The Genesis of Child Care in Italy: History and Development between the 18th and 19th Centuries

Child care emerged in Europe at the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century in response to women's need to enter the workforce. Initially, its establishment was not linked to the educational rights of children but rather to political and social needs. With industrialization, mothers had the opportunity to work and contribute to the family's livelihood, but the challenging living conditions of the working class and the consequences of the industrial boom made it impossible for mothers to care for their children.

The need to work was high, wages were low, and working hours were extremely long. Consequently, mothers couldn't afford to leave work since they weren't protected and risked losing their jobs.
Women were thus compelled to work, leaving their children at home for the entire day, with high risks of abandonment and increased infant mortality rates.

In Italy, due to the delay in the development of industrialization, the spread of childcare support and service structures occurred late. The first examples of childcare were the first schools and caretakers, of a private (often religious) nature, created to increase the literacy rate and the availability of women for work.
The so-called "cribs" began to spread in the second half of the 19th century, especially in northern Italy (Venice 1854, Turin 1859) and to a lesser extent in central Italy (Florence 1865, Rome 1871)

The Reggio Approach before Italian Unification

In 1841, the first nursery was established in Guastalla, followed by the Israelite nursery in Reggio (1846) and the Manodori nursery (1860). Between 1866 and 1870, 12 more nurseries opened. In total, 16 nurseries welcomed 1,345 students (with an average of 85 students per nursery) and 34 teachers/assistants.
In the Reggio area, Francesco Paralupi founded the first charitable infant nursery in 1841 with the help of Zaccaria Biagi and Luigi Rabò. Supported by public subscription, the institution welcomed about fifty children aged 2 and a half to 6 years, adopting the secular approach of Ferrante Aporti, a pioneer of free infant schools.
Aporti and Paralupi were in close contact, sharing the idea that education was a tool for social and civil progress. Aporti focused on teacher training, the creation of festive schools for drawing and architecture, and the design of technical schools.
Within the Catholic educational tradition, liberal influences pushed for recognizing the need for freedom and emancipation of the people. Catholic liberals like Paralupi aspired to a militant Church at the side of the poor, an expression of evangelical principles and an instrument of social and political change.

The Manodori Nursery

Pietro Manodori, already the founder of the local Savings Bank and President of the Monte di Pietà, in 1860 took over, at his own expense, the Da Mosto Palace on Via Mari in the center of Reggio to establish the first infant nursery in Reggio, offering free education to all children. The nursery, initially for boys only, later admitted females. The innovation of this structure was the secular educational and economic approach, not tied to political or religious powers. For Manodori, education was fundamental to improving the future of individuals and humanity. Later becoming the mayor, he was one of the protagonists of urban and social innovation in the city after the Unification of Italy. The Manodori Nursery continued its activities until 1991.