From 1967 to 1971, Patsy Takemoto Mink – the first woman of color to become a United States congressional representative –introduced a series of bills to create comprehensive childcare in the United States. The legislation would have mandated government sponsored educational programs for pre-school children, regardless of their economic backgrounds. Such programs would have helped to rectify educational inequalities, which are sharpest along the lines of class and race in the U.S. In addition, comprehensive childcare would also have assisted working parents, particularly mothers who are the presumed caretakers of children. Despite Mink’s repeated efforts, the comprehensive childcare bills did not succeed. After four years, the legislation finally passed both houses of the U.S. Congress in 1971, but President Richard Nixon vetoed the proposal.
This presentation examines how Mink conceptualized and argued for government responsibility for pre-school education and childcare. Child rearing and early education are commonly regarded as women’s obligations to be carried out within the private sphere. Mink, however, advocated for publicly funded programs to equalize the responsibilities of education and childcare between class, racial, and gender divides. She drew inspiration from her personal experiences as a working mother in the 1950s, an era that celebrated female domesticity. In the context of the civil rights and women’s liberation movements of the 1960s and 1970s, Mink also observed how these political developments inspired experimentation in childcare and educational programs in her home state of Hawaii and her adopted political home of Washington D.C. Furthermore, while engaging in developing federal programs as part of the “War on Poverty,” Mink participated in fact-finding trips to Europe and Asia to observe social welfare and educational programs. My presentation focuses on how the local and the global shaped Mink’s visions for restructuring the relationship between the private and the public, between the family and the state.
By reevaluating Mink’s call for comprehensive childcare, it is possible to have a better understanding of the resistance against government responsibility for early childhood education. An exploration of the rejection of comprehensive childcare provides an opportunity to understand how gender, racial, class, and neoliberal politics undergird U.S. state formation.