Women Build the Welfare State

Performing Charity and Creating Rights in Argentina, 1880–1955

Women Build the Welfare State

Book Pages: 264 Illustrations: 18 illustrations Published: January 2009

Author: Donna J. Guy

Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, History > Latin American History, Latin American Studies > Southern Cone

In this pathbreaking history, Donna J. Guy shows how feminists, social workers, and female philanthropists contributed to the emergence of the Argentine welfare state through their advocacy of child welfare and family-law reform. From the creation of the government-subsidized Society of Beneficence in 1823, women were at the forefront of the child-focused philanthropic and municipal groups that proliferated first to address the impact of urbanization, European immigration, and high infant mortality rates, and later to meet the needs of wayward, abandoned, and delinquent children. Women staffed child-centered organizations that received subsidies from all levels of government. Their interest in children also led them into the battle for female suffrage and the campaign to promote the legal adoption of children. When Juan Perón expanded the welfare system during his presidency (1946–1955), he reorganized private charitable organizations that had, until then, often been led by elite and immigrant women.

Drawing on extensive research in Argentine archives, Guy reveals significant continuities in Argentine history, including the rise of a liberal state that subsidized all kinds of women’s and religious groups. State and private welfare efforts became more organized in the 1930s and reached a pinnacle under Juan Perón, when men took over the welfare state and philanthropic and feminist women’s influence on child-welfare activities and policy declined. Comparing the rise of Argentina’s welfare state with the development of others around the world, Guy considers both why women’s child-welfare initiatives have not received more attention in historical accounts and whether the welfare state emerges from the top down or from the bottom up.


“[A] detailed exploration of the distinct advocacy efforts of feminists and female philanthropists in the development of child welfare programs and family reforms in Argentina. This exploration gives strong voice to several significant female perspectives in the political landscape, voices that have too often been minimized in official histories of many lands. . . . Those seeking to expand their global perspective on the role of women in the development of child welfare policy and the welfare state will find this text detailed and well researched.” — Mary Beth Vogel-Ferguson, Affilia

“[A] finely researched and clearly argued book.” — Julia Rodriguez, Comparative Studies in Society and History

“[T]his book is an important contribution and required reading for anyone interested in the evolution of welfare policies in Argentina.” — Matthew B. Karush, The Historian

“This book is based on impressive research including previously unused primary sources. Given the shape of most Argentine archives, this is not a minor accomplishment. The book reads well and is appropriate for both undergraduate and graduate courses in Argentine history, women’s history, and in the history of social policies.” — Mariano Ben Plotkin, American Historical Review

“This work would fit in superbly on a seminar in gender and welfare, as Guy engages with the broader literature from Europe and the USA. . . . [T]his is an important and interesting monograph that will surely be of interest to many.” — Nichole Sanders, Women's History Review

Women Build the Welfare State makes a significant contribution to the history of the Argentine public welfare system from the emergence of the liberal state to the Perón years. . . . The author’s superb analysis further adds to the study of gender and the state through her examination of the diverse debates between feminists and society ladies over the rights of children,
adoption and the role of the family. Moreover, her careful study of the competition between elite men and women over the role of the state will serve as a model for the study of other Latin American nations. . . .” — Elaine Carey, Social History

“[A] well-researched and clearly written study. . . . Other authors have addressed these subjects, but none with Guy’s range and authority.” — David Rock, Journal of Interdisciplinary History

“[Guy’s] scholarship combines a sweeping command of the literature on gender and welfare with an intimate understanding of the Argentine particulars based in an incredible wealth of archival research. For these reasons the book may be profitably read by analysts of gender, of welfare states, and of Argentine social politics.” — Karen Mead, Hispanic American Historical Review

“[Guy] successfully synthesizes the historic, popular, and academic debates surrounding charity, welfare, women, social class, and children’s rights in Argentina. . . . [O]ne can only admire the amount of research that went into synthesizing the enormous quantity of data and testimonials that Guy includes in her excellent historical study. . . . Guy’s study is a noteworthy contribution to the field of women’s studies and history in Latin America.” — Sophie M. Lavoie, Feminist Review Blog

“Guy’s study has uncovered a field of social work previously hidden from sight. . . . One expects that the growing number of historians in Latin America working on these topics will take note of Guy’s important contribution. In addition, scholars interested in the history of welfare in North America and other areas will gain valuable comparative insights from this volume, which merits a place on bookshelves alongside classic works by authors such as Theda Skocpol and Linda Gordon on social policy, gender, and the state.” — Eduardo Elena, Canadian Journal of History

“Guy’s study is a wonderful contribution to the historical literature. . . . Through her groundbreaking archival work, she gives the reader an all-too-rare glimpse into what childhood was like for some in Latin America at this time. Also, through her rendering of women’s efforts in the field of child welfare and the interplay between private charities and official institutions, she shows how this understudied field helps our general understanding of the relationship between state and society in the late nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth. For these reasons alone, this book deserves a wide readership.” — Line Schjolden, Journal of Latin American Studies

“The book is the result of tremendous personal devotion on behalf of the author. . . . The range of potential readers is wide, including historians, sociologists, and feminist scholars. Regardless of particular interests, readers will exit the book with a more nuanced perspective of and appreciation for women’s involvement in Argentine political history." — Contemporary Sociology

“Given the widespread contestation of neoliberalism in contemporary Latin America, it seems that new welfare states are on the horizon. These developments will surely prompt examination of the past, and Donna J. Guy’s book will help lead the way. Guy brings together women activists, children’s problems, and welfare policies to create an innovative perspective that cuts across and illuminates many issues in Argentine history.” — Sandra McGee Deutsch, University of Texas, El Paso


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Donna J. Guy is the Distinguished Professor of Humanities in the Department of History at Ohio State University. She is the author of White Slavery and Mothers Alive and Dead: The Troubled Meeting of Sex, Gender, Public Health, and Progress in Latin America and Sex and Danger in Buenos Aires: Prostitution, Family, and Nation in Argentina and an editor of Feminisms and Internationalism and Sex and Sexuality in Latin America.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  ix
Introduction  1
1. Female Philanthropy and Feminism before the Welfare State: Family Law and the Politics of Names  13
2. Benevolence and Female Volunteerism  36
3. Performing Child Welfare: Philanthropy and Femnism from the Damas to Eva Peron  58
4. Juvenile Delinquency, Patriarchy, and Female Philanthropy  83
5. The Depression and the Rise of the Welfare State  120
6. At the Crossroads of Change: Peronism, the Welfare State, and the Decline of Non-Peronist Female Authority  151
Conclusion  186
Notes  195
Bibliography  225
Index  243
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4330-1 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4347-9
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