September 27, 2013

Mormon Prune Crate Play Furniture Was A Communist Plot


We're making progress on the vintage Mormon Sunday School Nursery play furniture plans I posted a little while ago.

I recently found an earlier edition of the teachers' manual, called Sunday Morning in the Nursery, that dated from 1949, and it had even more plans for toys, classroom furniture, and play furniture: and they're all made from fruit crates.

The caption on the small (26-in. high) play cupboard above says, "This cupboard was made from prune boxes. It is painted ivory enamel with a pale green trim."


This bigger wardrobe/dresser, meanwhile, "is made from orange crates and an apple box. The glass knobs and hinges are from the five and ten cent store."


And these various sizes of hollow "drag boxes" are made from pine, scrap, or prune boxes, too. How many prunes were being eaten in Utah after WWII? Was the state awash in surplus fruit crates?

One clue might be in the acknowledgements, where the plans for all this stuff turn out to come from a manual, Nursery School Furniture and Equipment, put out by the state's Department of Public Instruction in 1943. In other words, during WWII, not after. So maybe everything was made out of old crates for a reason.

But wait, there's more. The plans and the government manual are credited to Melba Judge. A quick Google search turns up an article about Judge from the Utah Historical Quarterly, Winter 1993, [pdf]. She pioneered nursery school and day care in Utah.


Judge helped roll out WPA Nurseries during the Depression, which not only fed, educated, and cared for small children while their parents worked--or looked for work--it also provided jobs to women. For the WPA Nurseries, which were set up from scratch in schools and churches, Judge and one [as yet] uncredited carpenter designed and built the first furniture, then created and distributed the plans so they could be fabricated locally.

With the start of World War II WPA Nurseries were replaced by similar Lanham Nurseries, government-funded preschool/day care centers that freed women to work in the jobs men weren't around to do. So these Mormon prune box nursery designs turn out to be evidence of the New Deal's lasting legacy in supporting child care, early education, and working families in one of the most reflexively conservative states in the country. No wonder I've never heard of it.

In the beginning was these DIY Mormon Play Furniture & Blocks
"Melba Judge Lehner and Child Care in the State of Utah," UHQ vol 61 (pdf) []

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