superintendent of Public Instruction, to District, City, and County Superintendents of Schools Maintaining Children’s Centers, memorandum, April 11, 1969, box 8/1: Organization, Children’s Centers Directors and Supervisors Association, Northern Section, 1966–69, TSM Papers, POCP.
(23.) Ronald Reagan, Inaugural Address, Jan. 5, 1967, Speeches and Announcements, Governor’s Papers, available from http://www.reagan.utexas.edu/archives/speeches/govspeech/01051967a.htm, accessed June 10, 2006; “Reagan Pledges to Squeeze, Cut, and Trim Spending,” Los Angeles Times, Jan. 6, 1967. See also McGirr, Suburban Warriors, 191–210.
(26.) Grace J. Angstman to Carley Porter, April 27, 1966, Office Files, Senate Bills, A-C, Assemblymen—Porter, Carley V., Legislature, Assembly, California State Archives [hereafter CSA], Sacramento. See also Betty Moore to John Weber, Aug. 22, 1966, Division of Public Administration, Division Chief’s Files, Department Administration, 1963–66, Department of Education, CSA, Sacramento. On backlash against Governor Brown, see Cannon, Governor Reagan, 8.
(27.) Marjorie Caro to Ronald Reagan, July 13, 1967, box 4/2, LHD, re: Children’s Centers, 1967, TSM Papers, POCP.
(29.) The number of Hispanic children enrolled in the state’s centers increased throughout the 1960s and 1970s as well; in 1974, they made up 10 percent of the center’s children. But there is little evidence of Hispanic parents’ political involvement during this period. Legislative Analyst, Publicly Subsidized Child Care Services in California, Aug. 23, 1974 (Sacramento: State of California), 74.
(35.) Johnnie Tillmon interview with Sherna Berger Gluck, n.d., Women’s History: Welfare Mothers, Welfare Rights, the Virtual Oral/Aural History Archive, California State University, Long Beach, interview 3d segment 4 (10:52–18:19) Segkey: a4812, Aug. 9, 2006, http://www.csulb.edu/voaha.
(36.) White, Too Heavy a Load, 223–26; West, The National Welfare Rights Movement, (p.211) 22, 83. For similar organizing in Las Vegas see Orleck, Storming Caesar’s Palace, 98–130; for the national scene see Kornbluh, The Battle for Welfare Rights, 28.
(39.) As quoted in “Conference Boosts the ‘Big Baby Sitter,’” Los Angeles Times, May 6, 1969.
(41.) On NAPP in Los Angeles see Tsuchiya, “Race, Class, and Gender in America’s War on Poverty,” 223–24.
(42.) “Neighborhood Center Holds ‘Outfit the Family’ Day,” Long Beach Press Independent, Feb. 22, 1971; “Disputed Carmelitos Center to Reopen,” Long Beach Press Independent, April 19, 1972.
(43.) As quoted in “Neighborhood Center Holds ‘Outfit the Family’ Day.”
(52.) Notes of Vern Sturgeon on Memorandum from P. Battaglia, July 5, 1967, box 1967/26, Correspondence Unit, Administrative, Status of Women, June, Gubernatorial Papers, Ronald Reagan Library, Simi Valley, Calif.
(55.) Theresa S. Mahler, “The Children’s Center and Its Impact on the Community,” speech at San Jose State College, Dec. 3, 1966, box 4/1: misc. papers, speeches/statements, 1966–73/74, TSM Papers, POCP.
(59.) Espanola Jackson interview with Robert Martin.
(65.) Alan G. Sieroty oral history interview with Carlos Vasquez, California State University Fullerton, Center for Oral and Public History, State Government Oral History Project, 1989, 1990.
(66.) The group’s statement sits in the files of his children’s center construction bill; Neighbors of Watts, Statement, AB 891 files, 1968, Sieroty Papers, CSA, Sacramento. See also “NOW—A Good Neighbor Policy for Beverly Hills,” Los Angeles Times, May 30, 1968.
(67.) This child care center opened its doors with great fanfare in 1974. Later it was renamed the Johnnie Tillmon Child Development Center. “Child Care Center Built on Wealth, Welfare,” Los Angeles Times, Feb. 19, 1974.
(68.) Theresa S. Mahler to George Miller, April 11, 1968, box 4/2, LHD, Re: Children’s Centers, 1968, TSM Papers, POCP.
(69.) Agatha Cohee, secretary, Southern Section, California Children’s Centers Directors and Supervisors Association, to Ronald Reagan, June 5, 1968, AB 891 files, 1968, Sieroty Papers.
(70.) Theresa Mahler to Caspar Weinberger, April 11, 1968, box4/2, LHD, Re: Children’s Centers, 1968, TSM Papers, POCP.
(71.) Ronald Reagan, Inaugural Address, Jan. 5, 1967, Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, National Archives and Records Administration, accessed Nov. 30, 2010, http://www.reagan.utexas.edu/archives/speeches/govspeech/01051967a.htm; Enrolled Bill Report on SB 39, Health and Welfare Agency, Aug. 15, 1968, chapter 1373, Governor’s Chapter Bill Files, CSA, Sacramento.
(72.) “School Board to Receive Plans for Venice Child Care Center,” Los Angeles Times, Sept. 26, 1968.
(73.) Burnett Children’s Center Opening, June 23, 1969, box 8/1, Organizations: Children’s Centers Parents’ Association of San Francisco, 1961–70, TSM Papers, POCP.
(74.) San Francisco Unified School District, A Report on Children’s Centers, table 1, March 1973, box 5/1, Children’s Center Issues (San Francisco), 1968–74, TSM Papers, POCP.
(77.) Steiner, The Children’s Cause, 156; Evans, Tidal Wave, 55–56. Jill Quadagno observes that federal “child care was never a priority for NOW, and as child‑care legislation moved through Congress, no NOW members testified on behalf of the bills.” Quadagno, The Color of Welfare, 147.
(79.) Email correspondence between Aileen Hernandez and Lynne Beeson, May 29, 2006, copy in author’s possession.
(81.) San Francisco Women’s Liberation Internal Newsletter, May 20, Oct. 26, 1970, reel 20, Herstory Microfilm Collection, Women’s History Research Center, Berkeley, Calif., 1972. For more examples of women’s liberation groups advertising child care services or the forming of child care cooperatives, see the Berkeley Women’s Newsletter, Oct.–Nov. 2, 1971, issue through March 13–20, 1973, issue, also in the Herstory Microfilm Collection.
(83.) As quoted in Gilmore, “The Dynamics of Second-wave Feminist Activism in Memphis,” 194. NOW is not mentioned in transcripts of state legislative hearings on child care from the mid‑1960s to 1973 or in the legislative correspondence. The president of the Sacramento Area NOW chapter is quoted in the California Journal as supporting child care as “an essential ingredient to bring full equality of opportunity to women in employment and education.” “Child Care Services Win Wide Support,” California Journal, July–Aug. 1971, 202.
(84.) The Covenant, No. 1 (Feb. 1972), Lynne Beeson’s personal files, copy in author’s possession.
(89.) Most of the information on Beeson’s life comes from an interview I conducted with her in 2006; a few additional details are from an interview on January 20, 1980. Transcript, Lynne Beeson’s personal files, copy in author’s possession.
(94.) Sharon Godske, “A Position Paper on the Legislative Analyst’s Recommendations Concerning Children’s Centers,” California Parents’ Association for Children’s Centers, 4/2, LHD, re: Children’s Centers, 1967–71, TSM Papers, POCP.
(95.) Theresa Mahler, “A Position Paper Regarding the Legislative Analyst’s Proposals Affecting Children’s Centers,” California Children’s Centers Directors and Supervisors’ Association, April 28, 1967, 4/2, LHD, re: Children’s Centers, 1967, TSM Papers, POCP.
(98.) Docia Zavitkovsky interview with author, July 28, 1998, Los Angeles.
(99.) Head Start funds had been temporarily cut in 1967 before they were expanded again the following year.
(102.) State, County and Federal Affairs Committee to the Los Angeles City Council, April 3, 1968, Senate Bill 39, Chapter 1373, Governor’s Chapter Bill Files, California CSA, Sacramento.
(103.) Children’s Centers Are in Jeopardy, July 18, 1970, box 8/1, CC, Directors and Supervisors Association, State Legislative Data, 1968–70, TSM Papers, POCP; “The Children’s Centers,” San Francisco Chronicle, June 26, 1970; quote from “The Children’s Center Should Not Be Cut,” Sacramento Bee, June 26, 1970.
(107.) Jerry Lewis to Ronald Reagan, Sept. 3, 1970, AB 750, Chapter 1619, Governor’s Chapter Bill Files, CSA, Sacramento.
(108.) Theresa Mahler to the Honorable George S. Moscone, Sept. 4, 1970, box 4/2, LHD, Children’s Centers, 1970, TSM Papers, POCP.
(109.) William Roberts, coordinator of children’s centers, to Mr. A. Karperos, director of special services, Yuba City Unified School District, October 21, 1971, Division of Public Administration, Division Chief’s Files, Department Administration, Development of Child Care/Children’s Centers, 1971, Department of Education Records, CSA, Sacramento.
(110.) Jeanada Nolan interview with author, Dec. 21, 2005, Sacramento.
(111.) Elizabeth Prescott et. al., An Institutional Analysis of Day Care Program, 95; John Weber to Lawrence Arnstein, Dec. 1, 1970, box 1/1, series 1–2, Lawrence Arnstein Correspondence, 1953–73, John R. Weber Papers, POCP.
(112.) Theresa Mahler to San Francisco Board of Education, March 5, 1971, box 1/1, Personal Papers, Letter to SF Board of Education, TSM Papers, POCP.
(113.) Lorna Logan to Theresa Mahler, May 18, 1971, box 1/1, Personal Papers, Retirement Cards and Letters, TSM Papers, POCP.
(114.) John R. Weber, “The Children’s Centers Program from the Point of View of the California State Department of Education,” Oct. 17, 1968, Compensatory Education, Administrative Files, Preschool Education Programs, Bureau of, 1968–69, Department of Education Records, CSA, Sacramen to; California Legislative Analyst, Publicly Subsi‑dized Child Care Services in California, vix–x.
(115.) Sharon Godske interview with author.