State, Class Society, and Children in Chile
The Children, the Judge, and the Doñas
The initial report brought to the judge’s attention in November 1894
concerned three neglected and abused children living in a poor neighbor-
hood of Santiago. An o≈cial was dispatched to 66 Maipú Street, but, as
he recounted in his report, the woman who opened the door was sin-
gularly uncooperative. At first she refused to present the children in
question and then produced three healthy-looking ones. Eventually, the
o≈cial was shown a girl whose ‘‘sickly condition made me suspect [the
report of abuse] was true.’’ After ordering the arrest of the woman and
several other inhabitants, he searched the house and found two other
children who had been hidden under a bed.
The o≈cial identified the youngsters as Delia, Ricardo, and José Man-
uel Puelma, siblings between the ages of approximately seven and ten. He
described the children’s ‘‘sad state’’ in detail: dressed in filthy rags, they
exhibited ‘‘hunger in the true sense of the word.’’ Delia had worms on her
scalp, and José Manuel and Ricardo displayed ‘‘a thinness that provoked
horror.’’ Photographs taken at the judge’s instruction show the children
posed on a cobblestone street with a wooden chair as a prop, barefoot,
swathed in rags, staring plaintively at the camera or rotated to expose
their scars.
The judge paid for the children to be clothed and fed at his personal
expense and the next day questioned them about their situation. They
confirmed they were orphans living with relatives and described, in a
statement that would later be excerpted in lurid detail in the newspapers,
how they habitually ate garbage out of a canal. The threesome could not
say how old they were and did not know the identity of their mother or
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