Woman Who Started E. Village Daycare in 1896 Honored With Street Renaming

By Serena Solomon on September 17, 2013 8:59am 

EAST VILLAGE — A woman who began watching over the East Village's children more than a century ago so that their mothers could go to work will be honored next month when a block of St. Mark's Place is named after her.

Sara Curry started the Little Missionary's Day Nursery in 1896 to provide supervision and an early education to children who would otherwise have been uncared-for while their mothers worked.

The block of St. Mark's between Avenue A and First Avenue, where the nursery still operates, will be named Sara Curry Way on Oct. 5 as a reminder of the neighborhood's history and Curry's work, the preschool's director said.

"Her life was devoted to other people," said Eileen Johnson, who has led Little Missionary's since 2001. "I just think she is a really great role model."

Johnson started petitioning for the street renaming in 2010, and the City Council approved it in December 2012.

To celebrate the sign's installation, along with a plaque on the nursery's building at 93 St. Mark's Place, Little Missionary's will also be hosting a street fair with activities for children such as face painting and inflatable castles.

Curry was motivated to found Little Missionary's Day Nursery in 1896 when she was volunteering for the Methodist Episcopal Church in New York and witnessed a traumatic accident in which a truck hit and killed an unsupervised child from a nearby tenement, according to a biography of Curry by Laura A. Perkins.

Curry began investigating the issue of unsupervised children and found that many were tied to fire escapes or locked in tiny rooms with just a slice of bread and a glass of water for the entire day, so that their parents could work, according to Perkins' research.

"They had to leave the children wandering in the street or tie them on the balcony," Johnson said.

To meet the need of working families, Curry founded a day care center that took on her nickname as "The Little Missionary," which came from her faith, good works and tiny frame.

Little Missionary's Day Nursery quickly attracted generous donations including the building at 93 St. Mark's Place and funds from the Rockefellers.

There was also an article about Curry's work in Harper's Weekly in 1908.

Curry ran the school until her death in 1940.

"I think it is really important for people to know about that history," Johnson said. "And this is a living history because we are still operating."

Although the demographics of the East Village have changed since Little Missionary's began, Johnson said the nonprofit nursery is still true to Curry's mission of serving the children of working women.

Little Missionary's currently provides full-time daycare to 50 children ages 2 to 4 with fees of $1,500 per month. Many of the children receive tuition assistance from the program, Johnson said.

Within the next three years, Johnson hopes to expand the nursery to its 1901 size of 200 children, to meet demand in the neighborhood.

The street fair to celebrate the street naming for Sara Curry will be on Oct. 5 from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. on St. Mark's Place between Avenue A and First Avenue.

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