SDN Children’s Services is a not-for-profit organisation that has been providing quality services for children and families for more than 118 years.

Originally known as the Sydney Day Nursery Association, SDN’s first centre was opened in 1905. The Association was formed by group of women from Sydney’s affluent inner-Suburbs who recognised the dire need among working mothers, who found themselves the sole breadwinners for their family, for safe and reliable child care.


Families of the early 20th century in Australia had very limited options for child care. Some working mothers left their children with relatives or friends, or in the care of older siblings – which often meant girls had to drop out of school early. Children were left unattended on the streets, or locked inside their homes with food and water. Some mothers had no choice but to give their children up to institutions.

SDN’s founders

The founders of the Sydney Day Nursery Association were a group of young and determined, women, from families well connected with Sydney’s business, legal and medical networks, who shared a strong social conscience. One of our founding women was Marguerite Fairfax, who was connected to the famous media family through her marriage to Dr Wilfred Fairfax. Other founding women, such as Linda Littlejohn (née Teece), had strong affiliations with the women’s movement, while early committee member Dorothea Mackellar shared the concerns of her father, Sir Charles Mackellar, who had chaired a Royal Commission in 1904 on the alarmingly high infant mortality rate in NSW.

The commitment of our founders to directly assist their fellow women working in the impoverished areas of inner-Sydney was considered a somewhat radical idea. Many of the city’s social elite of that time had little sympathy for people living in poverty, or at best assisted in a remote manner.

The founding committee members stated in their charter that they were establishing the Sydney Day Nursery Association “not to relieve these mothers of their responsibility, but to ease their overwhelming burden of care and anxiety, to enable them to keep their home and family together, and to supply to their little ones … wholesome and loving care”.

The first day nursery in NSW

On 3 August 1905, SDN’s founding women held their first meeting, in Darlinghurst, with the purpose of “organising a movement to establish a crèche”. It was to be “no cold, remote charity, but an institution started by fellow women, who fully realise the difficulties that beset the paths of working mothers”.

Just four months later on 7 December 1905 the first day nursery in NSW for babies and infants was opened in a small terrace at 126 Dowling Street, Woolloomooloo, rented for just under £1 a week. For 3 pence a day, children were bathed, clothed and cared for from 7.00am to 6.30pm and fed balanced meals with fresh milk. Each child’s health was monitored by the Matron, one of the first professionally trained nurses in Australia, and visiting doctors and dentists.

How SDN grew

The success of the day nursery at Woolloomooloo was immediate, and within months the association began looking for larger premises. With no shortage of demand throughout the working class suburbs of inner-Sydney , many more day nurseries opened over the next few decades.

In 1931, SDN established the first nursery school for pre-school aged children in New South Wales, based at SDN Woolloomooloo. The following year, SDN established a centre to train nursery school teachers in New South Wales. The centre, originally also based in Woolloomooloo, moved to Newtown in the 1940s and went on to become the Nursery School Teachers’ College By the 1940s a social worker was also hired by SDN, provided much-needed family support services, and introduced an early priority intake system

Over the years, SDN has expanded our services into rural areas of New South Wales and the ACT. SDN’s support of children with disabilities or addition needs, provided by our centres and programs, has also broadened,

SDN today

More than 116 years since our formation we are now known as as SDN Children’s Services, and we’ve grown to be one of the largest not-for-profit children’s services organisations in Australia. We support our children and families through Children’s Education and Care Centres and family support and disability services.

A lot has changed since 1905, both in our organisation and in the communities we serve, but one thing remains the same: SDN is still driven by the very same values that inspired our founders to open that first nursery in a rented terrace house in Woolloomooloo.

SDN remains committed to working towards a future where the promise and potential of every child is realised, families and communities are strong and caring, and children’s services are valued and well resourced.

Read more about SDN's history here.

You can also visit our pages on Wikipedia, Historypin and the Dictionary of Sydney.

The beginnings of our centres

Learn more about the rich and unique history of each of our early childhood education and care centres.

SDN archive

The SDN Archive was established in 2002 to house the extensive collection of historical records, documents, photographs, teaching resources and toys amassed by SDN since it was established in 1905.

The Archive is a unique resource in Australia’s children’s services sectors – a community treasure trove reflecting a changing society and SDN’s contribution to Australia’s children and families for more than 100 years.

The Archive contains: 

  • A complete set of Annual Reports from 1905
  • Extensive minutes of executive meetings and nursery school branch meetings
  • Log books and teachers’ programming books
  • Oral histories from staff and committee members, with transcripts
  • Art works by student teachers from the Nursery School Teachers College in the 1950s, and young children in the 1960s
  • Newspaper articles, photographs, and original deeds to properties
  • Children’s toys and books
  • Informative reports, photographs and curriculum materials relating to the specialised teacher training provided by the Nursery School Teachers’ College between 1930s and 1970s.

For further information, contact SDN on 02 9213 2400 or by email to

SDN Archive
SDN Children’s Services
PO Box 654, Broadway NSW, 2007

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