day nursery, day-care center, or crèche (krĕsh) [key], institution for the care of the children of working parents. Originating in Europe in the late 18th and early 19th cent., day nurseries were established in the United States by private charities in the 1850s, the first being the New York Day Nursery (1854). Early day nurseries cared for children of all ages, but problems arising from inadequately trained and motivated staff caused most states to limit day nurseries to serving only children from two to five years old. The women's liberation movement, as well as other social developments of the mid-20th cent., spurred the growth of day nurseries and led to efforts designed to lower the age at which children may be cared for. Many centers now provide infant care. The federally funded Head Start program (est. 1965) was designed to provide a combination of educational and day-care services to children from poor families. The day nursery should not be confused with the nursery school, an educational institution with different objectives.
See E. S. Beer, Working Mothers and the Day Nursery (1947, repr. 1970); E. B. Evans and G. E. Saia, Day Care for Infants (1972); M. Steinfels, Who's Minding the Children? (1974).