Toledo Day Nursery, the oldest child care center in Ohio and sixth oldest in the United States, 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 it was home to several other industries such as furniture builders, carriage makers, breweries, glass manufacturers, and more.
The many factories attracted large immigrant populations looking for work. Unfortunately, there were no agencies to assist the unemployed or their families in those days, 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 the Adams Street Mission was equally interesting, as it was a saloon at the corner of Adams and Ontario Street.
The purpose of the mission was to help people find employment, care for their young children, and keep older children off the rough streets of that era. While public schools began in 1836, less than half the town’s children attended school.
The roots of Toledo Day Nursery are in 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 available job. Then, when parents could, they paid the nursery five cents per day for child care.
Adams Street Mission moved to 572 Ontario Street in 1895, sharing a building with the Social Service Federation. The cost of day-to-day operation continued to depend on the philanthropy of individuals, organizations, and its own fundraising efforts.
By 1918, the mission became a beneficiary of the War Chest, sponsored by the Red Cross. Later, the War Chest evolved into the Toledo Community Chest, eventually becoming the United Way of Greater Toledo.
In the late 1920s, the mission received funds that encouraged the creation of a more appropriate facility. So, in 1930, the mission’s nursery moved into its own building at 219 Southard Avenue.
After a $50,000 project, the new facility had several features dedicated to child care: a nursery, preschool, and kindergarten rooms, an isolation room for sick children, a roof garden and basement playroom, and 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 childcare increased in the 1950s, Toledo Day Nursery developed the Day Care Homes program, which operated for about 40 years. Children from infancy through 12 years of age were cared for in private homes, inspected for compliance with state guidelines, and monitored by nursery staff.
In response to a need for more childcare in the central city during the 1970s, 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 childcare facility at Jefferson Center for infants through preschool-age children. This program included children with disabilities.
Working with Toledo Public Schools in the mid-eighties, Toledo Day Nursery opened a preschool classroom for children of non-traditional students in the Whitney Adult Education Building.
Through another partnership with Toledo Public Schools in 1997, Toledo Day Nursery opened a lab-type classroom in Rogers High School to care for children of low-income families in the neighborhood and 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, Toledo Day Nursery opened another childcare center at the Polly Fox Academy in 2004. This charter academy at 1300 Jefferson Avenue helps pregnant and parenting teens become better parents while completing their high school education. A parenting component was included with the childcare 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. It was a dream come true with its well-planned separate areas for infants, toddlers, and preschool children, a big outdoor play area, and other features. Still operating today, this center houses 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.
In the mid-1980s, the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) emerged. This organization developed a system of approvals that has become the “gold standard” of accreditation for child care and early childhood education programs throughout the United States.
NAEYC’s 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.