Friday, October 29, 2010

In History: Nettie Podell Ottenberg

This is the 49th post in a weekly feature here at Spare Candy, called "In History." Some posts might be little more than a photo, others full on features. If you have any suggestions for a person or event that should be featured, or would like to submit a guest post or cross post, e-mail me at rosiered23 (at) sparecandy (dot) com.

Nettie Podell Ottenberg (1887-1982), who organized the National Child Day Care Association and became known as "the mother of day care" for her lobbying activities, was born in Russia and came to the United States at the age of 5. She grew up on New York's Lower East Side, where, when she was 16, she found a starving woman in a neighborhood tenement. Shocked at the hostility then prevalent against the poor, she decided to become a social worker and graduated in the first class of the School of Philanthropy (later part of Columbia University).

In 1908, when she was 21, she became a suffragist. Later she began lobbying for day care as she saw more and more mothers entering the work force. When she was in her 70s, she testified before the Senate and obtained the first public money ($50,000) ever allotted to day care in the federal city. She continued to work into her 90s for medical screening for day care children, for the NCDCA's $1.5 million showcase program in the District of Columbia, for therapy for slow learners in public schools and a 1979 conference on slow learners, and for a "granny patrol" paying "kids in gangs" a small amount to be escorts for old people.

Podell had another passion: After women gained the right to vote in 1920, she helped found the "Voteless DC" chapter of the brand-new League of Women Voters. Speaking at a 1936 conference of the national league, she prevailed on the group to back federal suffrage for the District.

A longtime member of the Washington, D.C., section of the National Council for Jewish Women, Ottenberg became president of the local group in 1938. She used it as a platform for District voting rights, backed by the NCJW, which, as early as 1957, blamed congressional resistance to the change on racist attitudes.

Over some two decades, Ottenberg would testify before Congress on behalf of the D.C. franchise and lived to cast ballots for president there, after its approval in 1962.

Sources: "The Women's Book of World Records and Achievements,"

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Neat! I'd never heard of her.


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