By engaging in child welfare campaigns, female philanthropists and femi-
nists helped shape the contours of the welfare state in twentieth-century
Argentina. Social policies regarding child welfare began at the community
and municipal level during the era of massive immigration in the nine-
teenth century. Members of the immigrant community, along with female
philanthropists as well as religious groups, met children’s needs by per-
forming works of charity and using their child welfare institutions to con-
vey their communities’ support as well as legitimate their own authority.
Feminists aided this project by advocating legislation to augment maternal
authority over children and provide working women with a fair wage.
The imposing child welfare institutions found in the capital cities of
most provinces as well as in the national capital validated women’s status
within their communities. Their orphanages enabled the women to per-
form charitable acts and assured immigrant and religious collectivities that
future immigrants could avail themselves of these services. The philanthro-
pists’ legitimacy as well as their hopes to continue providing services
turned out to be wishful thinking, because their primary clients after the
Second World War were migrants from the interior provinces, and the
national government modernized social policies by creating a welfare state.
The cyclical nature of child welfare and its ever-changing constituency
meant that community-based child welfare programs only lasted as long as
the specific target population existed. In contrast a national welfare system
o√ered more flexibility, and perhaps a longer life, but it gave women more
limited voices as professionals rather than philanthropists. Furthermore,
the Peronist solution to child assistance, based upon increasing the salary of
heads of households and forcing men to acknowledge their economic re-
sponsibilities to the family, further diminished female authority, and not all
family and child welfare problems could be solved in this way.