For the Children: A Brief History of Child Care at Old Dominion University

by Steven Bookman

Like some institutions of higher education across the Commonwealth of Virginia during the Great Depression, there were not a lot of female faculty and staff at the Norfolk Division of William & Mary. The first academic year the division opened, 1930 to 1931, there were only four female instructors who taught in the fields of English, history, mathematics and physics, and physical education. During World War II, the Norfolk Division provided free war training classes to women in areas such as aircraft repair and drafting, which offered female students the opportunity to learn these skills, in many cases for the first time.1 By 1967, as more women entered the workforce in the postwar period, some for the first time, there were approximately 184 female faculty and staff at Old Dominion. That same year, the Lions Club Child Study Center opened at the corner of 45th Street and Hampton Boulevard. Built with contributions largely from the local Kiwanis and Lions Club organizations, the Child Study Center was initially designed to contain a speech and hearing clinic for local children, an instruction center for teachers of the visually handicapped, as well as a training center for future teachers in early childhood education. Most of the users of these services were from the community, and they did not provide day care for Old Dominion employees.

Figure 1. Lions Club Child Study Center Exterior, circa 1970-1979

The passage of Title IX of the Education Amendments Act in 1972 sparked more discussion of equal rights for female faculty and staff on academic campuses, and in particular, the need to provide child care services for faculty and staff on campus. Fed up with the difference in salaries between male and female faculty at ODU, Dr. Carolyn Rhodes and Dr. Dorothy Johnson helped establish the Faculty Women’s Caucus in 1974 to advance the interests and rights of women on campus. It was around this time that the caucus first started to advocate for a day care center on campus for ODU employees.2

Oral History Interview with Carolyn H. Rhodes regarding day care at ODU, Interviewed by Karen Vaughan, March 27 and 31, 2009.

In 1975, the Board of Visitors passed a new sick and maternity leave policy, which allowed employees to take additional leave from work after delivery if certified by the attending physician. The following year, Old Dominion opened the Women’s Center, which provided educational, personal, and vocational counseling; non-credit courses, and discussion groups. At the start, most of those that took advantage of the Women’s Center’s resources were those experiencing a transition in their life, such as returning to the job market or school after having a child. By 1977, the Child Study Center, under the direction of the Darden School of Education, started to provide pre-kindergarten nursery classes taught by professional instructors, student teachers, and teaching assistants, but it wasn’t until the 1980s that day care for Old Dominion employees started to take shape.

Figure 2. Guest Teacher Gives Children a Lesson on the Space Shuttle at the Lions Club Child Study Center, circa 1990-1999

In the 1980s, as many colleges and universities were already providing child care for their employees, the Women’s Caucus decided to make a stand. In the absence of a child care center on campus, the Women’s Center had long provided listings of local day care facilities for students and employees. In 1988, the Women’s Caucus set up a day care committee to initiate a survey to a random sample of university employees on whether or not they were in favor of Old Dominion creating an on-site day care center.

Figure 3. Page from Women’s Caucus Survey on Need for Day Care at ODU, 1988

The results were overwhelmingly in favor of having a day care center on or near campus, with 96% of women and 85% of men supporting the proposal. In addition, most of the respondents indicated they wanted day care five days a week, and would like to have either just afternoon care or the entire work day. In light of these results, Old Dominion created a campus-wide ad hoc day care task force the following year to investigate the feasibility of having a day care center on-site.3 Finally, in 1993, after almost 20 years of discussion and deliberation, the Child Care Center was approved and opened in August of 1994 in the old Career Development Services building off 48th Street.

Figure 4. Exterior of Child Development Center off 48th Street, circa 2000-2004

Figure 5. Wilson Chiang, Son of Graduate Student C.K. Chiang, on Playground Equipment at the Child Care Center, 1994

The Child Care Center opened under the direction of Katharine Kersey, Chair of the Department of Early Childhood, Speech-Language Pathology and Special Education, and coordinator Jody Wolford. It was open five days a week with a maximum capacity for 65 children from 6 weeks to 5 years old, and it contained classrooms, observation areas for parents to view their children, and a common area for group activities. Day care was offered between 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday during the academic year, and for eight weeks during the summer.

Figure 6. Faculty Newsletter (Courier) Article regarding the the New Child Care Center, April 22, 1994

The cost of renovating the center and start-up funds were allocated by ODU, but as there were no operating funds from the Commonwealth of Virginia, the center was self-supporting, getting most of their operating expenses from the child’s enrollment fees. At the time of the center’s opening, tuition of $100/week per child and a sliding scale based on salary were discussed. Although originally intended for ODU faculty and staff, day care services were eventually offered to student mothers and the surrounding community. By the late 1990s, the center was renamed the Child Development Center, and by the late 2000s, the center was growing so rapidly that they needed extra space. By 2016, day care moved into the recently renovated Lions Club Child Study Center, and the old Child Development Center building was eventually demolished to make room for the Hugo A. Owens House. As of 2021, child care for infants and toddlers takes place in the Children’s Learning and Research Center off 47th Street, while preschool classes are taught in the Lions Club Child Study Center.

Steven Bookman has been the University Archivist at Old Dominion University (ODU) since 2015. Prior to coming to ODU, Steven was the University Archives Specialist at the College of William and Mary from 2007 to 2015.

Suggested citation

Please use the following as a suggested citation:

Steven Bookman, "For the Children: A Brief History of Child Care at Old Dominion University," Mapping the University, Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, George Mason University (2022): <>.

  1. Sweeney, James R. Old Dominion University: A Half Century of Service, (Norfolk, Va.: Old Dominion University, 1980). ↩︎

  2. Oral History Interview with Carolyn H. Rhodes, Part 3, Interviewed by Karen Vaughan, March 27 and 31, 2009. ↩︎

  3. Women’s Caucus Records, Special Collections and University Archives, Old Dominion University Libraries. ↩︎