This introductory chapter explores how working families shaped institutional child care, emphasizing the historical agency of parents and the children themselves in that process. Throughout this study, the term “child care” is used to mean assistance with the daily labor of caring for children; and specifically in the case of orphanages, parents' tactic of placing their children temporarily in institutions with the intention of retrieving them after a relatively short time. Working parents and their children continually cooperated with orphanage managers, who also had to bargain with progressive reformers, staff members, and the broader community over the future of their organizations. The book argues that the development of institutional child care was premised upon and rife with gender, race, and class inequities—these persistent ideologies had consequences for the evolution of social welfare and modern child care.
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