The Nurseries of Seabrook Farms by Morgan Dodds

Seabrook Farms was a company town comprised of many different families, and the corporation established nurseries in order to care for the community's children while their parents worked. Photographs of Seabrook Farms, such as the ones displayed here, offer positive representations of this childcare system, showing a diverse group of well-behaved children sitting down to eat together and watching a teacher mix paints for arts and crafts. These images are filled with traditional symbols and icons that signify American exceptionalism, like the Native American feather hats used to commemorate Thanksgiving, and the lush, natural scenery that adorns the school's wall and alludes to the country's open spaces. A teacher referred to as "Knocker" happily mixes paints, as various children — the very picture of diversity with their representations of colors and races — look on. These images are propaganda pieces for Seabrook Farms, showing how the company created an environment where all races were accepted and provided with an education — even if the company's original and primary motive was to secure labor.

Those who lived at Seabrook Farms constantly performed this American identity, with its historic touchstones, as seen with the children in the Native American hats. The childcare centers at Seabrook became stages for displays of Americanness. Education became synonymous with assimilation, and was a special concern with Nisei children. The photographer in both the first and second images draws attention to the fact that the Nisei are just like all of the other children, a visual statement that ignored how many were already fully assimilated before they were even put in camps as potential subversives.

The children themselves also had to deal with the burden of physical work, combined with the emotional work of performing their "Americanness" in classrooms, during social activities, and in community events. One photograph shows "Frank" and "John" working at Koster Nursery, where they are being groomed to continue as agricultural laborers. In this and others ways, children were subjected to immense amounts of emotional and occupational pressure. Their actions and behaviors were regulated by social pressure from the larger community at Seabrook in every aspect of their lives, restricting their agency to comfortably express themselves more autonomously.

This sort of restricted childhood emphasizes how deeply the cultural anxieties of the time ran. At Seabrook Farms, Americanization operated through paternalism in order to establish an accepted cultural identity. The contradictions of paternalism at Seabrook are apparent in the last picture shown here. State exceptions to child labor laws during picking season undermine the value and emphasis on compulsory education the rest of the year. In a way, Seabrook Farms was cultivating its children so that they could in turn cultivate the fields.

The childcare centers at Seabrook Farms were places of education and assimilation. Well-behaved children of different races are shown eating lunch together, at once drawing attention to their contentedness at Seabrook and their racial diversity.
Credit: "Lunch is Served," 1950, Seabrook Educational and Cultural Center, Rutgers University Community Repository Collection.
"Knocker," a teacher at the nursery school, mixes paint for a mural on the wall. As a company town made up of many ethnicities, Seabrook promoted icons of American exceptionalism in order to establish an accepted cultural identity.
Credit: "Watching "Knocker" Mix Paints," 1950, Seabrook Educational and Cultural Center, Rutgers University Community Repository Collection.
Children were relied on as workers during peak picking season at Seabrook, taking them out of school and fostering their development as agricultural laborers. Here Frank and John work at Koster Nursery for 50 cents an hour.
Credit: "Frank and John Working at Koster Nursery," 1949, Seabrook Educational and Cultural Center, Rutgers University Community Repository Collection.