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Women Build the Welfare State: Performing Charity and Creating Rights in Argentina, 1880-1955

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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 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.


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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 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.

19 review for Women Build the Welfare State: Performing Charity and Creating Rights in Argentina, 1880-1955

  1. 5 out of 5

    Elevate Difference

    Donna J. Guy is a distinguished Argentinean historian, and her book on women’s role in the welfare state (1880-1955) could not be timelier. In the past decades, human rights have often been thwarted in Argentina, producing the need for a reevaluation of women’s rights in South America. Women Build the Welfare State offers some tools to understand the movements that developed in contemporary Argentina by explaining the context and traditions that existed there. In recent Argentine history, women p Donna J. Guy is a distinguished Argentinean historian, and her book on women’s role in the welfare state (1880-1955) could not be timelier. In the past decades, human rights have often been thwarted in Argentina, producing the need for a reevaluation of women’s rights in South America. Women Build the Welfare State offers some tools to understand the movements that developed in contemporary Argentina by explaining the context and traditions that existed there. In recent Argentine history, women played key roles in the demand for rights. Startling cases of systemic abuse are prevalent in the country; for example, the country’s “disappeared” and the adoption scandals stemming from the 1976 military coup and ensuing Dirty War Period. In the former, around 30,000 citizens were “disappeared” as suspected political activists in one of the deadliest sweeps in the Argentinean history of bloody dictatorships. In the latter—and as a consequence of the former—pro-government couples adopted around 500 infants born of imprisoned activist women. The Official Story, a film fictionalizing one woman’s discovery of one such adoption, won an Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 1985. Among key groups of demonstrators against the country’s egregious crimes were famous women’s groups including Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo and the Grandmothers, some of the same mothers of these desaparecidos who began to search for their illegally adopted grandchildren. Eighty-eight children, now in their thirties, have been identified thus far. The development of these women’s movements is extensively studied; however, the context for the emergence of the activities is not. Guy's study thus fills this vacuum by returning to the last century and the history of orphans and mothers. Although her title limits the study to 1880, Guy brings readers back to Argentina’s 1816 independence in order to construct the different movements and women’s involvement in these. She successfully synthesizes the historic, popular, and academic debates surrounding charity, welfare, women, social class, and children’s rights in Argentina. Guy claims to be taking a “child-centered gendered approach,” but the study can only be one of women’s history of rights since, as she demonstrates, women were the primary actors in the establishment of the philanthropic movement of that epoch. Perhaps because of my academic background in women’s studies, Guy’s use of the original expression “performance of charity” was a bit disconcerting. The term “performance” at its most basic is something “acted” and not necessarily lived. Its most complex connotation is that of Judith Butler’s theory of socially constructed gender roles. Both definitions could seem to weaken Guy’s argument about the stake that women had in the charitable work and could imply, following a Butlerian analysis, that women only had this vocation because it was considered a “feminine” endeavor. My confusion about her use of this term came to its zenith when Guy analyzed Evita Peron’s “performance of charity” since Guy seems to stress the pictorial nature of her philanthropy. Was Evita doing “good” for political advancement or was her social engagement founded in true charitable values? This has been a long-standing historical debate of Perón’s ambiguous role in her (husband’s) political success. Sidestepping these important questions, Guy defines her expression as one of women’s empowerment because of women’s “accrual of social status and community recognition, along with an opportunity to perform good works outside the home.” While reading, I had to constantly remind myself of Guy’s definition. More shocking to me was the use of the term “retarded” by the author, one I (mistakenly) thought had been banned forevermore from scholarly writing. Nevertheless, one 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. She incorporates an analysis of both religious and secular charitable organizations, including notable Jewish and Catholic associations. Although her study centers on Buenos Aires (where most of the organizations were based), she makes every effort to include data from the provinces. Guy’s study is a noteworthy contribution to the field of women’s studies and history in Latin America. Review by Sophie M. Lavoie

  2. 4 out of 5

    Dinorah Cardozo

  3. 4 out of 5

    Leslie

  4. 5 out of 5

    C. S. Cousins

  5. 5 out of 5

    Romina

  6. 4 out of 5

    Brittany

  7. 5 out of 5

    Maggie

  8. 5 out of 5

    Angela

  9. 5 out of 5

    Nathalie

  10. 5 out of 5

    Mike

  11. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

  12. 5 out of 5

    Amy

  13. 4 out of 5

    Scarlet

  14. 4 out of 5

    Sabrina Gavigan

  15. 4 out of 5

    Alejandra Ferrari

  16. 5 out of 5

    Mia Mendez

  17. 5 out of 5

    Samantha McGuire The Writers Web Archive

  18. 4 out of 5

    Lorena

  19. 4 out of 5

    Wioletta

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