Children of the WPA


The Nursery Project, a program that established WPA-staffed day nurseries for low-income children aged two to four, allowed the WPA to employ teachers and supervisors and, at the same time, freed parents to seek employment of their own. The day nurseries insured that children received nourishing meals, medical attention and a foundation in personal and social skills. Children were read to and played with, taught how to brush their teeth, wash their hands and faces, comb their hair, dress and undress themselves, set the table for lunch and use proper table manners. In 1940, six nursery schools were operating in New Orleans.

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These photographs show children at various stages of their nursery school day, at the New Orleans Day Nursery located at Kingsley House, 1601 Annunciation; they date from 1936, 1937 and 1938.

Open house at the New Orleans Day Nursery during "This Work Pays Your Community Week," May, 1940.

The Nursery Project, like all other WPA projects, was segregated. Separate nurseries were established in New Orleans for white and black children. At least three nursery schools for African-American children were opened in New Orleans in 1936, located at the Berean Community Center at 1629 Loyola, the Valena C. Jones Normal and Practical School at 2121 Annette Street, and the Johnson Lockett School at 3240 Law Street.

The first of these shots was taken at the Valena C. Jones School in February, 1937. The location of the other four, from 1936, is unidentified.

Kids in the garden, McDonogh #15 School, St. Philip and Royal Streets, April, 1941.

The children who attended the nursery school at the Wisner Playground, 4847 Laurel Street, had the advantage of a wading pool (which not all of them seem too happy about!) and swing sets. These photos are from August, 1941.

Dr. Grace Langdon of Washington, national WPA specialist in family life education, visits the Wisner Playground nursery school, January, 1942.

Nursery schools like the ones in New Orleans also operated in other towns and cities state-wide. These two shots were taken at the Convention Street School nursery in Baton Rouge.

The Penick Indian School operated between 1932 and 1938 in the town of Trout, Louisiana, near Jena, providing primary education for children of the Jena Band of the Choctaw Indians. We have no information on the precise role the WPA played at the school, but these photographs seem to indicate that they conducted a nursery school similar to those organized elsewhere in the state. They may also have assisted as teachers or storytellers.

The Penick Indian School, Trout, Louisiana, undated.

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