Nursery schools of Bilbao

In the last quarter of the 19th Century, they underwent radical transformation. The end of the Carlist War, the rise of mining operations close to the city and the growing industry meant the arrival of a large immigrant population in search of work. Immigrants were often families or young people who quickly had children. Given that the subsistence of the family forced women to work as many hours as men and that, furthermore, these women were in charge of looking after the family, and particularly the young children, a serious problem arose for them: they had to leave them with someone to care for them while carrying on their working day.

In 1881m Councillor Fernando L. de Ybarra chaired a Commission charged with drafting the reform of municipal welfare. One of the aspects tht caught his attention was the situation of abandonment of small children while their mothers worked and the tremendous disparity between deaths in wealthy neighbourhood and poor neighbourhoods. Accordingly, a large part of his proposal consisted of the creation of a nursery to house children of day labourers under the age of three while the latter were at work, to then be collected at the end of the day. This was inspired by projects that had been set in motion in France 25 years earlier and not only sought for mothers to be able to go to work without worrying, but to ensure that children were bathed, fed and kept healthy.

The idea was enthusiastically accepted by the City Council, which immediately set up two nurseries, one in calle Ribera and the other in a house in Bilbao Old Town, which the architect Joaquín Rucoba renovated to adapt it to its new function. Above all the latter, inaugurated on 7 January 1884 under the administration of the Sisters of Charity, was well accepted by families. It was not by chance that this was openend in the heart of the working district of Bilbao.

The nursery building as we now know it is on the same site as the one that was opened in 1884. It was re-built on a design by the architect Ricardo Bastida in 1914. This contained a kindergarten, a nursery for the smallest children and housing for the nuns that cared for them. The exterior was based on a modernist style with the use of tiles and brick.

The City Council took over the organisation of the nurseries until 1929, when they fell into the hands of the Municipal Savings Bank of Bilbao. Between the two institutions, the nurseries were kept open for 140 years without a break.