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Day nursery with multiple children and woman in rocker

Childcare for the Working Mother, Frank Leslie’s Weekly, 1878

This is a crèche , or day nursery, where poor mothers on their way to their daily work can leave to safe guardianship… little ones who are too young for school. It is also advantageous for the children, who are passed on gradually from nursery to partial tuition, and so on, step by step, till at nine years old they are launched out into the world of real school life.

The school and crèche are supported by the congregation of the Episcopal Church on Broadway and Tenth Street…Children are received from sixteen months to nine years of age. It is purely nonsectarian, and proselytism is forbidden under any pretext. The children are of all nationalities, and the Babel of infant tongues is singularly striking. On their way to their work the mothers leave their children, calling for them in the evening. One poor woman has six children in Grace House. The inmates are fed on beef soup, pea soup, rice and molasses; codfish and potatoes on Friday. Every day the dinner is different, and it is always hot. The milk for the crèche is most generously donated by Mr. O. B. Potter. The little ones are fed on bread and milk and crackers. Every child gets as much bread as it can eat.

Frank Leslie’s Weekly, published from 1855 to 1922, was an American illustrated news publication started by publisher and illustrator Frank Leslie. While only 30 copies of the first edition were printed, by 1897 its circulation had grown to an estimated 65,000 copies.

Those who send their children to the crèche are not generally of the pauper class, but poor respectable working-women, who, without the help of this nursery, would have to pay for having the child looked after at home, or else lose their daily employment. Besides this, there are few homes, especially in a city, where little children could have the benefit of such cleanliness, good air, and food, and care, as in this admirably managed establishment. What happiness and ease of mind to a working mother to feel that her infant is safe and not left to the tender mercies of the dram-drinking virago whose whole control over the child left to her care lies in threats and starvation!

The Spragues entertained at Canonchet in Narragansett, Rhode Island.

A Marriage Goes Sour

In the first half of the 1870s, Kate Chase Sprague had built a lovely summer residence in Narragansett, known as Canochet, but relations between Kate and her husband had deteriorated dramatically by 1879. William’s time in public office had ended, his mills were in dire economic straits and his adultery and alcoholism made him an unreliable partner and provider for his family. Kate’s father had passed away and she was struggling to retain control over her own money and the future of her children.

In 1879, a scandal erupted when Sprague returned home from a business trip to Canonchet to discover his wife breakfasting on the terrace with Roscoe Conkling, Senator from New York. Conkling was everything Sprague was not and there had been rumors about the relationship he had with Kate.

The following appeared in the September issue of The National Citizen, Madeleine Gage’s newspaper in support of women getting the vote:

In the Sprague battle now raging, three children seem to be the chief cause. As the story is told, Mr. Sprague, Ex-Governor of Rhode Island, was recklessly dissipating “his” property, failing to suitably provide for them or for his wife. Mrs. Sprague called in the aid of a lawyer to try and preserve a portion of the property for her children, which resulted in the scandal now afloat. After the Ex-Governor had threatened several persons with a gun, his wife attempted to leave “his home” with her three children. The Ex-&c., swore that he and not the mother should and would have the children. Being a man and men having made the laws, of course they are all in men’s favor. The persecuted, abused wife, rather than be separated from her children,—that is, from his children—returned to “her husband’s home,” where she was kept by that husband under lock and key, and no person except such as he chose, permitted to see her.

Since writing the above we learn that Mrs. Sprague, taking her three little girls, has fled from her husband-protector “without his knowledge or consent.” Where she is in hiding he does not know. But she is as extensively advertised as the escaping slave mothers with their little ones, of slavery times, and doubtless her husband-master will soon be on her track. Fugitive wives have scarcely more rights than former fugitive slaves.

Indignant over the treatment, The National Citizen’s Washington correspondent, Mrs. Sara Andrews Spencer wrote in the same issue:

Thousands of women see, as in a blaze of light, that even the daughter of a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and the wife of an ex-senator and governor has no real home on the face of the earth, no child that she can call her own, no friend, man or woman, that she can invite for one day or one hour to accept her hospitality. Her legal master, though a conscienceless profligate, with pistol in hand and horrible oaths and impurity upon his lips, may drive out and hunt down an honorable, high-bred, distinguished gentleman, who, at the lady’s own request, and in the most courteous and respectful manner, attempts to render her a service.

…Only a drunken imbecile would take such a course as the Rhode Island senator has done, and he is himself now sober enough to make a flimsy attempt to prove that he has made a mess of it, and had no occasion for his shameful outrage.”

This item, and others like it, can be found in Accessible Archive’s Women’s Suffrage Collection. We can provide access to fully searchable newspapers by and for women including The Lily (1849-1856), National Citizen and Ballot Box (1878-1881), The Revolution (1868-1872), The New Citizen (1909-1912), The Western Woman Voter (1911-1913), The Woman’s Tribune (1883-1909) and the antisuffrage newspaper, The Remonstrance (1890-1913).


Political Hostess and Public Figure

Kate Chase Sprague enjoyed serving as her father’s political hostess prior to her marriage in 1863 and continued to do so when the newlyweds returned to Washington D.C., even as her father’s role shifted. Upon the death of Chief Justice Roger B. Taney and released from his position in President Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet, Salmon Chase took on the role of Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Long recognized as an advocate for the rights of black Americans, his appointment was praised by such newspapers as The Liberator in the final weeks of 1864.

“Our best hopes are realized in the appointment of Salmon P. Chase… President Lincoln has done himself high honor, and richly earned the gratitude of the country…he has recognized the eminent fitness of Mr. Chase for the position, and the marked expression of popular feeling in his favor… The occasion required, and the country demanded, that the best talent should be selected for this high position; and it is well for all parties that there has been no disappointment.”

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