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The Omaha Creche Society

The Omaha Creche Society

Natalie Kammerer


Among the collections housed at the Douglas County Historical Society Archive are the early records of the Omaha Creche Society, one of the first charities founded in Omaha. First established as the Omaha Charity Association in 1887, it was intended to offer an innovative new service that was unheard of in Omaha at the time. Several prominent women in the city had come to the conclusion that the community was in need of a day nursery for children, as there were many working mothers who had no options for affordable and trustworthy childcare.

As the author of the Creche Society’s history tells it, the original proposal was largely rejected, with many assuming that the venture would be a waste of time, as “no mother would trust her children with strangers.”[1] However, anecdotes abound about mothers resorting to locking their children in rooms with enough food and water to last the day, while they went off to earn the family’s money.[2]

On September 23, 1887, seventeen women belonging to the Unity Club of the Omaha Unitarian Church presided over by Mrs. O.C. Dinsmoor gathered in the parlors of the Paxton Hotel to organize what would become the Omaha Charity Association. The organization was incorporated six days later. One month later, Mrs. T.L. Kimball was elected president, Mrs. T.M. Orr secretary, and Mrs. Sarah Joslyn treasurer. A lot was leased at 19th and Harney, after it was determined that the organization had to be centrally located in order to serve its intended purpose.

The OCA sought to serve two imminent needs: daytime care for working parents, and permanent boarding for children with no guardians. As the institution’s mission was founded on the theory that “people should be helped to help themselves”[3], parents were charged a small fee of ten cents per day for one child, or up to twenty cents per day for three children, if they were from the same family. From 1887 to 1891, there was a daily average of 25 children at the home.

By 1912, when the Creche, as it became known fairly early on (the term “day nursery” never quite caught on, but the French word for “cradle” proved more fashionable), celebrated its 25th anniversary, thousands of children had come and gone. Some stayed for a couple of days, while others were there for years. The Creche did differ from the more traditional orphanage model in one important way—children were not held for adoption. Rather, the institution served to “bridge the interval between a death in the family or a reconciliation in a broken home, or until relatives who [would] take an interest in the child [could] be found.”[4]

Children at the Creche Society, circa 1940. Image source: Douglas County Historical Society.


The Creche occupied various locations around town during the more than one hundred years it was in existence:

1887: 19th and Harney

1912: Mrs. Kimball’s former home at 1223 Park Wilde Avenue

1929: 1303 Park Avenue (former Arthur Crittendon Smith mansion)

1949: 3173 N 52nd St.

The address on 52nd St. was the first building that had been constructed specifically for use by the Creche Society, and was a marked improvement from the converted residential homes that had served them at previous locations. The house at 1303 Park Ave. was actually condemned some time before the children moved out of it—the State Board of Control cited 34 fire hazards in the old home, but the organization was allowed to stay under the condition that they perform weekly fire drills.[5] The deteriorating house had also necessitated a cut in the number of children the home could hold, from 40 down to 28 children per day.

The condemned building at 1303 Park Avenue. Image source: Omaha World-Herald.


The new building, designed by James T. Allan, would serve as the Creche’s final home, housing operations from 1949 until 2014, when the Creche Center, which was then functioning as a daytime childcare center, made the decision to dissolve. After 127 years, the organization, which still relied heavily on donations for funding, was no longer a sustainable model. Indeed it had weathered some very trying times through wars and the Great Depression, but was largely recognized as a model agency that always managed to “do a lot with a little.”[6] Operating costs were largely funded by the Omaha Community Chest and individual donors, including a large bequest from Anna Wilson.[7] Children were provided three meals per day and healthcare including “psychological tutoring.”[8] Clothing was provided by donations from the local Needlework Guild and the Dunlop, Iowa Altar Society.[9] When the food budget began to outgrow their funds, a two-acre plot at 72nd and Underwood (belonging to Sidney Cunningham) was planted with tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, lettuce, beans, and other vegetables.[10]

Caption: “This is a temporary home for dependent children of school age. Here a group of the lively youngsters living at the home at 1303 Park Avenue indulge in a strenuous after-school game of tug-of-war.” Image source: Douglas County Historical Society.


Then-President Mrs. C. Clarke Swanson explained the secret to the agency’s success quite simply in 1948: “[There are] no figureheads on the Creche directorate. Their hearts are in this project, and they are just as interested in running this home as they are in their own households.”[11] In the first 60 years on the organization’s existence, the Creche had only seen five presidents, each leaving a powerful legacy.

Caption: “In 61 years, the Creche has had only five presidents. The four former presidents are, left to right: the late Madame Thomas L. Kimball, one of the founders; the late Mrs. John W. Towle, who brought it through the depresstion of the 1930s; Mrs. W. E. Hungerford; and Mrs. G. E. Shujert, Jr. Image source: Omaha World-Herald.


The building at 3173 N 52nd still stands, and is currently owned by the Omaha Montessori Co-op.

The Creche Home at 3173 N 52nd St. Image source: Douglas County Historical Society.


[1] Morris, Marjorie. The History of the Creche, Inc.: 1887-1947. 1948. Master’s Thesis, University of Nebraska. Page 3.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid, page 7.

[4] Fleishman Auerbach, Ella. “Creche to Get New $100,000 Home.” Omaha World-Herald. September 19, 1948. Page 3-C.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Morris, Marjorie. The History of the Creche, Inc.: 1887-1947. 1948. Master’s Thesis, University of Nebraska. Page 10.

[8] Creche Society Records, Douglas County Historical Society. Container 11: Fund Reports.

[9] Creche Society Records, Douglas County Historical Society. Container 11: Clothing.

[10] Fleishman Auerbach, Ella. “Creche to Get New $100,000 Home.” Omaha World-Herald. September 19, 1948. Page 3-C.

[11] Ibid.

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