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Argentine Motherhood in Comparative Perspective,

Karen Mead

This article places an important Argentine voluntary association, the

Beneficent Society, within the international context of women’s ma-
ternalist activism. Mead focuses on the efforts of elite women’s asso-
ciations to influence government assistance to poor women and
children, arguing that such influence depended not only on govern-
mental structure, but also on women’s ability to take advantage of
prevailing cultural and nationalist concerns. Comparing Argentina
with France and the United States, Mead weighs the importance of
Catholicism, medical corporations, immigration, and differences
among local groups of maternalists in explaining the success of the
Beneficent Society before 1920 and its subsequent marginalization.

T he Beneficent Society . . . is an impregnable fortress against which all
hostile actions must fail.”1 Argentine president Carlos Pellegrini thus
described the nation’s most prominent association of women in 1892, to
the disappointment of an ambitious physician who had hostile action very
much in mind. Although little known outside Argentina, the Beneficent
Society (Sociedad de Beneficencia) merits attention for its welfare activ-
ism, as well as its political conduct, which lent the agency an aura of im-
pregnability in the contentious arenas of social policy and public health.
The history of the organization between 1880 and 1920 suggests how Ar-
gentine women attempted to take advantage of structural opportunities
to participate in the state-building efforts that characterized the era, as
well as how they used available notions of gender to enhance their ma-
ternalist prerogatives.
I use the term maternalism here to refer broadly to any organized
activism on the part of women who claim that they possess gendered qual-
ifications to understand and assist less-fortunate women and, especially,
children. Out of a potentially vast array of organizations that fit this de-
scription, I focus on those that sought a relationship with government as a
means to enhance their effectiveness. Such organizations came into their
own during the late nineteenth century in a number of Western nations
and have received the attention of historians interested not only in women,
but also in the architecture of so-called welfare states.2 Early attempts on


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the part of Seth Koven and Sonya Michel to generalize across geographi-
cal boundaries celebrated the ways in which maternalist ideologies chal-
lenged the supposed boundaries between public and private during the
years between 1880 and 1920. By using the private “virtues” of domestic-
ity to legitimate women’s public relationship to politics and the state, ma-
ternalists played an important role in determining how the state defined
the needs of mothers and children as well as in creating institutions and
programs to address those needs.3
What emerges less clearly in comparative literature about mater-
nalism, although it is often pronounced in case studies, is the importance
of sociocultural issues to the strategies and accomplishments of wom-
en’s agencies. The Argentine case reflects a similar situation in the North
Atlantic region during this period of rapid social and economic change
associated with industrialization and the geographic mobility of capital
and labor. Maternalists demanded the expansion of government respon-
sibility, which in some measure required redefinition of the nation and a
reassessment of citizens’ relationships to the state. Women’s efforts to
influence social policy were shaped not only by available political oppor-
tunities, but also by their ideas about gender and the modern nation.4 The
particular ways in which women accommodated their agendas to larger
nationalisms and made themselves necessary to modernization projects
helped determine which women’s groups achieved nationally influential
roles. In Argentina, women with the greatest impact on social policy and
enduring constructions of gender were those who convincingly embraced
national progress, as the administrative elite defined it, and applied them-
selves to maintaining social order in its wake.5
The equation of women with social order raises questions that pre-
occupy a less optimistic current of maternalist historiography. Which
groups controlled the way maternal values were celebrated in public, and
to what extent did emphasis on women in the family promote or preclude
feminist politics with a greater emphasis on women’s social equality and
economic independence?6 A related question concerns the relationships
among maternalists and their “beneficiaries.” Was maternalism a subset
of paternalist philanthropy, which functioned as a “deliberate depoliticiz-
ing strategy” vital to the positive forms of power exercised by the modern
state, as cynical analysts have asked?7
To assess these questions in the Argentine context, I compare the
Beneficent Society to analogous women’s associations in France and the
United States during the same period. I initially chose these two coun-
tries as exemplars of different forms of government within the Koven and
Michel paradigm outlined below. Yet the more satisfying elements of the
comparison come from the usefulness of these nations as alternate loca-

tions of Catholicism, on the one hand, and massive immigration, on the

other—two important variables in understanding the rise of the Beneficent
Society and its emulators. Organizations in France and the United States
also illustrate the ways that distinct maternalist currents within the same
national setting might divide in response to government action.
Koven and Michel have claimed that maternalists were more likely
to achieve organizational strength and influence over social policy in
“weak” states (those with limited federal governments) than in “strong”
states (those more bureaucratic and interventionist).8 Critics of this the-
ory complain that the labels “weak” and “strong” are too simple to cap-
ture the differences between national political systems.9 Here, I follow
Koven and Michel’s model, but define “weak” and “strong” states accord-
ing to their links to corporate groups that sought to define social policy—
religious establishment, and the medical profession. I compare the potential
for women’s influence in Argentina to that in France, which possessed a
centralized public health bureaucracy and robust Catholic Church, and
the United States, which had fragmented Protestant congregations and
private enterprise medicine. Interesting in itself, this comparison also pre-
sents the Beneficent Society in different terms than those used by many
Argentine historians.10
Contemporary observers always mentioned the socias’ (Beneficent
Society members) elite status. In 1912, for example, as French plenipo-
tentiary minister Fouques Duparc sought in his monthly dispatch to ex-
plain the society’s unusual prestige, he allowed that it was deserved “both
for the social rank of the members and for the results they obtained from
the humanitarian and economic points of view.”11 Yet class alone cannot
explain the achievements or flaws of the Beneficent Society. Many nations
had rich, politically active women, but only in Argentina was a voluntary
women’s association brought into the Ministry of the Interior as an ad-
ministrative agency of a republican government.
We may begin to understand more completely the ascendancy of the
Beneficent Society and other maternalist groups by acknowledging the
political opportunities available in a new government dedicated to the
establishment of national culture in modern Argentina. Not only did am-
bivalence about Argentina’s Spanish Catholic past complicate this objec-
tive, but so did the arrival of large numbers of European immigrants, Italian
and Spanish men for the most part, whose presence seemed to threaten
Argentine elites’ cultural hegemony and undermine local family struc-
tures. Socias influenced policy debates of the early 1880s because of their
class, but they could never have maintained such influence without stra-
tegic manipulation of gendered ideas, which responded to elite anxieties
about national cohesion.
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Comparisons with France and the United States also sharpen the
discussion of such varied topics as Catholic cultural politics, national co-
hesion, and different strategies and rhetoric of amateur and professional
social workers. In approaching these issues, I have relied on the second-
ary literature generated by scholars working on these two countries. Late-
nineteenth-century Argentines were also interested in international
comparisons. Systematic study of foreign health and welfare programs
was common among physicians and female activists, and Beneficent Soci-
ety members were able to use the diplomatic network of the state to re-
quest information about philanthropic endeavors in all countries where
the Argentine government was represented. Such information, socias
hoped, would “permit the Society to establish comparisons and take ad-
vantage of the results.”12 I proceed in a similar spirit.

The Beneficent Society and the Argentine Government

Although the governments of the United States and especially France
were challenged by civil war and revolution during the nineteenth cen-
tury, Argentine leaders’ inability to agree on basic questions of political
organization before the 1850s precluded institutional continuity in a more
dramatic way, and final resolution of political and administrative ques-
tions did not occur until 1880. The statesmen who achieved this settle-
ment believed that economic liberalism, secularized government, and
encouragement of immigration would guarantee rapid progress and en-
able the new Argentine nation to claim its place in the modern world
exemplified by northern Europe. These statesmen traced much of their
philosophy to Bernardino Rivadavia, a liberal leader of the early 1820s,
whose visionary endeavors had included the creation of the Beneficent
Society in 1823.13 He empowered the association to expand and supervise
public education of young girls and to manage three charitable estab-
lishments for women and children—the Foundling Home (Casa de Expó-
sitos), Hospital for Women (Hospital Rivadavia), and Orphanage for Girls
(Casa de Huérfanas)—which, until then, had been run by male religious
Rivadavia had handpicked the original thirteen socias. Although he
soon thereafter fell from political grace, the organization and its establish-
ments survived subsequent decades of political unrest through members’
wiles. At no time were local Catholic clergy in positions to regain control
of welfare services, but the government of Manuel de Rosas (1829–1852),
a political enemy of all that Rivadavia had represented, forced the society
underground for a time. With the ascendance of liberalism in the 1850s,
however, the society’s track record stood it in good stead, and its leaders

became skilled in using Rivadavia’s name to defend the agency from at-
tacks, placing themselves in the mainstream of nationalist liberalism.
By the 1870s, the Beneficent Society had established an Asylum for
Insane Women (Hospital Nacional de Alienadas), Children’s Hospital (Hos-
pital de Niños), and several orphanages. Socias’ attention to institution-
building intensified after 1876, when the agency surrendered ninety-eight
girls’ schools to the Argentine Department of Education. In 1880, when
vexing questions about the nation’s political organization were settled,
the city of Buenos Aires became the nation’s capital. As the government of
the Province of Buenos Aires abandoned the city for a new capital at La
Plata, provincial leaders ceded a variety of functions and agencies—in-
cluding the Beneficent Society—to the new national government.
In explaining the elevation of the Beneficent Society to the Ministry
of the Interior, Minister Antonio del Viso did not refer directly to socias’
willingness to volunteer their labor but stressed that their administrative
efficiency was the “best guarantee that the monies of the Nation would
be judiciously applied to their compassionate destination.”15 In addition,
the society had no formal ties to the Catholic Church, which was impor-
tant to secularizing forces in the new government. The women were well-
organized, experienced, and placed a premium on working cooperatively
at a time when men involved in organizing public health services were
competitive, vying with each other for administrative positions and care-
less with government monies.
Within a few years, however, the country’s most prestigious pub-
lic health professionals—usually referred to as higienistas (hygienists)—
organized Asistencia Pública (Public Assistance), which would become
the other primary health and welfare agency in the capital. Frustrated by
the government’s unwillingness to elevate Asistencia Pública from the level
of municipal government, its leaders sought alliances with the men of
the national government’s Department of Hygiene in repeated attempts
to assume command of Beneficent Society establishments and the rela-
tively handsome budget Congress voted to them each year. In this com-
petitive climate, the society not only retained autonomy over its internal
affairs, but also continued to expand the number and size of establish-
ments it constructed and administered as the government’s agent. Socias’
control over not only asylums but also medical facilities chagrined public
health officials who were not employed by the Beneficent Society.
Immigration into the country produced exponential population
growth, however, leaving many ill, abandoned, and destitute people for
these agencies to attend. In Buenos Aires alone, there were nearly ten times
as many people in 1914 as there were in 1870, and one-half again as many
arrived and left before census takers could count them.16 Following a
2000 KAREN MEAD 125

financial crisis in 1890, private agencies proliferated in response to the

misery of the urban poor, but wretched conditions ran ahead of institu-
tional responses. In this shifting environment, the Beneficent Society re-
tained control of key health and welfare institutions for women, and shaped
the gender ideas of their day, claiming particular virtues on behalf of them-
selves and their clients.

Catholicism, Medicine, and the State in France and Argentina

Critics of the Beneficent Society and other women’s voluntary asso-
ciations in Argentina often stressed their religion, leveling the charge of
Catholicism as if it were a self-evident accusation of conservatism and ig-
norance.17 Perhaps because the assumed connections between the Church
and women are so prevalent in the period literature, modern literature
contains no analysis of a key aspect of the Argentine setting: Argentine
women were able to exercise influence over social policy because the Catho-
lic Church in Argentina was so feeble. Comparison with France on this
point is instructive.
For most of the nineteenth century, French governments were con-
tent to leave education of girls (especially in the countryside) and training
of female teachers to the Catholic Church. Given the absence of profes-
sional opportunities for women, they flocked into the new noncontem-
plative teaching and nursing orders that the Church had begun to organize
in 1796. The number of female religious increased from thirty thousand to
somewhere between one hundred thirty thousand and one hundred fifty
thousand during the last half of the century.18 These numbers were impor-
tant not only because nuns were the only persons trained to perform es-
sential tasks in hospitals and asylums, but also because the vast majority
of women with any formal education were most familiar with Catholic
notions of family and society.
The Catholic concept central to all charitable endeavors is that of
caritas, the unifying love that binds humans to God and each other. In an
organic society conceived as a collection of families bound together in a
hierarchy that was divinely ordained, caritas obligated more fortunate fami-
lies to love and share their material blessings with the poor, Christ’s earthly
representatives. These ideas fit smoothly with bourgeois women’s domes-
tic and reproductive interests, and shaped these women’s understanding
of their responsibilities in an increasingly combative industrializing so-
Encouragement of private philanthropy was an economical way for
government to extend social assistance, and, by the 1860s, state subsidies
to both secular and religious establishments reached their zenith.20 Official

support extended to small asylums organized by laywomen as well as to

large charity hospitals. When republicans gained control of the French
government after 1870, they were not without concern for poor women or
worker families, but they explicitly rejected caritas as an organizational
principle for social assistance in a modern society bound by “cash, self-
interest, and the market,” not familial ties.21 Republicans were less inter-
ested in subsidizing asylums than in building and staffing secular girls’
The overriding development that shaped all approaches to gender in
the early decades of the Third Republic, however, was the falling national
birthrate. After the disastrous Franco-Prussian War, this “crisis of depopu-
lation” appeared as an issue with serious ramifications not only for French
virility but also national security. Questions of maternity riveted the at-
tention of male political and religious leaders in a way that marginalized
women from policy debates.22 Catholic clergy found French women’s de-
clining fertility a serious matter indeed, and the most conservative among
them thought the only way to strengthen the family was to reject indus-
trial development and urban life altogether. More useful to the govern-
ment, however, were French hygienists who set out to improve fertility
and decrease infant mortality among working women without reducing
the availability of female labor or overly restricting employers’ preroga-
As the government of the Third Republic moved against the Catholic
Church, it put women who were involved in traditional Catholic charities
on the defensive without providing significant opportunities for women
with a more secular approach to social relations. Women remained vital
to philanthropic networks but rarely achieved official government posi-
tions. Men set themselves the tasks of reducing infant mortality and im-
proving fertility rates of working women by legislating maternity leaves,
more abundant health care, and financial support to prevent child abandon-
ment.24 The dozens of maternal and infant charities in Paris, for example,
were controlled and inspected by employees of the governmental agency
Asistance Publique (Public Assistance, greatly envied by Argentine hy-
gienists), which coordinated all public health in the capital and through-
out much of the nation.
Many Catholic women were inspired to organize during this period,
but they did so in opposition to government policy and were thus anath-
ema to radical republicans.25 At the same time, however, anticlerical legis-
lators who feared the connections between women and the “black peril”
of the clergy were no more sympathetic to feminists who elaborated pierc-
ing critiques of contradictory republican adherence to both individual lib-
erty and gender hierarchy.26 Although unwilling to imagine females as
2000 KAREN MEAD 127

citizen-voters, lawmakers were open to improvement of women’s legal

position within the sexual division of labor, particularly if it enhanced
their effectiveness as mothers. Many feminists astutely cooperated with
this political line, advocating significant improvements to married wom-
en’s rights. 27 Their influence, however, did not extend to other policy
Although many among the Argentine administrative elite studied
France’s example, there was no institution in Argentina as strong as those
in France. The most important difference was in each country’s respective
Church history. Until the late eighteenth century, Argentina had been on
the fringe of the Spanish Empire, and the Catholic Church was more thinly
represented there than in other areas of the Americas. The wars of inde-
pendence had created important divisions among what clergy there were,
and Rivadavia’s efforts to eliminate the influence of the regular orders
widened those differences. Rosas’s cynical use of the Catholic Church as a
political weapon brought it to its nadir in Argentine history. The Church
worked to rebuild itself after mid-century by ministering to the dominant
classes and had as yet no pastoral mission among the poor. While indi-
vidual elite families practiced charitable giving to dependents and alms-
seekers, there was little tradition of organized lay charity. The Beneficent
Society was an obvious exception, but it only began to expand these ac-
tivities after mid-century, along with a handful of small private women’s
associations. Many proposed public and private welfare projects foun-
dered over lack of funding, building materials, and convents to train staff
for the establishments.28
While the Argentine medical corporation would eventually attach it-
self to the state in the manner of Asistance Publique in France, it was still
in the early stages of this process, whereas the French had been at it in a
serious manner since the seventeenth century. Great progress was made
in university education and professionalization during the 1870s in Ar-
gentina, but in public health virtually everything remained to be done.
Hygienists eager to promote this work admired Asistance Publique for its
scientific achievements, control of Parisian health care providers, and in-
fluence over national organization of medicine.29 Yet the new Argentine
government disappointed these men by denying them sweeping control
of the French model and funding the Argentine Asistencia Pública only
through the municipal budget of Buenos Aires.
During the 1880s, the oratory of Argentine legislators (many of whom
were physicians) rang with the same impassioned anticlericalism as that
of French radical republicans, but, in fact, local clerics were on the defen-
sive and without popular support. There was no institutional level at which
local Catholic hierarchy could effectively resist secularization of educa-

tion, civil registries, or marriage. Nor could it restrict laywomen’s entrance

into social work or organize rival projects.
The financial crash of 1890 created considerable hardship for the work-
ing classes in cities and served as a catalyst for the organization of several
private charities that greatly expanded their assistance to women and chil-
dren in the following years. These organizations were explicitly Catholic
in orientation, and, while many liberal legislators objected to the subsi-
dies that the Argentine Congress voted to these agencies, they were polit-
ically feasible because the local Church was without significant political
power in the 1890s, and therefore nonthreatening. Laywomen were vital
to the functioning of Catholic charities because the Church had so few ties
to the poor.
In contrast to French women, Argentine matrons could carry out their
spiritual obligations in explicit support of the state. They used the ideas
associated with caritas to justify their desire to leave their own homes and
intervene in those of other women. Yet they claimed that the social con-
ditions that warranted this activity were only temporary—the incipient
difficulties of an as yet imperfect but eagerly awaited liberal order. Encyc-
licals of Pope Leo XIII during this period sought to reposition the Catho-
lic Church in a capitalist world in which the “Mother” Catholic Church
could guarantee social peace to the “Father” state.30 Prominent Argentine
Catholic women’s associations adopted a parallel argument by offering to
ease the situation of poor Argentine and immigrant women until men in
the government could straighten out the economic and political details.
The Señoras of Saint Vincent de Paul, for example, although they
formed the largest of the Argentine women’s associations and the one with
the closest ties to the Church, did not advocate the restoration of a golden
age, Catholic or otherwise. In its explanation of social questions, their lit-
erature called upon the thought of Herbert Spencer, the British sociologist
who interpreted market relations in terms of evolutionary theory and be-
lieved that those who could not compete should perish according to the
dictates of natural selection. The señoras (often referred to as vicentinas),
believing that it was unwise for the state to care for the poor who, by vir-
tue of being poor, were obviously unfit, offered to “intercede with com-
passion in the struggle for life, between the dagger of the victor and the
chest of the vanquished.”31 Vicentinas carried this secular understanding
of government-populace relations, their Catholic ideals of the permanence
of family bonds, and an insistence on the need for improved hygiene into
the homes of poor women to whom they distributed donations. They also
built asylums and workshops, which the government subsidized. For staff,
they relied on the management and nursing skills of French Sisters of
Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul, recruited from Europe as were the or-
2000 KAREN MEAD 129

ders that staffed most local hospitals.32 The beneficent had little desire for
Argentine girls to become nuns.
As Argentine women’s associations expanded their membership af-
ter 1890, and applied themselves more consciously to class conciliation
after 1900, the Beneficent Society became increasingly important to its sup-
porters in government as an exemplar of proliferating activism. Yet the
events of 1890 had proved an important turning point for the society as
well. As they beat back repeated attempts of male-run agencies to take
over their institutions, socias used the press to make known their opinions
and expand the image of women.
Although the sharpening economic difficulties of 1889 and 1890 in-
tensified hygienists’ efforts to relieve the Beneficent Society of its admin-
istrative responsibilities, ultimately, the crisis worked to the society’s
advantage, as its spokespersons attributed to socias and their clients the
characteristics most critically absent from male conduct of public life. Tra-
ditionally feminine abnegation and self-sacrifice, for example, became spe-
cific virtues that enabled poor women to stretch inadequate incomes far
enough to hold families together in an age of materialism, just as the so-
ciety held the national family together despite governmental financial
The biggest showdown between higienistas and socias was over the
Casa de Expósitos, an establishment where parents could leave unwanted
newborns with total anonymity. Hygienists wanted access to the institu-
tion in order to study questions of illegitimacy, child abandonment, and
—especially critical in the late 1880s—rising infant mortality rates, which
defied their notions of progress. In 1888, the society had defended its right
to administer the home by arguing that socias’ maternal instincts were more
appropriate to the care not only of orphaned inmates but also of troubled
women who might reclaim their children in the future.33
National Department of Hygiene physicians were not persuaded by
this argument, however, and redoubled their efforts to reorganize the home
along the lines “consecrated by the experience of what has occurred in
France,” where anonymous admissions were no longer allowed.34 In her
official response to the Department of Hygiene, society president Isabel
Hale de Pearson did not argue with its technical precepts (many of which
the home’s doctors had supported) and agreed that speaking of the French
model was the “equivalent of saying that the prescriptions correspond to
the most advanced principles of science,” but warned that the department’s
proposed implementation policies were impractical.35
Forced by the government’s financial crisis to resort to public solici-
tation of donations for the Casa de Expósitos, socias were met with a gen-
erous response, not only from large donors but also from scores of people

who contributed fifty centavos at a time. When, after increasing pressure

from the Department of Hygiene, the society offered to resign control of
the home, daily Argentine newspaper La Prensa published the resignation
letter wherein socias spoke of their efficiency, economy, and patriotism.
They claimed that recent public response to the home’s plight demon-
strated that they had the “confidence of the people” in their honest admin-
istration and economic management.36 The government had little choice
but to agree, under the circumstances, and refused their resignation.
As socias came to describe their clients with the same characteristics
that they claimed for themselves—abnegation, self-sacrifice, willingness
to work hard, and sound economic management skills—they described la
mujer argentina (“the Argentine woman”) in terms that addressed the con-
cerns of a nation undergoing economic depression. As prosperity returned
in the mid-1890s, the Beneficent Society continued to refine and dissemi-
nate their vision of the Argentine woman, applying the same virtues not
only to economic situations but also to the strength of character necessary
to maintain Argentine culture at the family core. Increasingly, however,
their vision responded more consciously to anxieties raised by immigra-
In France, the “depopulation crisis” compelled doctors and politi-
cians to initiate a “corrective intervention” into poor women’s family lives
to prevent squandering of the nation’s population.37 Many of these men
assigned a key role to the housewife/mother in maintaining family life in
a growing nation, and worked toward securing state protection for the
family as a means of defending social order. But French legislators never
consulted women to refine their knowledge of family needs, and many
dismissed as antimodern the social vision of Catholic women.38
In Argentina, women retained greater control over the discourse of
motherhood not only because of structural differences but also because
questions of nationalist anxiety were different than those in France. Popu-
lation growth was strong (local hygienists were smug about the fact that
French women in Argentina demonstrated high birthrates in contrast to
French women at home), but there were doubts about the society’s future
as many people came and went, abandoning women, children, and the
elderly and leaving them outside the protective reach of family networks.
The Beneficent Society argued that (with their help) Argentine women
had the strength and virtue to hold families—and thus the nation—together
and that they already knew how to do these things because they were
women. Neither hygienists nor clerics were in a position to challenge such
claims, and thousands of relatively privileged women followed these ideas
into action.
The government of the French Third Republic worked to wrest caritas
2000 KAREN MEAD 131

from the hands of women and perfect techniques of population manage-

ment that corresponded to a modern class society bound by economic re-
lations. In contrast, as the Argentine elite observed the growth of a
prosperous, but increasingly cosmopolitan, society that exhibited what
they perceived as unbridled materialism, the “oligarchy” sought to in-
vent a society bound by familial solidarities, with a particular emphasis
on filial loyalty to the patria (fatherland). Women played an integral role
in this society.

Immigration and Maternalism in the United States

and Argentina
The relationship between women’s activism and the state was much
different in the United States than in either Argentina or France. The fed-
eralist structure of the state and unwillingness of most legislators to ex-
pand the power of the national government during much of the nineteenth
century fostered the vitality of women’s activism. Early disestablish-
ment of church from state also distinguished the United States. The self-
governing congregations typical of U.S. Protestantism were dependent
on lay support, and the strength of women among the laity allowed them
to expand their social authority.39 After the Civil War, the courts and po-
litical parties that structured the formal polity were ill-equipped to ad-
dress social conflicts associated with industrialization. Building on the
moral reform impetus of the antebellum period, women’s associations took
advantage of many opportunities to improve the delivery of health and
social assistance.40
As a dynamic industrial economy took hold in their region, white,
middle-class women in Northern U.S. cities were in the best position to
benefit from their organizational experience during the Civil War. Wom-
en in many settings in the United States accepted great responsibility for
the welfare of their communities, and this was nowhere more pronounced
than among African-American women.41 But white women in the North
were better placed to influence government policy as well as gain access
to education. The presence of U.S. women in higher education, more than
forty thousand in 1880, was critical to their participation as both volun-
tary and professional social workers.42
As for the medical profession, its comparative lack of interest in im-
proving maternal and child health through government programs is sug-
gested by the absence of national infant mortality statistics at the turn of
the century.43 The free-enterprise model of health care adopted in the
United States accorded little prestige to practice of public medicine and
encouraged physicians to remain independent of the state. Historian Alisa

Klaus has shown how the structure of the profession not only left room
for a woman-oriented policy network but also allowed women far greater
opportunities to practice medicine, both as doctors and nurses.44
Klaus had also provided key insights into the impact of immigration
on maternalism. In the United States as in Argentina, population was in-
creasing rapidly, but far more growth was due to immigration than repro-
duction of native-born whites. The fear of “race suicide” on the part of the
white middle class bred their concern for “race betterment” with regard
to immigrants and nonwhite people. “Race betterment” was not as urgent
an issue for U.S. politicians and physicians as was the “depopulation cri-
sis” in France, but it was compelling enough to promote a supportive po-
litical environment for women dedicated to the cause.45 President Theodore
Roosevelt used the concept “race suicide” in speeches designed to encour-
age white women to adopt certain family values, but the national gov-
ernment took no organized initiative in promoting such behavior. 46 U.S.
women, therefore, encountered fewer obstacles to their own programs than
did their counterparts in France.
Historian Molly Ladd-Taylor has devised a typology that identifies
two principal maternalist approaches to the situation of poor women and
children in the United States.47 “Sentimental” maternalists were typified
by the National Congress of Mothers, which was a group of women who
were traditionalists on women’s place—their own and their clients’—
within the home and family. “Progressive” maternalists were typified by
those associated with Hull House, the Chicago settlement house where
innovative reformers created a supportive milieu for activist middle-class
women and their clients among the neighborhood’s immigrant commu-
nity. Although progressives also encouraged poor mothers to stay home,
they believed in their right to choose between marriage and career, and
understood their contributions in terms of professional expertise as well
as feminine capacity for nurture.
In spite of differences, however, both types of U.S. maternalists were
moved by an ideology whose appeal, according to Ladd-Taylor, “cannot
be understood apart from the white Protestant alarm over ‘race sui-
cide’ in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.”48 As the popu-
lation became more ethnically diverse, maternalists sought to “remind
Anglo-American women of their moral and civic responsibility to bear
(and stay home with) children and to teach immigrants ‘American’ family
Such anxieties were even more pronounced in Argentina, where im-
migrants formed a larger percentage of the population than in the United
States. Early statesmen had hoped for northern European immigrants to
cultivate the vast interior of the country. After the 1870s, however, the
2000 KAREN MEAD 133

majority of immigrants came from southern Europe and a large percent-

age preferred to pursue opportunities in the booming coastal cities rather
than take up agricultural labor. In contrast to U.S. cities, where immigrant
workers were welcomed primarily in unskilled labor and the Democratic
Party, in Argentina, immigrants came to represent a majority of commer-
cial and industrial entrepreneurs as well as skilled and unskilled laborers,
but did not participate in electoral politics because naturalization was
difficult.50 Thus, even before labor conflicts in the twentieth century fo-
cused anti-immigrant sentiment on “foreign agitators,” native-born elites
were concerned with preserving an Argentine culture that reinforced their
social and political dominance. Metaphorical associations between family
and nation were useful to a paternalist government in need of an inclu-
sionary discourse that might encourage permanent settlement and patri-
otic sentiment among immigrants who remained without formal political
rights. But the skewed sex ratios resulting from immigration increased
anxieties that “real” families were not serving as social cement.
Immigrant men comprised the largest group in the adult Argen-
tine population, especially in Buenos Aires. (In Buenos Aires in 1887, for
example, among people fifteen years old and older, there were 38,207
Argentine-born men to 135,792 foreign-born; 51,703 Argentine-born wom-
en to 69,080 immigrant women.51 ) Not only were Argentine men dramati-
cally outnumbered by foreign-born men, but they were also far less likely
to marry than were immigrants. While several conservative voices argued
for the need to protect Argentine women from the foreign horde, far more
concern attached to workers of the future. Who would inculcate the chil-
dren of foreign men with a love for Argentina?
Women thus created a crucial role for themselves in defining the Ar-
gentine national family. Refashioning traditional ideas about women as
curators of culture (an idea that had often been used to keep them at home),
optimistic sources praised the ability of Argentine women to socialize for-
eign men as well as their children.52 It was easy to blame foreigners for the
disorder of broken families and abandoned relatives, and there was al-
ways impressionistic evidence to confirm these fears. A seven-month-old
baby named Guido, for example, was admitted to the Beneficent Society’s
Casa de Expósitos when his parents returned to Italy. At the port, the ship’s
captain had refused to allow Guido on board because he had the measles;
his parents left him behind.53
Members of voluntary associations were well aware, however, that it
was impossible for most poor women to benefit from most of the aspects
of traditional Hispanic family life that they themselves enjoyed. The ideal
Argentine family they championed was therefore something of a hybrid
that revolved around women’s service. They praised clients who were

mostly female heads of household struggling to maintain familial rela-

tions in the midst of unprecedented social and geographic mobility.
The home as a theoretical locus of Argentine patriotism offered spe-
cial advantages in this country where a short and tempestuous political
history provided little material for unifying national myths. Yet the Be-
neficent Society, in particular, could claim a long, apolitical, institutional
patriotism. As early as the 1880s, French traveler Emile Daireaux had left
Argentina with an image of porteñas (Buenos Aires women) as paragons
of patriotism. He asserted that the history of the porteña was tantamount
to the history of “national sentiment” in the Argentine Republic. This na-
tional sentiment “is born of her and in her. It is she who makes it the reli-
gion of her children, and one could add that it is the only religion she
cares to teach them.”54
The concept of the Argentine home elaborated by women’s agencies
was elastic and inclusive, encouraging all women to elect this way of life.
Authentic argentinidad (Argentineness) was defined by society spokes-
women in describing clients’ lives and drawing attention to the intimate
sphere of action in which patriotism was reproduced as a female virtue.
In 1907, at the Beneficent Society’s annual public awards ceremony, Presi-
dent Etelvina Costa de Sala invoked women’s historic abilities to support
their dependents. “The traditional organization of the Argentine family,
constituted exclusively on selflessness and preserved through all of our
transformations, is the propitious environment in which our [clients] have
developed their exceptional virtues. Daughters raised in the ambience com-
mon to all our old homes, from the most humble to the most lofty, know
that the idea of self-sacrifice to alleviate the pain of loved ones is the legiti-
mate and natural fruit of so much shared affection.”55
Socias insisted that the Argentine family was a naturally occurring
phenomenon which had shaped their lives and taught them the value of
love and self-sacrifice in holding families and the nation together. Their
message was heard, however, by many supporters who appreciated their
efforts in hopes that they could reduce social disorder attributed to immi-
grant workers. At the same ceremony, Minister of Foreign Relations and
Religion Estanislao Zeballos equated the Beneficent Society with the pa-
triotism of the nation’s first call for national independence in May 1810.
“Now the great Argentine social task is to lose no time in the formation of
our character, because we are constructing a nation on the tragic fact that
all of our glorious traditions from the year ’10 are disappearing as we
assimilate the traditions, beliefs, interests, qualities, and passions of the
races that arrive from abroad in successive waves and absorb our man-
ners, instead of us being able to absorb them! . . . It is the immaculate tra-
dition of May that the Sociedad de Beneficencia represents: love, virtue,
2000 KAREN MEAD 135

and patriotism!”56 The ceremony’s audience, primarily women from other

benevolent agencies and government officials, responded with enthusias-
tic applause. According to one reporter, “Dr. Zeballos had known how to
interpret the feelings latent in all of their spirits.”57 By 1910, the Argentine
state had gone some distance toward the centralized, interventionist model
that legislators had wanted from the start. The Beneficent Society enjoyed
a secure niche within this government, embodying the ideals of woman-
hood they had worked to associate with the propagation of Argentine cul-
Women who received financial assistance and public recognition from
the society almost always worked for income in order to maintain depen-
dents, and merited financial aid in socias’ eyes because the work available
to them was insufficient and/or ill paid. The society exerted pressure when
possible to open new opportunities for women’s employment outside
the home.58 Even more energetic measures were taken in this regard in
the training programs and homes for working women the Señoras of Saint
Vincent de Paul sponsored. Without criticizing prevailing economic doc-
trine or the patriarchal family, the beneficent championed the efforts of
women who were not served by these systems yet still encouraged their
filial loyalty to the fatherland. Although the practical considerations of
these beneficent maternalists led them to endorse work for women in a
way that scandalized many who saw female factory labor as a disturbing
trend in modern life, as a group, they were unlikely to approve such em-
ployment unless it was a dire necessity. They did not, for example, under-
stand women’s economic participation in the life of the nation as grounds
for legal changes in women’s status or political rights. As a different ap-
proach to maternalism emerged, however, such issues began to divide ac-
tivist women.

Progressive Maternalists in Argentina

By the end of the nineteenth century, a small number of female col-
lege graduates began to produce a second stream of maternalism in Ar-
gentina. Immigrant women were an important presence in this group not
only because immigrants were well represented more generally in the ur-
ban middle class but also because immigrant families apparently were
more willing to send their daughters to college. Argentines were also vital
to the group, however, and, when they definitively separated from other
maternalists in 1904, these women emphasized education rather than na-
tional origins with their organization’s name: Asociación Universitarias
Argentinas (Association of Argentine University Women). Universitarias
(as these women were often referred to) quickly tired of the prevailing

ideology of la mujer argentina. Although most were not as bold as Alicia

Moreau de Justo, the socialist feminist who spearheaded campaigns for
women’s rights and democracy throughout much of the twentieth cen-
tury, they were anxious to uncouple successful motherhood from the idea
of cultural curator and distinguished themselves, as she did, from “women
impregnated by a spirit so Spanish,” claiming instead to be “penetrated
by the spirit of European and American civilization.”59
Much like U.S. progressives, Argentine universitarias differed from
local sentimentalists primarily in their desire to create professional employ-
ment for themselves in social service. The feminism several universitarias
endorsed was consistent with a maternalist desire to apply nurturing ma-
ternal qualities to social questions of the day. As a group, they did not em-
brace suffrage or equal rights, but rather a discourse that harmoniously
blended home, motherhood, and social justice.60 Yet the issue of middle-
class employment had a significantly different impact in Argentina.
In the United States, progressive maternalists were the first women
to gain federal employment with the creation of the Children’s Bureau
in 1912. This achievement and all future bureau work relied on close re-
lationships with women’s private associations, whose support remained
important even as the bureau created new opportunities for female em-
ployment within government.61 In Argentina, universitarias also began with
the support of the beneficent, who were just as enthused as themselves
about the spread of domestic science. But the desire of universitarias to
create employment for themselves based on scientific expertise was ill-
received by sentimentalists in Argentina, not only because it threatened
their government positions but also because it was subversive to the gen-
der ideology upon which those positions rested.
Universitarias sought employment in a welfare system that relied heav-
ily on women whose competence was rarely considered in the economic
terms that determined men’s wages. This was obviously the case with the
administrative labor of the Beneficent Society. More extensively, however,
the largest public hospitals, and many private ones, relied on the nursing
skills of European religious women whose vocation enabled them to work
for a nominal salary. Cecilia Grierson, perhaps the best-known universitaria,
railed against this situation and its European models. She regretted that
“France, which we so love to imitate, has perhaps one of the worst forms
of nursing assistance,” and was indefatigable in her efforts to establish a
professional nursing school in Buenos Aires.62 Although the Escuela de
Enfermeras (School for Nurses) eventually came under the aegis of Asis-
tencia Pública, medical directors of that agency’s hospitals rarely sent their
lay staff there for training because they were unwilling to raise nurses’
2000 KAREN MEAD 137

Although individual women might enter “male” professions, the cre-

ation of new realms for female employment was limited. Thus Grierson,
also Argentina’s first female medical doctor, could have made her living
as such, but was unable to raise nursing to a professional status either for
herself as an instructor or as a category of “respectable” employment for
poor and middle-class women. Similarly, when universitarias called atten-
tion to factories employing women and children in violation of legal hours
and safety standards and offered to place themselves in charge of inspec-
tion and application of penalties, Department of Labor officials snubbed
them. They might volunteer their time to inspect and denounce infrac-
tions of the law “just like any other person,” but the department would
not pay them to do so.63
The economics of women’s voluntary labor was bolstered by the elabo-
rate gender ideology that the Beneficent Society for years had embodied.
Women’s work was vital to the social fabric, but its value was great be-
cause, by definition, women’s work was performed in service to others.
The Beneficent Society and its emulators among Catholic agencies encour-
aged the waged employment of poor women whose families were depen-
dent on their incomes, but they were less enthusiastic about waged labor
for middle-class women seeking a measure of independence for them-
selves. The Beneficent Society did not obstruct the careers of women whose
training took place in their hospitals, but they did nothing to assist them
or promote new professional opportunities for women in their institu-
tions, which they clearly had the power to do.
Nor were the beneficent generous with federal funding for new pro-
grams.64 Under such circumstances, universitarias grew increasingly res-
tive and began to define themselves in more explicit contrast to their
forebears. Universitarias rejected Catholic morality as the basis for admis-
sions to institutions or for the routinization of daily life among institu-
tionalized women and children. They also emphasized distinctions in class
terms, contrasting the beneficent with middle-class women like themselves
entering professions with “a measure of the legitimate aspiration to be-
come self-sufficient, to eradicate from woman’s spirit that false shame of
work.”65 To the more traditional, it was not work but self-sufficiency that
vied with the ideal of the Argentine woman as the cohesive force in the
household and nation.
As universitarias distanced themselves from the patronage of other
women’s associations, they grew closer to male hygienists who shared
their professional interests. No doubt, scientific congresses were more sat-
isfying to universitarias than their encounters with the beneficent. But, even
if the men who heard their papers admired the intellectual prowess of
universitarias, they were less willing than the beneficent (perhaps because

of their history with them) to share jobs they considered theirs.66 Women
seeking entry into social work professions were thus ideologically stranded
with a scientific discourse that alienated other maternalists, and a claim to
nurture that, in the opinion of hygienists, qualified them to volunteer but
not take on paid professional roles.
Moreover, while the social turbulence associated with an organized
working class had once raised hopes for achievement of class conciliation
among women of different backgrounds in the home, by 1910, politicians
and even the clergy sought a greater role for themselves. Universitarias
were drawn to the rights-based discourse of socialists, but the Socialist
Party did not fully endorse the economic independence for women that
universitarias wanted for themselves, although it sheltered some of their
projects.67 At the same time, important Catholic prelates who sought lead-
ership of a new social Catholicism moved to capture the leadership of
several associations that laywomen had created. In the future, priests would
seek to control the unionization and evangelization of working women.68
Teodelina Alvear de Lezica, a leader of two Catholic groups, saw the benefit
of a formal alliance among important women’s associations, which could
preserve and enlarge their prerogatives. However, her proposal was re-
jected by the Beneficent Society, whose first loyalty was to the govern-
ment it served.69
In many ways, the Beneficent Society remained an impregnable for-
tress, but one that was increasingly less central to the defense of the state.
When Hipólito Yrigoyen became president in 1916, he donated his salary
to the society, continuing the courtly gesture he had begun in the 1890s
when he was a normal school teacher. This personal donation, however,
symbolized the increasing dependence of the society on elite generosity.
Expansion of their budget and official commitment to new projects was
not forthcoming. With the cooperation of scientifically trained women,
the society might have competed more successfully for new funding. With
the cooperation of the Señoras of Saint Vincent de Paul, the society might
have used grassroots Catholic support to leverage more political influence.
As it was, each group of women labored in a separate sphere, and, by the
1930s, the state had become a “surrogate father through the services of
(male) physicians, whose loving attention to babies and their mothers”
was free of unwanted advice from women’s groups.70

Argentine maternalists greatly expanded social assistance for women
and children between 1880 and 1920, making themselves a conduit through
which state resources could flow to these groups. Without the Beneficent
2000 KAREN MEAD 139

Society it would have taken much longer to organize quality medical care
for indigent women and children. Along with Catholic associations, socias
offered other kinds of aid to working-class women as well, and their
maternalist vision was much more generous than the biosocial evolution-
ary functionalism of the era’s leading hygienists with which it competed.
Although Argentine anticlericals tended to dismiss religious women
as slaves of the Catholic Church, for the turn of the century there is more
evidence to suggest that women used Catholic ideas to expand their range
of useful activities into areas that the local clergy regarded as secondary.
Thousands of middle-class women who wished to participate in mater-
nalist action were welcomed in such Catholic charities as the Señoras of
Saint Vincent de Paul by laywomen more energetic than their spiritual
advisors. Their allegiance did not represent an overt rejection of universitaria
programs, but, rather, the inconceivability of joining those women who
were truly privileged by university education. The increasing importance
of Catholicism to national models of motherhood was disturbing to uni-
versitarias, but it was not the only thing to prevent cooperation.
In Argentina, possibilities for alliance were more limited than they
were in the United States, in part because of structural development. Ma-
trons of the Beneficent Society showed considerable political creativity in
expanding their responsibilities and prestige within a “weak” government
during the 1880s and 1890s. The Argentine government was “weak,” how-
ever, because it was new, not because it was committed to a limited, feder-
alist structure. As the state bureaucracy solidified, male hygienists acquired
the organizational momentum to control funding for new endeavors. They
could not dislodge the Beneficent Society, but, as a permanent fixture in a
now “strong” government, the society was no more open to the creation
of positions for educated women than were male-run agencies.
The beneficent were unable to adjust their notions of female gender
to include professional expertise, in contrast to the way they had earlier
expanded them to claim economic efficiency. This failure limited the abil-
ity of other women to follow them into government, limited their own
potential since their organization came to appear archaic amid increas-
ingly innovative hygienists, and, perhaps, limited the ways in which wom-
en of the popular classes might claim the right to state assistance.
If, as sociologist Lisa D. Brush has suggested, “maternalism is femi-
nism for hard times,”71 then it seems prudent to remember that, between
1880 and 1920, women in Argentina (like women in France) stood a far
better chance of receiving a hearing if they demanded it on behalf of their
citizen children rather than themselves. All maternalists recognized this
on one level or another, and yet they were unable to cooperate to their
mutual advantage. Although the entrance of middle-class men into the

university and the professions provided the basis for alliances between
all manner of men, it seemed to have had the opposite effect on women in
public life. Maternalism did not cause this, but its espousal of dependence
and protection continued to direct women’s attention away from each
other, in spite of its glorification of the potential they shared.

Support from a Mellon fellowship and the Women’s Studies Program at Wash-
ington University in Saint Louis, Missouri, as well as the enthusiastic participa-
tion of the students in my “Women and the State” class encouraged me to write
this article. I would like to thank John Chasteen, Stacey Robertson, Joan Supplee,
Liann Tsoukas, Devaughn Williams, and the editors of and anonymous readers
for the Journal of Women’s History for their perceptive suggestions that have im-
proved this manuscript.
Quoted in Emilio R. Coni, Memorias de un Médico Higienista: Contribución a
la historia de la higiene pública y social argentina (1967–1917) (Buenos Aires: Talleres
Gráficos A. Flaiban, 1918), 312.
Seth Koven and Sonya Michel, eds., Mothers of a New World: Maternalist
Politics and the Origins of Welfare States (New York: Routledge, 1993); Gisela Bock
and Pat Thane, eds., Maternity and Gender Politics: Women and the Rise of European
Welfare States, 1880–1950s (London: Routledge, 1991); and Linda Gordon, ed.,
Women, the State, and Welfare (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1990).
Seth Koven and Sonya Michel, “Womanly Duties: Maternalist Politics and
the Origins of Welfare States in France, Germany, Great Britain, and the United
States, 1880–1920,” American Historical Review 95, no. 4 (1990): 1076–108.
See Miriam Cohen and Michael Hanagan, “The Politics of Gender and the
Making of the Welfare State, 1900–1940: A Comparative Perspective,” Journal of
Social History 24, no. 3 (1990): 469–84.
On Argentine notions of progress during this period, see Karen Mead,
“Gendering the Obstacles to Progress in Positivist Argentina, 1880–1920,” His-
panic American Historical Review 77, no. 4 (1997): 645–75.
Lynn Y. Weiner, “Defining the Issues,” Journal of Women’s History 5, no. 2
(1993): 96–131, esp. 96. Weiner’s article was part of a larger section entitled, “Ma-
ternalism as a Paradigm,” a discussion among several historians.
Jacques Donzelot, The Policing of Families, trans. Robert Hurley (New York:
Pantheon, 1979), 55.
Koven and Michel, “Womanly Duties,” 1093–94.
See Jane Lewis, “Women’s Agency, Maternalism, and Welfare,” Gender and
History 6, no. 1 (1994): 117–23.
For example, Carlos Correa Luna, Historia de la Sociedad de Beneficencia, 2
2000 KAREN MEAD 141

vols. (Buenos Aires: Sociedad de Beneficencia de la Capital, 1923). Interpretations

of the society as backward are Héctor Recalde, Beneficencia, asistencialismo estatal y
previsión social, 2 vols. (Buenos Aires: Centro Editor América Latina, 1991); and
Emilio Tenti Fanfani, Estado y pobreza: Estrategias típicas de intervención, 2 vols.
(Buenos Aires: Centro Editor América Latina, 1989). For beneficent societies as
part of the modern apparatus of power, see Eduardo O. Ciafardo, “La práctica
benéfica y el control de los sectores populares de la ciudad de Buenos Aires, 1890–
1910,” Revista de Indias 54, no. 201 (1994): 383–408.
Fouques Duparc to Minister of State, 5 July 1912, Nouvelle serie, vol. 3,
fol. 154, Archives du Ministère des Affaires Etrangères, Paris, France.
Actas, 16 June 1902, leg. 13, fol. 37, Sociedad de Beneficencia, Archivo
General de la Nación (hereafter SB/AGN), Buenos Aires, Argentina.
For late-nineteenth-century opinions of Bernardino Rivadavia, see V. F.
López, Historia de la República Argentina, 10 vols. (1893; reprint, Buenos Aires: J.
Roldan, 1911), vol. 9; Nicolás Avellaneda, Escritos literarios (Buenos Aires: La
Cultura Argentina, 1915), 38–46; and Bartolomé Mitre, Ensayos históricos (Buenos
Aires: La Cultura Argentina, 1918), 200–13.
Ministerio de Relaciones Esteriores y Culto, “Decreto organizando la
Sociedad de Beneficencia y nombrando socias,” in Documentación histórica de la
Sociedad de Beneficencia, 1823–1909 (Buenos Aires: Imp. y casa editora de Juan A.
Alsina, 1909), 5. See also Correa Luna, Historia de la Sociedad, vol. 1, chap. 1.
Argentina, Memoria presentada al Honorable Congreso de la República Argen-
tina por el Ministro del Interior Dr. Don Antonio del Viso, correspondiente al Año de
1880 (Buenos Aires: Imprenta de La Tribuna Nacional, 1881), xvi.
The 1869 census of Buenos Aires recorded nearly 177,000 inhabitants; the
1914 census recorded nearly 1.5 million.
Moderate examples include Memoria presentada al Honorable Congreso
Nacional en el Año 1887 por el Ministro del Interior Dr. D. Eduardo Wilde (Buenos
Aires: Imprenta de La Tribuna Nacional, 1886), 48–56; and Ernestina A. López de
Nelson, “Nuevos ideales filantrópicos: No el arte de curar, sino la ciencia de
prevenir,” Boletín Mensual del Museo Social Argentina 3, nos. 25–26 (1914): 64–79.
An extreme example is the drawings in the liberal newspaper El Mosquito, 9 Sep-
tember 1883, 1.
See Claude Langlois, Le Catholicisme au feminin: Les congrégations françaises
à supérieure générale au XIXe siècle (Paris: Editions du Cerf, 1984), 306–8; and Steven
C. Hause, with Anne R. Kenney, Women’s Suffrage and Social Politics in the French
Third Republic (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1984), 259.
Bonnie G. Smith, Ladies of the Leisure Class: The Bourgeoises of Northern
France in the Nineteenth Century (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1981).
Rachel G. Fuchs, Poor and Pregnant in Paris: Strategies for Survival in the
Nineteenth Century (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1992), 100.
See also Rachel G. Fuchs, Abandoned Children: Foundlings and Child Welfare in

Nineteenth-Century France (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1984); and
Donzelot, Policing of Families.
Smith, Ladies of the Leisure Class, 159. For constraints on individualist poli-
tics during the Third Republic, see Karen M. Offen, “Depopulation, Nationalism,
and Feminism in Fin-de-Siècle France,” American Historical Review 89 (June 1984):
648–76, esp. 665–71. See also Judith F. Stone, “The Republican Brotherhood: Gen-
der and Ideology,” in Gender and the Politics of Social Reform in France, 1870–1914,
ed. Elinor A. Accampo, Rachel G. Fuchs, and Mary Lynn Stewart (Baltimore, Md.:
Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995), 28–58.
Offen, “Depopulation”; and Alisa Klaus, Every Child a Lion: The Origins of
Maternal and Infant Health Policy in the United States and France, 1890–1920 (Ithaca,
N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1993), 91–93.
On legislative enthusiasm for hygienist expertise, see Rachel G. Fuchs,
“The Right to Life: Paul Strauss and the Politics of Motherhood,” in Gender and the
Politics of Social Reform, 82–105.
See Jane Jenson, “Representations of Gender: Policies to ‘Protect’ Women
Workers and Infants in France and the United States before 1914,” in Women, the
State, and Welfare, 152–87. See also Mary Lynn Stewart, Women, Work, and the French
State: Labour Protection and Social Patriarchy, 1879–1919 (Kingston, Canada: McGill-
Queen’s University Press, 1989).
Steven C. Hause, with Anne R. Kenney, “The Development of the Catho-
lic Women’s Suffrage Movement in France, 1896–1922,” Catholic Historical Review
67, no. 1 (1981): 11–30.
See Joan Wallach Scott, Only Paradoxes To Offer: French Feminists and the
Rights of Man (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1996), chap. 4; Stone,
“Republican Brotherhood,” 28–58; and Offen, “Depopulation,” 664–76.
Offen, “Depopulation.”
For an account of the first hospital sisters in Buenos Aires, see Olga M.
García de D’Agosino, “La Municipalidad, el Hospital General de Hombres y las
Hermanas de la Caridad,” in II Jornadas de la Historia de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires
(Buenos Aires: Instituto Histórico de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires, 1988), 283–99.
Ernest Allen Crider, “Modernization and Human Welfare: The Asistencia
Pública and Buenos Aires, 1883–1910” (Ph.D. diss., Ohio State University, 1976).
“Quod apostolici muneris” (1878), and “Rerum novarum” (1891), both in
The Great Encyclical Letters of Pope Leo XIII, pref. John J. Wynne (New York: Benziger
Brothers, 1903); and Mary E. Hobgood, Catholic Social Teaching and Economic Theory:
Paradigms in Conflict (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1991), chap. 2.
Las Conferencias de Señoras de la Sociedad de San Vicente de Paul en la República
Argentina. En el 25° aniversario de la fundación del Consejo General, 1889–1914 (Buenos
Aires: Compañía Sud-Americana de Billetes de Banco, 1914), 35–37.
In 1907, there was one small community of German nuns, one commu-
2000 KAREN MEAD 143

nity to run the Irish orphanage, one larger company of Spanish Siervas de María,
while there were twelve French orders—most numerous and most important in
nursing/administrative works—and a somewhat lesser number of Italian orders
which had the largest number of schools and centers of religious propaganda. See
Pedro Santos Martínez, “Religión e immigración en 1907: Un informe del Arzo-
bispado de Buenos Aires,” Archivum: Revista de la Junta de Historia Eclesiastica Ar-
gentina 16 (1992): 127–44, esp. 140–43.
“Reclamación de la Sociedad de Beneficencia,” La Prensa, 14 October
1888, 1.
Presidente de la Comisión to Presidenta [Isabel Hale de Pearson], April
1891, Casa de Expósitos, leg. 101, fol. 178, SB/AGN.
Hale de Pearson to Minister of the Interior, 20 April 1891, reprinted in
Intendencia Municipal, Patronato y Asistencia de la Infancia en la Capital de la
República: Trabajos de la Comisión Especial (Buenos Aires: Establecimiento “El Cen-
sor,” 1892), 345.
Sociedad de Beneficencia, Origen y desenvolvimiento de la Sociedad de Be-
neficencia de la Capital, 1823–1912 (Buenos Aires: Establecimiento Tipográfico M.
Rodríguez Giles, 1913), 280.
Donzelot, Policing of Families, 25.
Rachel G. Fuchs, “France in a Comparative Perspective,” in Gender and
the Politics of Social Reform, 157–87, esp. 161.
This section of my argument follows that of Kathryn Kish Sklar, “The
Historical Foundations of Women’s Power in the Creation of the American Wel-
fare State, 1830–1930,” in Mothers of a New World, 43–93. See also Lori D. Ginzberg,
Women and the Work of Benevolence: Morality, Class, and Politics in the Nineteenth-
Century United States (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1990).
See Theda Skocpol, Protecting Soldiers and Mothers: The Political Origins of
Social Policy in the United States (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press,
See Eileen Boris, “The Power of Motherhood: Black and White Activist
Women Redefine the ‘Political,’” in Mothers of a New World, 213–44, Eileen Boris,
“What about the Working of the Working Mother?” Journal of Women’s History 5,
no. 2 (1993): 104–7; Linda Gordon, “Black and White Visions of Welfare: Women’s
Welfare Activism, 1890–1945,” Journal of American History 78, no. 2 (1991): 559–90;
and Darlene Clark Hine, “‘We Specialize in the Wholly Impossible’: The Philan-
thropic Work of Black Women,” in Lady Bountiful Revisited: Women, Philanthropy,
and Power, ed. Kathleen D. McCarthy (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University
Press, 1990), 70–93.
Sklar, “Historical Foundations of Women’s Power,” 62.
Klaus, Every Child a Lion, 13; and Robyn Muncy, Creating a Female Do-
minion in American Reform, 1890–1935 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991),

Klaus, Every Child a Lion, 43–87.
On the eugenic sensibilities of the Progressive movement, see Alisa Klaus,
“Depopulation and Race Suicide: Maternalism and Pronatalist Ideologies in France
and the United States” in Mothers of a New World, 188–212.
Ibid., 190.
A concise statement of this typology is Molly Ladd-Taylor, “Toward
Defining Maternalism in U.S. History,” Journal of Women’s History 5, no. 2 (1993):
Molly Ladd-Taylor, Mother-Work: Women, Child Welfare, and the State, 1890–
1930 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994), 5.
Ladd-Taylor, Mother-Work, quotation on 5, 49–63. Klaus also stresses the
importance of “race suicide” and “scientific motherhood” with more emphasis
on the work of public health doctors in Klaus, Every Child a Lion, 31–41, 139–57.
See also Linda Gordon, Pitied But Not Entitled: Single Mothers and the History of
Welfare, 1890–1935 (New York: Free Press, 1994), 46–49, 84–88; and Joanne L.
Goodwin, “An American Experiment in Paid Motherhood: The Implementation
of Mothers’ Pensions in Early-Twentieth-Century Chicago,” Gender and History 4,
no. 3 (1992): 323–42.
See Samuel L. Baily, “The Adjustment of Italian Immigrants in Buenos
Aires and New York, 1870–1914,” American Historical Review 88 (April 1983): 281–
Buenos Aires, Comisión Directiva del Censo, Censo general de población,
edificación, comercio e industrias de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires (Buenos Aires: Compañía
Sud-Americana de Billetes de Banco, 1889).
This optimism was especially prevalent around the 1910 Independence
Centennial. See, for example, Roberto J. Payró, “Criolla,” in La Nación: 1810, 25 de
Mayo 1910 (Buenos Aires: La Nación, 1910), 171–74.
Actas, 16 November 1903, leg. 13., fol. 256, SB/AGN.
Emile Daireaux, La vie et les moeurs a la Plata, 2d ed. (Paris: Hachette, 1889),
A reporter from a journal devoted to social welfare recorded the event in
“Los premios la virtud,” Anales del Patronato de la Infancia 15 (May 1907): 142–48,
quotation on 143.
Ibid., 147.
Ibid., 148.
For an account of the Beneficent Society pressuring commercial estab-
lishments to hire young women to spare them from sweated labor in their homes,
see, for example, “Sociedad de Beneficencia,” Boletín de la Unión Industrial Argen-
tina 109 (23 April 1889): 2–3. Thanks to Fernando Rocchi for bringing this to my
2000 KAREN MEAD 145

Alicia Moreau, Emancipación civil de la mujer (1918), translated in Katherine
S. Dreier, Five Months in the Argentine from a Woman’s Point of View, 1918 to 1919
(New York: Frederic Fairchild Sherman, 1920), 244–47.
Asunción Lavrin, Women, Feminism, and Social Change in Argentina, Chile,
and Uruguay, 1890–1940 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1995), 26–32.
On cooperation among women of diverse social ranks, see Molly Ladd-
Taylor, “‘My Work Came out of Agony and Grief’: Mothers and the Making of the
Sheppard Towner Act,” in Mothers of a New World, 321–42.
Cecilia Grierson, “Escuelas de Enfermeras,” Argentina Médica 5, no. 13
(30 March 1907): 209.
“El trabajo de las mujeres y de los niños. Gestiones de las Universitarias
Argentinas,” La Prensa, 10 October 1909, 8.
In 1918, six thousand pesos of government subsidies went to the progres-
sive maternalists, whereas nearly seven hundred thousand went to sentimental-
ist associations. The budget for the Beneficent Society’s government facilities was
over four million pesos. See Emilio R. Coni, Higiene Social, Asistencia y previsión
social: Buenos Aires caritativo y previsor (Buenos Aires: Imprenta Emilio Spinelli,
Ernestina López, “La mujer argentina y la obra social,” in La Nación, 151–
61, quotation on 152.
See Lavrin, Women, Feminism, and Social Change, 106–8.
See Asunción Lavrin, “Women, Labor, and the Left: Argentina and Chile,
1890–1925,” Journal of Women’s History 1, no. 2 (1989): 88–116; and María Silvia Di
Liscia and Ana María Rodríguez, “El Socialismo y la Iglesia. Aportes sobre la
condición femenina, 1918–1929,” in La Mitad del País: La Mujer en la sociedad
argentina, ed. Lidia Knetcher and Marta Panaia (Buenos Aires: Centro Editor de
Latino América, 1994), 341–53.
Sandra McGee Deutsch, “The Catholic Church, Work, and Womanhood
in Argentina, 1890–1930,” Gender and History 3, no. 3 (1991): 304–25.
Actas, 31 August 1914, leg. 18., fol. 222, SB/AGN. See also Karen Mead,
“Oligarchs, Doctors, and Nuns”(Ph.D. diss., University of California, Santa Bar-
bara, 1994), chap. 8, esp. 366–68.
Lavrin, Women, Feminism, and Social Change, 124.
See Lisa D. Brush, “Love, Toil, and Trouble: Motherhood and Feminist
Politics,” Signs 21, no. 2 (1996): 429–54.