Young Marginals at the Centenary:
One Hundred Years of Huachos
The Activist
‘‘My happiness is to have all children as hijos, to guide them, inspire
them, because they are spirits that need not only to learn but to create,’’
wrote Elvira Santa Cruz Ossa, the celebrated journalist, writer, editor,
outspoken feminist, and activist on behalf of women’s and children’s
welfare. Born in 1886, Santa Cruz Ossa’s extraordinarily long and varied
career reflected many of the changes occurring in Chile in the 1920s and
1930s. She served as a government inspector of women and children’s
labor, organized social assistance for poor school children, founded rural
summer camps for working-class youngsters, and for almost forty years
edited El Peneca, a celebrated children’s magazine that gained hemi-
spheric circulation.
Most obviously, Santa Cruz Ossa’s wide-ranging social, intellectual,
and literary labors reflected new public initiatives concerning children.
While charitable assistance to poor children (and women) was nothing
new, Santa Cruz Ossa’s democratic vision of childhood as a birthright of
rich and poor alike certainly was. Her career also reflected the marked
political transformations occurring in early-twentieth-century Chile.
Populist, middle-class reformist parties had begun to challenge tradi-
tional oligarchic forces and by 1920 had elected their first president of the
republic. Feminists like Santa Cruz Ossa were among the new constitu-
encies to participate in this widening political sphere. Meanwhile, her
activism on behalf of workers’ rights reflected perhaps the single most
striking political development in early-twentieth-century Chile and Latin
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