Introduction
This book examines the complex interrelationships between female philan-
thropic groups and feminists in their advocacy of child welfare programs
and family reforms in Argentina in the late nineteenth century and the first
half of the twentieth. Members of female philanthropic groups, who gener-
ally were representatives of the middle and upper classes, organized and
provided help, often voluntarily, for people poorer than themselves. In
contrast, feminists came from all walks of life and organized to promote
equal legal, social, and political rights for women. I argue that the activities
and conflicts between these two groups provide an excellent historical van-
tage point for examining the origins and rise of the Argentine welfare state
between 1880 and the fall of the Juan Perón government in 1955.
This project began as an e√ort to understand why Argentine and other
Latin American feminists lobbied explicitly to gain greater legal authority
over their biological children than did their counterparts in the United
States. In my research I discovered that Argentine feminists only rarely
addressed the plight and rights of non-biological children and orphans.
Instead, they combined the goals of protecting mothers and their biological
children at the same time that they supported campaigns for equal political,
social, and economic rights. In contrast, elite philanthropic women, who
were usually identified as members of the Sociedad de Beneficencia (but by
my findings also included middle-class and immigrant women), organized
to help poor children who had been orphaned and abandoned. In the politi-
cal sphere, some of these nonfeminist women supported adoption laws so
that married and unmarried women could legally adopt a child, a theme
that remained outside most feminist discourse. Why did such di√erences
in attitudes toward child welfare divide Argentine female philanthropists
and feminists?
I have taken much inspiration from the recent literature on women and
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