The oldest child care center in Ohio and sixth oldest in the United States, Toledo Day Nursery was founded in 1871. At that time, Toledo was a fast growing town of about 32,000 people. It was a seaport and rail center and boasted a number of other industries such as furniture builders, carriage makers, breweries, glass manufacturers and more. The many factories attracted large immigrant populations looking for work. In those days, there were no agencies to assist the unemployed or their families, but the need was there.
A group of civic minded Toledoans responded to this need and started a mission. Its first location was an unusual venue, Captain Hamm’s Theatre Comique, described by historians as a place of “low order”. The second location of what became the Adams Street Mission was equally interesting, a saloon at the corner of Adams and Ontario streets. The purpose of the mission was to help people find employment, to help care for their young children and to help keep older children off the rough and tumble streets of that era. Public schools had existed since 1836, but less than half the town’s children attended school.
The roots of Toledo Day Nursery are in that Adams Street Mission, which cared for 25 to 50 children from four months to eight years of age. They were bathed each morning upon arrival and fed two meals a day. Many of the children’s parents waited in line before 7:00 am each day to take any job that was available. When parents were able to, they paid the nursery five cents per day for child care.
The Adams Street Mission moved to 572 Ontario Street in 1895, sharing a building with the Social Service Federation. For the cost of day-to-day operation, it continued to depend on the philanthropy of individuals, organizations and its own fund raising efforts. By 1918, the mission had become a beneficiary of the War Chest sponsored by the Red Cross. The War Chest later evolved into the Toledo Community Chest, which still later became the United Way of Greater Toledo.
In the late 1920’s, the mission received funds which encouraged the creation of a more appropriate facility. In 1930, the mission’s nursery moved into it’s own building at 219 Southard Avenue. Completed at a cost of $50,000, the new facility had a number of features dedicated to child care: nursery, preschool and kindergarten rooms; an isolation room for sick children; a roof garden and basement playroom; a modern laundry that was available to mothers plus parking for perambulators and a specially designed “slab” for bathing babies. The nursery cared for 50 children whose parents paid from five to fifty cents per day.
In 1947, during the post-war years, the mission’s nursery became known as Toledo Day Nursery. That same year, two houses adjacent to the Southard building were purchased and razed, and an outdoor playground was built. Renovation and innovation continued at the Southard location. When the need for more child care increased in the 1950’s, Toledo Day Nursery developed a Day Care Homes program which operated for about 40 years. Children from infancy through 12 years of age were cared for in private homes that were inspected for compliance with state guidelines and monitored by Nursery staff.
In response to a need for more child care in the central city during the 1970’s, Toledo Day Nursery opened a child care center for three to five year olds at Collingwood Presbyterian Church.
In 1984, Toledo Day Nursery joined Toledo Public School’s Home Life Department in opening a child care facility at Jefferson Center for infant through preschool age children. Children with disabilities were included in the program.
Working with Toledo Public Schools in the mid-eighties, a preschool classroom for children of non-traditional students was opened in the Whitney Adult Education Building.
In 1997, in another partnership with Toledo Public Schools, a lab-type classroom was opened in Rogers High School to serve children of low income families in the neighborhood, and to serve as a training center for students interested in a career in child care and early childhood education.
Continuing the relationship with Toledo Public Schools, a child care center was opened at the Polly Fox Academy in 2004. This charter academy at 1300 Jefferson Avenue helps pregnant and parenting teens to become better parents while completing their high school education. A parenting component was included with the child care program curriculum.
In collaboration with LaGrange Development Corporation, United Way, Key Bank and St. Vincent Hospital, Toledo Day Nursery was asked to provide quality child care for families at a North Toledo location. The year was 1995, and the result was a center located at 2902 Stickney Avenue. It served children six weeks to five years old and still does today.
In 1998, Mercy Health Partners asked Toledo Day Nursery to continue an established child care program at 2211 Jefferson Avenue. With its well planned separate areas for nursery, toddler and preschool children, a big outdoor play area and other features, it was a dream come true. Still operating today, this center includes the management offices of Toledo Day Nursery.
Due to changing times, demographics and other factors, many of the partnerships and programs in the history of Toledo Day Nursery are no longer active. For example, the original center at 219 Southard Avenue no longer exists, but the happy memories of its 85 years of service to thousands of Toledo area children remain. Throughout the many years of change and growth, one constant has remained.
In the mid 1980’s, the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) came into being. They developed a system of approvals which has become the “gold standard” of accreditation for child care and early childhood education programs throughout the United States. Their requirements include high program standards, a high ratio of adults to children, a developmentally appropriate curriculum and strict health and safety standards. Accreditation by NAEYC has been the standard for every Toledo Day Nursery center that has ever operated from the founding of NAEYC until today.
Several years ago, Ohio introduced a “Step Up To Quality” initiative for child care centers throughout the state. It included many requirements similar to those in the NAEYC accreditation process. Toledo Day Nursery easily earned the first three stars, then topped it off by quickly earning the fourth and fifth. It’s interesting that today, many area child care centers are for-profit businesses, but a charity founded in 1871 still sets the standard.
Toledo Day Nursery was started and operated by Toledo people who cared – and that hasn’t changed for many generations. What a wonderful history and proud heritage we share with our city.