International Women’s Day: The Early Childhood Edition

Today, March 8, is International Women’s Day. Started in the early 1900’s as International Working Women’s Day and recognized by the United Nations, the purpose of this day is to commemorate women’s rights. Many also view this day as an opportunity to highlight the power of women in the U.S. workforce.

Of the 123 million women in the U.S., 72 million are in the workforce. We know that our work is largely driven by women. Two of the most prevalent occupations for employed women are teachers and child care providers. About 1.2 million women in the U.S. work in child care. Women have also led — and continue to lead this field — as theorists, researchers and advocates.

To celebrate the impact of those women and their lasting (and growing) legacy, please take a moment to learn more about several of those leaders below.


Maria Montessori

Maria Montessori was a confident, ambitious and bold woman whose lasting influence in early childhood is felt daily in programs throughout the world. Born in 1870 and raised largely in Rome, Italy, she utilized her medical training (unusual at the time for women) in psychiatry to explore what she saw as limits in the education of children. By applying the scientific processes of observation and experimentation, she advocated for the use of teaching methods that had proven impact, which led her to open the first Montessori school, the Casa dei Bambini, in January 1907. Through that school, she developed an approach that emphasized self-direction, a rich learning environment, a sense of order, and multi-age groups of children. Montessori also developed learning materials and manipulatives, tools that many programs put to use regularly today. Learn more about Montessori and the method she created at the American Montessori Society.

Magda Gerber

Magda Gerber was a Hungarian early childhood educator who founded the Resources for Infant Educarers (RIE). She emphasized seeing infants as individuals who were able to guide their own learning. This view ignited major shifts in both research and practices around supporting infant’s learning. Her life’s work focused on creating family and professional tools that empowered those caring for infants to be responsive to the needs infants subtly expressed.

Barbara T. Bowman

Barbara Taylor Bowman’s influence on educational research and policy has led to more robust policies and practices within the early childhood and broader educational community. She is a co-founder of the Erikson Institute. In that role and many others, she has served as a leading authority on early learning, educational equity for children, and the impact of intergenerational family supports. Bowman has also been a strong advocate for effective practice, as well as a part of many editorial boards and organizational boards.

Vivian Gussin Paley

Vivian Gussin Paley’s research and practical guides to encouraging storytelling and fantasy play have a lasting impact in early childhood classrooms and within families. Her research and publications championed allowing children unstructured play time to spark interaction and cognitive growth. Additionally, Paley published influential books including You Can’t Say You Can’t Play and White Teacher. In these works, she explored how to create inclusive expectations of children and adults in early learning environments.

Janet Gonzalez-Mena

Janet Gonzalez-Mena is an early childhood educator and cultural sensitivity leader in the field. Her work around multicultural issues in child care established methods now widely accepted in the field as best practices. These efforts support programs in being inclusive of diverse children and families. She has authored several books on topics surrounding cultural sensitivity in the early childhood settings. Today, she works with the Program for Infant Toddler Care to support this messaging as a part of a quality curriculum.

Marcy Whitebook

Marcy Whitebook, Ph.D.,  began her career as an infant, toddler and preschool teacher before founding the Child Care Employee Project in 1977, now known as the Center for the Child Care Workforce (CCW). Her ground-breaking National Child Care Staffing Survey in the late 1980’s was the first study to highlight the reality of low pay and high turnover among the child care workforce. This work has served as the basis for efforts to improve the professional development and preparation of early childhood professionals in an effort to improve the quality of care in early care and education settings. Dr. Whitebook continues to conduct research on the impact of working conditions on the quality of care and you can find her recent publications here.