Sally Ziegler and the Ossining Children’s Center 

Sally Ziegler.
Photo courtesy Andrew Ziegler

Today I am highlighting the life and work of Sally Ziegler, the Executive Director of the Ossining Children’s Center in the 1970s. In addition to helping run the Center, she also saw the need to engage in the political arena to further advocate for childcare and founded the Child Care Council, an organization she helped lead into the 1990s.

Sally Ziegler at the Ossining Children’s Center, c. 1970s
Photo courtesy Andrew Zeigler

Now, the Ossining Children’s Center is another one of those resilient organizations that was founded years ago by a group of community-minded, compassionate and powerful women in Ossining.

In 1895, seeing a need to offer childcare to immigrant women, the Women’s Association of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church started what was then called the Christ Child Day Nursery and Bethany Home.  According to the website of Grace Episcopal Church (the current iteration of St. Paul’s), at the end of the 19thcentury there were many widows in Ossining, women whose husbands had been killed working on the railroad or building the Croton Dam.  Women who then needed to go to work to support their families but had no one to look after their children.

Let’s stop here for a moment and unpack that bit of history.  In that time before OSHA, before any sort of Worker’s Compensation, before any worker protection really at all, enough local workers were dying on their jobs that the good women of Ossining saw the need to organize one of the first childcare centers in the United States.  It’s hard not to have strong feelings about the plight of working people in the United States at the turn of the 20th century, where a fatal accident could leave a family indigent and the business owner unscathed.

But back to the Ossining Children’s Center and Sally Ziegler.

Sally McIntosh Ziegler was born in 1936 in Savannah, Georgia.  Attending Duke University, in 1956 she became the first female editor-in-chief of the Duke Chronicle, the university newspaper.

Sally McIntosh and Ted Ziegler in the Duke University Chronicle Editorial Office, c. 1955.
Photo courtesy Andrew Ziegler

She married and moved to Ossining in the early 1960s, where she and husband Ted started their family.  Sally began volunteering at the Children’s Center when her children were toddlers.

What was a volunteer position soon morphed into something paid, then permanent, until Sally was appointed Executive Director, a role she held for over a decade.  

From what I’ve read about her (see her Duke University obituary here), and conversations I’ve had with her son Andrew, Sally was one of those quietly determined women who got things done.  I’m sure her soft southern manners helped mask her grit and fierce desire to help those less fortunate.

Stories of her taking night classes in Spanish to better communicate with the parents at the Children’s Center, tirelessly lobbying the legislature for more funding for childcare, and becoming an Episcopal deacon in retirement, all speak to a woman who was dedicated to the service of others.

Sally Ziegler keeping an eye on Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Photo courtesy Andrew Ziegler

I see her as one of a parade of women who have done great good in our community, and perhaps got a testimonial dinner and a plaque upon retirement (a la Fanny Kane), but the remembrance of their good works has melted away as the years march on.  Unlike the Carnegies and the Rockefellers whom we can’t help continuing to honor thanks to their largesse and the fact that their names are on things, the stories of the people who do the work, who show up day after day, who minister to the needy are so often forgotten.  Perhaps that’s the way they wanted it, but I think we need more stories of good people who think of others.  Just imagine the number of families whose lives have been lifted up by Sally Ziegler and all the others who have made (and continue to make) the Ossining Children’s Center a success.

Sally Ziegler is just one of many of the unsung heroes who have bolstered and improved our community. And though I rail against the necessity of “theme months,” I have to admit I likely would never have heard of her if I hadn’t been writing these Women’s History blog posts. Her story is inspiring and should be told. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to learn about and highlight her, even if only in blog form.

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