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The Casa de Huerfanos and child circulation in late-nineteenth-century Chile.


In the past two decades, a number of outstanding monographs have explored the phenomenon of child abandonment and the significance of foundling homes in the European past. (1) More recently, historians of Latin America have turned their attention to these institutions, which appeared with increasing frequency in urban centers across the hemisphere in the late eighteenth century. (2) While conclusive generalizations about the nature of child abandonment in Latin America are somewhat premature given the current paucity of research, one issue deserving further inquiry has already emerged. In a recent history of child abandonment in Brazil, Maria Luiza Marcilio observes, "the informal or private rearing of foundlings in family homes was the widest system of protection of abandoned children, present throughout the history of Brazil. It is this [system] that, in some sense, renders original the history of assistance to abandoned children in the country." (3)

Marcilio's provocative observation about the historical significance of informal modes of assistance in Brazil can probably be extended to many other parts of Latin America as well. As a small but growing ethnographic and historical literature has revealed, poor, abandoned, and illegitimate minors in Latin American and Caribbean societies, from the colonial period into the twentieth century, have often been informally reared in casas ajenas--other peoples' homes. (4) Their presence in non-natal households reflects the ubiquity of fosterage, adoption, apprenticeship, and child domestic labor--diverse but overlapping practices I refer to collectively as child circulation. Thus, the foundling homes of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Rio de Janeiro and Salvador da Bahia, Mexico City and Santiago de Chile that, like their European counterparts, received legions of abandoned youngsters, operated within broad informal systems of child circulation. (5)

We have little sense, however, of how these asylums fit into general systems of child circulation in specific historical contexts. (6) Indeed, after acknowledging the importance of the informal sphere, even Marcilio herself spends only a few pages on the topic before returning to a discussion of orphanages; the dearth of sources on what have traditionally been private practices, she notes, hampers a more comprehensive treatment. Her observation therefore poses the question: How did foundling homes, or what might be characterized as "formal," "institutional" or "public" modes of child circulation, interface with the "informal," "extra-institutional" or "private" cultures and practices of circulation present in many Latin American societies? These questions are of interest not only because they may illuminate the role of foundling homes and the nature of child circulation in the Latin American context. They also have the potential to shed light on the broad historical evolution of welfare provision in its informal and institutionalized guises and, by extension, on the very relationship between private practices and public authority.

To the extent that the relationship between institutional and informal modes of circulation is considered at all in the historiography, European or Latin American, there is a prevailing tendency to contrast them as discrete and mutually exclusive. This tendency may well derive from John Boswell's The Kindness of Strangers, one of the only studies to focus on informal modes of child abandonment. (7) Erudite and methodologically innovative, Boswell's study explores child abandonment in Europe prior to the rise of the foundling home. He argues that the legions of abandoned youngsters in the societies of late antiquity and medieval Europe were succored by the "kindness of strangers" who incorporated these children into their households, monastic communities, and lineages. He contrasts their situation with that of abandoned children after the thirteenth or fourteenth century, when hospitals and later specially designated foundling homes displaced more informal modes of provision. The institutionalization of welfare was catastrophic because of the extremely high rates of mortality that typically characterized these asylums. A number of scholars have taken issue with Boswell's interpretation, questioning whether it presents a misleadingly rosy portrait of the fate of unwanted children in the ancient world. (8) Still, the basic distinction between "interpersonal" child abandonment and abandonment "mediated by institutions," which Boswell implicitly treats as discrete, mutually exclusive, and chronologically sequential phenomena, remains unexamined. (9)

The present article seeks to reexamine the relationship between informal and institutional mechanisms from the perspective of an orphanage far removed in time and place from those of medieval Europe: the Casa de Huerfanos, the largest and most important welfare institution in Santiago, Chile, in the late nineteenth century. The everyday modus operandi of the Chilean Casa, as the asylum was known, reveals the complex interdependence of informal and institutional mechanisms for receiving and rearing abandoned children.

Like other studies of foundling homes, my analysis draws on the extraordinarily rich documentation regarding its quotidian activities generated by the orphanage itself. In addition, I also make use of extra-institutional documentation, including judicial and notarial records, in order to reconstruct the context of popular beliefs about and practices of child circulation within which the public institution functioned. Through an analysis of these sources, I show how Santiago's Casa de Huerfanos complemented and was interconnected with much wider and deeper informal circuits of child redistribution. What is more, parents and caretakers apparently recurred to the institution in order to subsidize and formalize otherwise extra-institutional or "private" fostering arrangements. In turn, the social relationships over which the Casa presided were in many ways indistinguishable from those associated with informal fostering. Such observations lead me to conclude that, far from supplanting informal modes of care, the asylum actually relied on the kindness--and self-interest--of private households of all social stations to assist the legions of poor, orphaned, and abandoned youngsters it received. In other words, instead of displacing "traditional," informal modes of charity, the expanding public welfare apparatus of the late nineteenth century actually reproduced, reinscribed, and perhaps in some measure legitimated informal practices.

Child circulation in popular culture

Child circulation in late-nineteenth-century Chile encompassed a diverse constellation of practices involving minors who were mandados criar, literally "sent out to be reared," by unrelated caretakers. Often it was the illegitimate, orphaned, and abandoned who were mandados criar, but above all, this was a practice involving the children of the poor. While any generalization must remain somewhat tentative given the dearth of studies of childhood in Latin America, it appears that while the legitimate offspring of elites were reared in the households of their progenitors (or in cases of orphanhood, in the households of close relatives), poor children were often nursed, reared, apprenticed, and "rented" for service in the households of others. (10)

Historians have noted the difficulty of accessing the lives of children in the historical record. It is perhaps surprising, then, that the circulation of minors in Chile is so vividly, if incompletely, illuminated in the sources. (11) For example, census inventories of household composition record the presence of unrelated children. And wills turn out to be a useful source for reconstructing patterns of child circulation because testators often left bequests to individuals whom they had reared. (12) But perhaps the richest source of all are the narratives of everyday domestic life recounted in late-nineteenth-century Chilean courtrooms. Courts encountered circulating children in a number of different contexts. They mediated disputes over the custody of these minors and were called upon to evaluate the costs of a child's crianza, or rearing, against the value of his or her labor to the foster household. In a variety of circumstances, as when fostered children ran away, judicial authorities also considered the nature of rights enjoyed by individuals over minors whom they reared, pondering whether caretakers exercised paternal authority over their wards. Courts also heard criminal cases involving the abuse and neglect of youngsters in non-natal households.

All these cases shed light on the quotidian beliefs and practices associated with child circulation. And even when the investigative spotlight did not focus on these children per se, they are often there, in the penumbra of the documentary record, being nursed on the stoop, running errands in the streets, coming of age in humble shacks or in the servants' patios of elite homes. So familiar was their presence in households, neighborhoods, and communities that they rarely provoked comment from either local people or judicial authorities. From the historian's perspective, what is remarkable about these children is how utterly unremarkable they were for their contemporaries.

Is it possible, based on such documentation, to quantify the magnitude of child circulation in nineteenth-century Chile? Using census manuscripts, historian Rene Salinas found that among villagers in the rural department of Los Andes, Chile, in the 1840s, 17 percent of the total recorded population of minors lived with people other than their parents. (13) The calculation likely underestimates the phenomenon, however, given that some fostered minors were probably recorded as sons and daughters of the households where they resided. Moreover, the proportion of children in this community who had ever lived in such an arrangement, as opposed to those doing so at the particular moment the census was recorded, was surely much higher.

Wills also indicate that the practice was widespread. In a sample of eighty-five wills recorded in the year 1850 by Santiago notaries, almost 17 percent of testators made a bequest to un nino que he criado, a child whom they had reared. In the same year, in the provincial department of San Felipe, located some 90 km north of Santiago, no less than one in four testators made such provisions (16 of 65 wills). Again, such figures probably underestimate the presence of unrelated children in testators' households, given that testators did not always specify their relationship to beneficiaries in their wills. And of course people may have reared children without choosing to leave them anything. (14) Wills also appear to document the decline of child circulation: by the turn of the twentieth century, references to foster children disappear from testaments in both Santiago and San Felipe. I will return to this intriguing but ambiguous observation later on.

In addition to providing a sense of the magnitude of child circulation, wills and judicial records illustrate the functions and meanings of the myriad child-rearing arrangements and modes of family formation that existed in nineteenth-century Chile. Specifically, these sources illuminate why some parents chose to give up their children as well as why other individuals chose to take them in.

Wet nursing arrangements constituted one crucial vector of child circulation. Wealthy mothers in nineteenth-century Chile, as elsewhere in Latin America, rarely nursed their own infants, routinely hiring poor women as live-in wet nurses instead. The nurses, who earned wages rivaling any other female occupation, in turn passed their own children on to be cared for by women as poor or poorer than themselves. Around 1880, Rozenda Acevedo left her rural community of Codegua to work as a wet nurse for a wealthy family in Santiago. She entrusted her illegitimate infant son, Luis Alberto Acevedo, to a woman whose family were tenants of a local hacienda. Such arrangements could be temporary, but some children remained in the care of their wet nurses for years. Luis Alberto continued to live with his foster family until he died at age five. His mother left one year's anticipated salary for his wet nurse, but according to witnesses, had not been heard from since. (15)

Late nineteenth-century Chilean doctors, like their counterparts elsewhere in Latin America and Europe, spilled considerable ink condemning wet nursing as a cause of infant mortality because employment as nurses prompted poor mothers to abandon their own children. But wet nursing was merely the most visible motor of abandonment. What elite commentators did not acknowledge was that live-in domestic service in general was implicated in this dynamic. Domestic service accounted for perhaps forty percent of all recorded female employment in Chile in the late nineteenth century. (16) Because the children of domestics were rarely permitted to reside in the households where their mothers worked, these children too were passed on to other caretakers. Thus, the circulation of poor minors was inseparable from the market for women's domestic labor.

Poverty and the nature of domestic service fueled child circulation, but so too did illegitimacy. As elsewhere in Latin America, illegitimacy was rampant in Chile. In the final decade of the nineteenth century, some 30 percent of children were born out of wedlock; by the first decade of the twentieth century, the number had increased to 40 percent. In the case of poor children, it is impossible to separate out the relative weight of illegitimacy, maternal poverty, and the exigencies of female domestic labor as factors explaining circulation. For poor women on their own--and female headship was ubiquitous in nineteenth-century Chile--the three conditions were all too often inextricably interrelated and mutually reinforcing. The Civil Code of 1857, which prohibited paternity investigation, thereby placing the legal onus for rearing illegitimate children solely on mothers, probably exacerbated maternal poverty and fueled child circulation. (17)

In the case of elite parents, it is easier to disaggregate the role of illegitimacy in the dynamics of circulation. Among these sectors, offspring whose out-of-wedlock birth threatened the honor and patrimony of family members could be fostered out to alternative caretakers. Many elite, illegitimate fathers sent their children to be reared in anonymity in others' households, often those of their dependents. (18)

Of course, viewed from the perspective of those who took them in, children were less burdens on wage-earning mothers or liabilities for elite, illegitimate parents than they were objects of emotional or economic value enthusiastically sought by caretakers. Childless couples were one such group. Valparaiso shoemaker Jose Tapia and his wife, who informally adopted a young boy in 1862, were one such couple. Tapia explained how, "Privately and in the confessional ... [a Jesuit friar] asked if he could give me an orphan boy ... I discussed it with my wife who insisted that I accept the offer of the friar, and since we did not have children of our own, we would take care of this defenseless boy and adopt him as our son." Five years later, the boy still lived with Tapia and his wife, who according to witnesses treated him "the same as if he had been their son." The youngster also served as an apprentice to Tapia. His role as both son and apprentice was not necessarily a contradiction: it merely reveals that children could be simultaneously imbued with affective and material value in social sectors in which the labor of minors was an important component of the household economy. (19)

Another group that frequently sought out parentless children were older women of modest means, especially those who were widowed, never married, childless, or otherwise alone. Such women desired to take in youngsters who would "accompany" them, offer "comfort," and serve as "companions," as contemporaries commonly phrased the role. In addition to providing companionship--which probably also entailed domestic service in many cases--such children represented a form of social security for women on their own in their old age. Take Dolores Gonzalez, who in her 1875 will identified herself as single, 65 years old, and a native and resident of the small town of Quillota. She declared, "Since his earliest years I have reared and had by my side a young man named Segundo Gonzalez ... who at present is about 26 years old, [and] who has served me and cared for me like the most faithful of sons ... maintaining me with the products of his industry and work." She named the young man executor of her will and instituted him as the sole and universal heir of her modest estate. (20) He also acquired his adoptive mother's last name. As an unmarried woman with no children, Dolores Gonzalez had taken in the orphaned or abandoned Segundo at around age forty. She may well have done so with an eye to the companionship and material support the young man could provide in her old age. If this was the case, the intergenerational symbiosis had apparently worked out well, both for the once-vulnerable youngster without a family and the soon-to-be vulnerable aging woman on her own. Given the high rates of childlessness prevailing in this society--a third or more of late-nineteenth-century Chilean testators had no living offspring--such scenarios must have been common. (21)

All of these arrangements relieved strapped families, working mothers, or unwilling illegitimate parents of the burden of their care even as they provided minors to households in which children were lacking. Some circulating youngsters passed their childhood in a single home while others moved perpetually from family to family. Some were eventually reclaimed by their progenitors, while others definitively lost contact with their families of origin and even knowledge of their natal identities. The most fortunate minors could become objects of love and affection in their new families. They could, as in the case of Segundo Gonzalez, cited above, acquire the legal status of heir and the social role of son or daughter.

But the appellations "son" and "daughter," particularly as they applied to fostered children, were deeply ambiguous. For being the hijo or hija of one's adoptive family could imply not just incorporation as a valued son or daughter, and heir, of the household. It could also imply a servant's filial subordination to a father-master or mother-mistress--a rhetoric of kinship that naturalized relations of dependence. The advice proffered to upper-class women in an 1891 guidebook entitled Deberes de la Mujer Cristiana ("Duties of the Christian Woman") reflects this alternative meaning. The author, a presbiter, counseled his readers: "The mistresses of the household are, in a sense, the parents of their servants, above all if the latter have been reared by them; so they should treat them as daughters, look upon them with affection and compassion." As for the servant herself, "the young Christian woman who is contracted in service to other people should treat her masters as parents, and regard them with respect, submission, care, and obedience." (22)

Such advice reveals the other face of child circulation: the social complex of dependence, subordination, and servitude in which the practice was embedded and which it served to reproduce. From the age of six or seven, the point at which productive life was widely regarded to begin for the lower classes, poor children were routinely sent out to other households to be "educated" or to work as servants--activities that were in practice one and the same. Their productive tasks frequently assigned in accord with their sex, children ran errands for shopkeepers and households, did housework, cared for infants, and ironed and washed clothes. In the countryside, they also worked the harvest, served as shepherds, and chopped wood. The elite female readers of the guidebook were not the only ones to receive such young workers. Even humble households sought out the labor of abandoned, unwanted, or orphaned children. Residence in a guardian's household provided children with the practical experience that prepared them for future servitude, or, if they were lucky, artisanal or agricultural skills. It also initiated them into the patronage networks that would prove crucial for making a living and getting by in a society organized around relations of dependence.

But if early insertion into the labor market was the rule for most poor children, some suffered a particularly acute form of exploitation. Some caretakers evidently "adopted" infants with the deliberate purpose of grooming them for future service. The life story of the servant Maria Ramirez, illuminated during the course of a criminal investigation lodged against her in the 1890s, is illustrative. According to her mistress, Ramirez had been taken in at ten months of age. Reared in the woman's household, she labored as an unpaid domestic until the age of twenty or so, when she ran away, allegedly with some of her mistress's jewelry. (23) Ramirez's experience of lifelong servitude is echoed in notarial documentation, like the will of one Curico smallholder in 1858 who left a few sheep and calves to "my three domestics whom I reared." (24)

It is likely that the animals were the only form of remuneration these domestics ever received. For children reared in such arrangements were generally not paid once they reached working age; it was understood that their labor served merely to compensate their guardians for the expense of their upbringing. The commonly used term criado/a, which meant a servant, maid, or household dependent but also "one who is reared" (from criar, to rear or nurse), captures the slippage between the roles of domestic servant and foster child. In an exquisitely tuned cycle of subordination, masters and mistresses might rear, and maintain in their employ, the children of their servants. (25) Such scenarios suggest that practices of informal fostering could serve to ensure the multi-generational reproduction of dependence. They further indicate that patterns of child circulation in Latin America that endured into the twentieth century could resemble less the lifecycle apprenticeship of early modern Europe than they did a de facto slavery. (26)

Another aspect of their subordination is that childrens' natal origins could be erased in the process of their circulation. Some children came of age in others' households with little or no knowledge of their parents, their family identity, or their natal names. When asked to identify herself before the judge, Maria Ramirez, the servant accused of theft, declared: "I do not know my surnames because according to what I have heard I was brought from Araucania [to Santiago] and the last name I use is that of my patrones...." The adoption of a new surname could reflect a child's incorporation into his or her adoptive family as it did for Segundo Gonzalez, the "faithful son" and heir of the testator Dolores Gonzalez. But for Maria Ramirez, it was a symbol of alienation, not belonging. What she did upon leaving the household where she had lived and labored during her entire life is revealing: she shed the only last name she knew and assumed another one, thereby rejecting the family identity that had been imposed on her by her mistress.

Meanwhile, evidence from criminal courts illustrates the potential for more routine forms of violence inherent in these arrangements. Masters and mistresses were charged with the abuse, neglect, starvation, and in several cases, even murder of their young criados. But while physical violence may have pervaded these relationships, it was not what sustained them. The courts and the press tended to condemn those who exercised extreme violence against young children. (27) Far more powerful in sustaining this complex of subordination between patrones and criados were cultural ideologies of paternalism and Christian charity.

According to prevailing cultural discourses, households who took in the orphaned and abandoned exercised a laudable act of benevolence. Caretakers routinely characterized the presence of unrelated children in their homes as "an act of charity" or explained that they had been moved to receive such minors "out of a feeling of charity." (28) It was understood that the children who benefited from such benevolence contracted a profound debt with their caretakers--one that would be repaid with their loyalty and subordinance. The logic of charity given, debts incurred, and gratitude owed structured the everyday relationship between youngsters and the individuals who raised them. When testators stipulated bequests to children whom they had reared, they cited the beneficiaries' "fidelity." (29) Conflicts between children and benefactors also tended to revolve around this discursive axis. Jose Ramon Vidaurre complained that the daughter of a servant whom he and his wife had "received and given shelter to in our home" throughout her childhood had forgotten "the affection and gratitude that she owes her protectors" when she claimed to be the couple's daughter and sought to assert inheritance rights. (30)

Finally, notions of charity unacknowledged and gratitude violated are captured in an insult commonly bandied about in popular discourse, that of the huacho mal agradecido, or "ungrateful huacho." Deriving from the Quechua word for adultery, the term huacho in nineteenth-century Chile referred to someone born out of wedlock, or more generally, to a foundling, an orphan, or someone of dubious origins. Generally derogatory, the term could be loosely, though incompletely, translated as "bastard." (31) In essence, the seemingly incongruous juxtaposition of ingratitude and one's status as a huacho captures a fundamental characteristic of the condition of minors without parents willing or able to rear them. It implied that young criados lived off the benevolence of others and that such family-less waifs were by definition indebted to a charitable "protector" to whom they owed their very existence.

To summarize, the circulation of minors in nineteenth-century Chile assumed many guises and served a variety of (often contradictory) purposes for the parents, children, and caretakers involved in it. In a society with high rates of female headship, the practice of "mandando criar" was a survival strategy on the part of poor, single working mothers, even as it provided a form of security for the aging women on their own who fostered their children. In a society governed by rigid inheritance laws and notions of honor, it allowed the wealthy to protect the patrimony and honor of legitimate scions against the claims of extra-marital offspring, even as it served as an informal mechanism for childless women and couples to acquire heirs of their own. Finally, in a society characterized by widespread poverty and social inequality, it provided for the basic needs of many destitute children, even as it served to reproduce the cycles of dependence in which they and their families were trapped.

The Casa de Huerfanos of Santiago

Practices of child circulation thus encompassed a broad range of functions and experiences. But one common condition characterized all of the arrangements described thus far: their informality or extra-legality. Whether it involved wet nursing, apprenticeship, fostering, or domestic service, the transfer of a child from one household to another was almost never legally formalized. (32) Meanwhile, adoption did not exist in civil law: Chilean family law recognized only ties of "blood," to invoke contemporary parlance, and not those based on fosterage or other forms of fictive or spiritual kinship. (33) If adoptive sons and daughters were sometimes designated heirs by Chilean testators, the elaborate laws governing inheritance recognized no inherent rights on their part. In short, neither the Chilean state--nor, for that matter, the other pillar of institutional authority in this society, the Catholic Church--exercised formal authority over these practices. (34) The informality of these arrangements contrasts, therefore, with a second crucial circuit of child redistribution that will be described in this section: that mediated by state-financed and religiously-administered orphan asylums, the largest and most important of which was Santiago's Casa de Huerfanos.

Founded in 1758, the Casa de Huerfanos was for a century both poor and poorly organized. The year 1853 marked an important milestone in the institution's history. In that year, the city's welfare board turned care of local orphans over to the Sisters of Providence, a congregation of French-Canadian nuns who had recently arrived in Chile. (35) The Casa, as the asylum was known, remained part of the state's beneficence structure, and a significant portion of its budget derived from public funds. But its day-to-day activities were run by the nuns until the 1940s, when secular authorities took over. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, outside of the public hospitals and clinics, the Casa was the largest welfare institution overseen by the state in terms of both clients served and pesos disbursed. It was also the most significant of the far-flung charitable activities that the Sisters of Providence would come to administer in Chile.

Over the latter half of the nineteenth century, the orphanage received burgeoning numbers of youngsters. At the beginning of the 1880s, the Casa supervised more than a thousand children each year. Ten years later, the number topped 1,300. In the first decade of the twentieth century, the population swelled to 2,300 children. (36) A retrospective history of the Congregation of the Sisters of Providence estimated that between 1853 and 1924, over 51,600 abandoned children passed through the asylum's doors. (37) One turn-of-the-century statistician calculated that for every thousand inhabitants of the city of Santiago, nine were in the Casa de Huerfanos. (38) Or put still another way, according to the conclusions of historian Manuel Delgado, the proportion of children born in Santiago who were deposited at the city's foundling home hovered in the late nineteenth century between 5 and 9 percent. (39)

In fact, such figures reflect only a portion of all minors committed to church-, state-, or privately-administered welfare asylums in late-nineteenth-century Chile. While Santiago's Casa de Huerfanos was the oldest, largest, and best-known institution for children, the final decades of the nineteenth century witnessed the rapid multiplication of other establishments dedicated to a parallel purpose in Santiago and around Chile. Between 1844 and 1895, at least thirteen institutions for poor children were founded in the capital alone. (40) By 1912, one thesis writer calculated that the city housed some 25 orphanages (casas de huerfanos). (41) There were surely others, which due to their small size, short-lived existence, or private and autonomous management, left no documentary trace. Meanwhile, in the late nineteenth century, such institutions began to appear with increasing frequency in provincial locales, including Concepcion, Valparaiso, Limache, Quilpue, Quillota, La Serena, Chillan, Talca, Temuco, Linares, Vicuna, Ovalle, and Antofagasta. While a lack of data makes it impossible to hazard even a rough guess as to the numbers of minors committed to these asylums, it is clear that around the turn of the century, a significant and growing number of minors in Chile spent some portion of their childhood under the auspices of one or another charitable institution.

Who were these children? Again, we know next to nothing about most of those served by these institutions. The exceptions are the hijos de la Providencia, the children of Providence, as the wards of the Casa de Huerfanos were known. Thanks to the assiduous recordkeeping of the Sisters of Providence and the orphanage's size and stature, a voluminous documentary record makes it possible to reconstruct the lives of the Casa's children.

Among these materials is a series of registries that contains summary information on the origins, age, family identity, and ultimate fate of each child who entered the Casa, data that have served as the basis for a thorough macro-analysis of the Casa's wards. (42) Even richer in detail are the "Entry Books," files that include the baptismal certificates, notes, letters, and even good luck charms left with children deposited at the home. Also useful are the "Wet Nurse Books," registries of the wet nurses who cared for young children outside the institution. Finally, several volumes of "Exit Books" contain information relating to transactions in which private citizens received children from the asylum as apprentices, servants, and adoptive sons and daughters. (43) Taken collectively, these sources provide information about the childrens' identities and that of their families, their social and geographic provenance, the circumstances of their abandonment, their infancy among the wet nurses, their sojourn in the Casa, and their distribution to private households in Santiago. While the documents focus inordinately on the moment of abandonment and the circumstances surrounding it, they also make it possible to reconstruct, at least partially, more longitudinal narratives of some childrens' lives as they evolved both before and after their arrival at the Casa.

As Manuel Delgado has demonstrated, the vast majority--upwards of eighty percent--were illegitimate. (44) The records further show that minors arrived at the institution because of family crises, orphanhood, and above all due to the poverty of their families. Many youngsters originated in the poorest of social sectors, the children of single, abandoned, and widowed women who led a precarious existence on the margins of urban society. At the turn of the century, a third of children arriving at the asylum had been remitted from the Hospital de San Borja, Santiago's public maternity hospital, which served the city's poorest parturients. (45) Poor parents' access to the Casa was clearly mediated by patronage: children often entered with letters of "recommendation" from their parents' masters, mistresses, as well as priests, local judicial authorities, or charity workers, who pleaded the child's case before the nuns. A few children, accompanied by anonymous letters tacitly or explicitly identifying them as the illegitimate off-spring of "decent families," depart from this social profile, but they were clearly the minority. In short, the portrait of the "children of Providence" that emerges from the documentation resembles that of foundlings in many other societies. What is more, it is also indistinguishable from the profile of children who circulated informally in Chile, as reconstructed from judicial and notarial records.

This similarity suggests that, perhaps not surprisingly, Santiago's foundling home and informal modes of child circulation served similar constituencies and fulfilled parallel purposes. Coupled with the evidence that child welfare asylums expanded around the turn of the century, exactly when, as noted above, fostered children disappear from wills, it might further suggest that the institutional provision of welfare replaced the informal "kindness of strangers," as Boswell implies for medieval Europe. Cast in these terms, the story of child circulation in Chile becomes a familiar narrative in which the expansion of a formal welfare apparatus is associated with the decline of traditional modes of social provision.

But a closer examination of the evidence tends to refute such an interpretation. For one, evidence for the decline in informal fostering practices is inconclusive. Though fostered children are conspicuously absent from turn-of-the-century wills, judicial records indicate that practices of rearing unrelated minors survived, even thrived, into the twentieth century. (46) More importantly, an examination of the everyday operation of the Casa de Huerfanos, and a closer look at the children deposited therein, reveals that differentiating "institutional" and "extra-institutional" modes of child circulation as discrete and mutually exclusive is misconstrued. In fact, in Chile, these two modes of circulation had long been dynamically interlinked, complementary, and even mutually reinforcing. What is more, rather than undermining "traditional," informal charitable practices, the formal, state-financed, church-administered welfare provision of the Casa de Huerfanos may well have strengthened these practices.

The Casa and the circulation of infants

For more than thirty years, questions about the depth and nature of parental (and especially maternal) affect have animated the study of family and childhood in the European past. One line of argument holds that parental bonds to very young children were shallow and that in an era of high mortality, parents only became attached to their offspring once children had crossed what Philip Gavitt has termed "the threshold of vulnerability," at around age two. (47) The fact that foundling homes were repositories of disproportionately young children appears to lend credence to this claim. (48)

The majority of Santiago's foundlings were also very young infants: from the period 1875 to 1915, 72 percent of children were less than a month old. (49) But viewed from the perspective of child circulation, the propensity to abandon young infants to the Casa de Huerfanos may be read as reflecting less the emotional calculus of Chilean parents than the simple logic of child mobility. As the previous discussion indicates, children of all ages circulated beyond their natal households. But babies presented a problem. Placing very young children, especially nursing infants, with foster caretakers implied payment for the service. Time and again, letters left with children at the Casa painted scenarios of poor, working mothers unable to care for their infants personally who either could not find or could not afford wet nurses. (50) The problem is not surprising given that they were pitted in competition with wealthy families for these very same services. Meanwhile, youngsters over 5 or 6 years of age could earn their keep as servants. This meant that poor families sent working children to private house-holds but were either inclined or obligated to send their youngest children to the Casa, with its access to a vast network of available nurses and which accepted them for free.

As a result of these realities, the foundling home took on a disproportionate share of the youngest of circulating minors. How these dynamics played out is particularly well illustrated in a letter that accompanied a baby deposited at the Casa de Huerfanos in 1899. "The child ... is the son of Juan Hernandez and Maria Espinosa," wrote Sara Reyes de Llona, the wife of an hacendado. She continued:
 He is the last of 11 children and the mother died ... in childbirth.
 His father, a tenant farmer on Rosal, my husband's estate ... is a man
 who is always drunk and ... three weeks ago he abandoned them
 completely and since the family is so numerous and they do not have
 anyone other than an old woman who is accompanying the child and is
 their great aunt, I thought it the case to send this little one to the
 Casa ... because the others have been distributed among different
 persons, and I took one for myself. (51)

The missive lays bare the vicissitudes of mortality, poverty, and abandonment as well as the role of the Casa de Huerfanos in confronting these crises. But what is particularly noteworthy about the scenario it chronicles is that of the eleven orphans left in the wake of the household's disintegration, only the youngest one is sent to the Casa. The others are absorbed through informal mechanisms of circulation: one is taken in by the wife of the hacendado and the rest are perhaps distributed to other tenant farmer households--households that had reason to value the presence of young, unpaid dependants. (52)

In this scenario the Casa complemented active informal trajectories of child redistribution, but it only assumed responsibility for a small sliver of the total volume of circulating minors--the very youngest ones. Thus, it was not that parents were more disposed to part with their infant children, as the theories of maternal affect would suggest; it was that older children were wont to circulate along alternative, extra-institutional trajectories. (53) (The Casa de Huerfanos' own regulation, which officially--though not always in practice--prohibited the entry of children over age seven, both reflected and reinforced this division.) Thus, the fate of the eleven orphans illustrates the significance of informal practices of child circulation and the necessity of evaluating the labors of the Casa de Huerfanos within that broad context.

Formal and informal circuits of circulation were not just complementary, however; they were also dynamically interconnected. The conduits carrying minors into and out of the asylum were directly linked to the popular, informal, ones described above. The Casa's documentation reveals that many foundlings had in fact been separated from their natal families long before they actually arrived at the institution. This suggests that for many children the asylum was merely one stop on a longer trajectory of circulation that intersected only intermittently with public welfare structures. A particularly common scenario was for babies to be remitted to the Casa by the caretakers their parents had hired to care for them but whom they had failed to pay. Manuel de la Cruz Mosquiera was deposited in the Casa in 1883 with a letter from a provincial judicial official stating that his widowed father had sent the boy to be cared for by one Mercedes Quezada. But "he left this place, going south of Talca and ... for the last four months no news has been had of him." Quezada in turn sought to give the child to the asylum "because she really believes he will not return, since he is a migrant peon and a depraved father" and because she could not afford to maintain the boy herself. In such cases, the child's arrival at the foundling home represented the continuation of a process of mobility that had already begun with informal rearing arrangements. (54) It illustrates how, in the experience of children like Manuel de la Cruz, informal arrangements and institutional beneficence formed a seamless continuum.

Finally, institutional beneficence not only complemented or intersected with informal rearing arrangements: the everyday modus operandi of the Casa shows how the institution in fact capitalized on these informal practices. In a period of widespread epidemics and rampant infant mortality, when no reliable form of artificial feeding was available, orphanages were ill prepared to house large numbers of infants in close quarters. Thus, the Casa functioned like other foundling homes in Europe and Latin America, relying on a network of external wet nurses who were paid to take foundlings into their homes during their first years of life. By the end of the nineteenth century, the asylum in Santiago had developed a network of almost 600 nurses comprised mostly of poor women living on haciendas around the capital. Once children arrived at the asylum, they were remitted to these nurses, who received a modest wage for caring for them. In other words, the Casa circulated its wards to be reared in private households--exactly as poor parents did. In the early 1880s, when statistics first become available, only 200 of the institution's total population of 1,000 children lived in the Casa itself. The other 800 resided in the homes of wet nurses. (55) Over time, this ratio shifted, perhaps because, as mortality rates declined, older children who no longer lived with nurses accounted for a larger proportion of the institution's population. Even still, in 1910, 40 to 50 percent of orphans at any given time--some 600 to 700 children--resided with nurses. The Casa continued to rely on outsourced wet nursing into the early 1930s, and possibly later. In so doing, it mimicked the widespread popular practice among poor mothers of sending their children to nurses, as described in the first section. In turn, rural women's willingness to receive the "children of Providence" may be explained not only by the wage they earned but also by their cultural familiarity with wet nursing and fosterage.

This familiarity, of course, extended to the parents of abandoned children as well. Evidence indicates at least some parents treated the wet nursing arrangements made by the Casa as essentially private or informal, attempting to influence the asylum to hire a particular individual as a wet nurse, seeking out regular contact with their child's caretaker, and even contributing to the child's upkeep. That is, the broader culture of circulation informed how parents "abandoned" their children to the Casa de Huerfanos and what became of these children thereafter. Take the experience of Clarisa del Carmen, illegitimate daughter of Mercedes Campos, a seamstress, and Alejandro Huique, a French cook, who spent several years of her life under the tutelage of the Casa in the 1850s. Upon entering the asylum, the infant Clarisa was baptized and sent out to the wet nurse Ana Maria Tello, who cared for her for more than two years. But during the period she was in Tello's care and, ostensibly, under the auspices of the Casa, her parents were in frequent contact with their daughter and her nurse. On two occasions, the baby's mother asked Tello to bring the girl to visit her father, from whom she was estranged. According to Tello's narration of events, "the two times that she brought [the baby to her father], he gave [her] money, telling her to take good care of [the baby]; and the second time she brought [the baby], she gave a message from Dona Mercedes to Don Alejandro, asking him to send money, which was to pay [Tello] for the girl's care." Two years later, Campos resumed care for her daughter. While the young Clarisa del Carmen was deposited at the Casa, baptized there, and sent to a nurse contracted by the institution, her situation was otherwise indistinguishable from many private and informal caretaking agreements between parents and nurses. Not only did her parents maintain contact with their daughter, but they evidently also helped finance her care. (56)

A similar case is that of Jose Eujenio Bustos, the son of unmarried parents of middling extraction, who was deposited in the Casa in 1844 or 1845, when he was several months old. According to the lawyer who represented him in a filiation suit years later, "the wet nurse who nursed him ... who lives on the hacienda of Lampa, went each month to the house of Senora Iglesias [Jose Eujenio's illegitimate mother] to receive her salary and to show the boy, who was given much attention by his parents and other residents of the house." In this case, although Jose Eujenio's parents maintained contact with him until he was around 13 years old, and although they subsequently married (such that he was automatically legitimated), they never reclaimed their son. (57) In some instances, nurses and parents appear to have eventually bypassed the Casa's mediation altogether, stymieing the institution's attempts to keep track of its wards. In one case, a father left his daughter at the orphanage, from which she was sent out to a nurse. A year and a half later, the registry recorded that the Casa had lost track of the girl but noted, "the suspicion is that the nurse gave her back to her father." (58)

In these examples, parents who deposited their children at the Casa de Huerfanos had not opted out of informal fostering arrangements in favor of institutionalized forms of welfare provision: rather, they recurred to the latter in order to construct the former. Additionally noteworthy is the Casa's strikingly circumscribed role in the care of these children. The asylum figured as little more than an initial intermediary, a headhunter of sorts, in what in practice then continued as a largely private caretaking relationship between parents and nurses.

In most instances, the issue was not so much recruiting a wet nurse as paying for one. Take the case of the infant Jose del Carmen, deposited at the Casa in 1859 by one Teodora Lobo. Following the recurring pattern described above, Jose del Carmen's mother had sent her son to be nursed by Lobo several months before, but since she had not kept up with the monthly payments, Lobo took her ward to the asylum. What is interesting about the case is that according to the registry, the wet nurse who then received the boy from the Casa was none other than Teresa Lobo--the original nurse herself. As the nurse of a child who was now a ward of the institution, Lobo received a wage from the Casa. In this way, the institution underwrote the rearing arrangement established privately between Lobo and Jose del Carmen's mother. (59) The case illustrates how, rather than undermining informal modes of welfare provision, the Case de Huerfanos functioned in a way that, probably inadvertently, bolstered these arrangements.

Significantly, all of the cases cited thus far derive from the 1840s and 1850s, before or early on in the tenure of the Sisters of Providence and prior to the explosive growth of the Casa's population. It is difficult to say whether the institution's role as mere intermediary for or underwriter to otherwise largely private fostering arrangements continued in the face of these developments. Some indications suggest that it did not. Anecdotes like those cited above disappear from the record, implying that the institution may have asserted a broader and more exclusive role for itself in its relations with parents and nurses, with the effect that parents' contact with their children and the nurses became more limited and wet nursing arrangements became more "institutional." But if public beneficence was no longer willing to oversee and subsidize private provision of care, parents continued to solicit the Casa for just this purpose. When Zenobia Ortiz sent her infant daughter to the orphanage in 1898, she identified herself as the "mother of a baby whom I put in the hands of Providence since my family is very poor and cannot raise my child." She went on to make a telling request: "I would ask of the Reverend Mother the charitable favor that she give the care of this baby to a senora of this place [Isla de Maipo, a rural area where the writer lived], whom I will send with a good recommendation, so that I can supervise her." And she concluded, "the affection of a mother requires me to reclaim [the baby] within a year or two, paying at that time the costs of her care."

The Casa ignored Ortiz's request to contract the nurse she had recommended. (60) But her petition indicates that some parents continued to recur to the Casa not in order to abandon their children but simply in order to subsidize the private wet nursing arrangements they could not afford. In depositing their children at the Casa, parents like Ortiz did not necessarily choose institutional modes of beneficence over informal arrangements but prevailed upon the former as a way of constructing the latter. Meanwhile, even as the Casa appears to have asserted a greater role for itself by rejecting the autonomy that once characterized rearing arrangements under its auspices, it did not reject informal or private modes altogether. The orphanage continued to subcontract care of infants to the households of poor women, capitalizing as it always had on the ubiquity of wet nursing and fosterage in popular culture.

Circulation and child labor

The Casa's role in the circulation of minors was by no means limited to its negotiation of wet nursing relationships between parents, nurses and infants. It also orchestrated the circulation of older children. At the end of the nineteenth century, some 80 percent of children entering the Casa as infants died during their first years of life. (61) Those who survived were remitted back to the Casa from the homes of their wet nurses around age 5 or 6. But documentation suggests their sojourns in the institution were exceedingly brief: after returning from the nurses' households, youngsters spent a matter of months, weeks, or even just a few days in the Casa. From there, they entered a second cycle of circulation, for the ever-burdened Casa outsourced the education and care of its older wards to private households as well--this time, to those of citizens who solicited them as servants, "companions," apprentices, and adoptive sons and daughters. They were joined in this cycle by older children who entered the Casa already weaned and who bypassed the wet nurses' homes altogether. Though the Casa's somewhat confusing records make it difficult to determine just how many children entered this way, one registry shows that between 1894 and 1915, an average of around 72 children over the age of five were being abandoned to the Casa each year. (62)

The petitions of prospective caretakers, who wrote letters to the Casa or presented letters of patrons, provide an idea of who they were and why they solicited children from the Casa. What is most noteworthy about them is that they are indistinguishable from those who fostered children in the context of informal circulation. For example, childless couples frequently solicited wards of the Casa. According to an official from their community, Dominga Morales and Ignacio Salinas were "happily married and of good habits," had no children, and desired to take out an orphan "as an adoptive child." (63) Some couples pledged to bequeath a portion of their estates, however modest, to an adopted son or daughter. Other common petitioners were widows and other women on their own, of popular extraction but who enjoyed a degree of economic independence. The parish priest in a popular Santiago barrio characterized his parishioner, who solicited a child, as "honorable, of good behavior and a good education" with "a house of her own, worth ten to twelve thousand pesos." The woman was childless, and her "sentiments of piety and honorability" guaranteed "a favorable future" to the girl she hoped to receive. (64) There were also artisans who sought out young apprentices, among them a chocolatier described as an "honorable and hardworking artisan" with "a room of his own" on Lira Street, who requested a youngster to "give him an education and teach him a trade." (65) Likewise, another artisan wrote his own letter, soliciting "one of the bigger ones" and explaining to the administrator, "for some time I have desired to remove a child from the Casa de Huerfanos to educate him and [have him] serve me, in order later on to teach him my trade of bookbinder." (66)

Moreover, just as in the case of informal rearing arrangements, many of the Casa wards were solicited as domestic servants, often explicitly. One well-placed couple desired a child from the Casa to place in their house "as a servant and with the obligation to feed, cloth, and give him/her the corresponding education until s/he is able to be on his/her own...." (67) Similarly, the administrator of the women's prison in Santiago asked his counterpart at the Casa de Huerfanos to give him "two young boys for service, one for me and the other for my son," the director of a school in rural Colchagua. (68) The same petitioner then wrote letters on behalf of others, including a dependent who also desired "a little orphan for his service." (69) Evidently, those seeking servants hailed from a range of social backgrounds.

Thus, the profile of solicitants to the Casa echoed that of caretakers who participated in informal networks of child circulation. One difference between the two groups does emerge, however: those recurring to the Casa were either personally known to the administrators of the Casa or in local Santiago society, or else they had patrons--parish priests, employers, judicial authorities from their local community--who vouched for their status as moral and upstanding. Access to the Casa's wards was therefore mediated by patronage, whereas obtaining a child through informal networks required no such connections and was therefore more open to the humble and poorly connected.

As the orphan population grew, the Casa actively recruited households to take in children. In November 1866, the administrators placed ads in the principal newspapers of the city imploring readers to recur to the asylum for orphans. Citing the orphanage's burgeoning population, overcrowded conditions and lack of funds, as well as its primary responsibility for infants, they appealed to "charitable persons who wish to assume care for some of the [older] foundlings." In a strategy paralleling the reliance on wet nurses, the Casa drew on the cultural familiarity of informal fostering practices in order to place youngsters in the households of santiaguinos. The appeal to "charitable persons" further played to prevailing notions of fostering as an act of charity. Thus, the institution capitalized on informal, popular practices of child circulation and the discourses of benevolence that undergirded them in order to provide care for its wards. In so doing, the Casa participated in, and perhaps lent legitimacy to, the informal networks for distributing child labor in which households of all social levels participated.

In time, the private fosterage system would be altered somewhat as the Casa's resource base and educational objectives expanded. In 1885, a larger facility was inaugurated in order to accommodate ever-growing numbers of abandoned children. At the same time, the asylum developed a more ambitious mission, seeking to provide its wards with a minimum of educational and vocational preparation. In addition to rudimentary schooling, girls worked in domestic tasks that prepared them to serve in private homes, while boys acquired a trade in artisanal workshops that opened adjacent to the Casa in the late 1880s. By the turn of the century, instead of spending only a few months, weeks, or even days in the institution, as in the past, children returning from the homes of rural nurses (or those entering the Casa for the first time at an older age) tended to remain in the asylum for several years.

Despite these changes, however, the basic modus operandi of the Casa remained essentially unchanged. While children now spent more time living in the asylum and acquiring at least the rudiments of an education, many were eventually still sent out to private households that solicited them as domestic servants. As Mother Superior Bernarda herself noted in her history of the congregation, published in 1899: "the same thing that happens now happened then. In times of scarcity or want, the petitions to obtain ... [an orphan] ... multiplied, with each [petitioner] having the idea of shaping [the orphans] in their own way and making use of their services."

This was especially true of girls, whose principal destiny continued to be domestic service. A log recording the post-institutional fate of older children who had entered the Casa in the period from 1894 to 1915 (70) shows that just over 19 percent of them "went out to serve" (salio a servir). But over 40 percent of girls were recorded thus (most boys--some 59 percent--were remitted from the Casa to the institution's affiliated artisanal workshops). At the time of their placement in service, most girls were adolescents--their average age was almost 15--but they ranged in age from 9 to 23.

Such figures, however, surely underestimate the numbers of children placed in domestic service. The logbook records other children (some 9 percent of the total; but 14 percent of girls) simply as having "left" (salio) or as having "left with senora X." It seems very likely that some, if not most, of the children so ambiguously designated had also been placed in service (especially since twice as many girls were recorded as having "left," and the frequent designation of an unrelated "senora" who received them is suggestive of a mistress). Yet another group of children (almost 6 percent of the total; and almost 10 percent of girls) were listed as having been adopted (salio adoptado). But given the cultural elision of fostering and servitude, and the fact that domestics were also metaphorical daughters, it would not be surprising if some of these children were actually laborers in their adoptive households. Indeed, the Casa administrator's private correspondence from the 1890s refers to a girl sent out at age nine or ten as an "adoptive daughter" but who, it is clear from his letter, actually worked as a servant. (71) The average age of adoptees was significantly lower than that of adolescent servants--just under 8 years old. It may be that "adoption" was in some instances a clever means of obtaining younger (and ostensibly more docile or pliant) servants from the Casa. (72)

Another telling piece of evidence about the destiny of the sons and daughters of Providence are a series of "adoption" contracts issued to caretakers who sought children from the Casa in the 1920s and early 1930s. The contracts deal with much younger children, and presumably represent a subset of all youngsters leaving the institution. Indeed, the fact that a third of them involved children under age two suggests that applicants may well have sought them as hijos and heirs. (73) But the fact that almost half of them involved minors who were at least 6--the traditional age at which poor children were formally put to work--suggests many more were in fact being taken in as laborers. (74) Even more striking, the contracts indicate that, for the subset of contracts in which information on the location of the adopting household is included, almost 70 percent of girls were taken in by urban households, whereas just over 53 percent of boys went to urban households. (75) Given that urban domestic labor tended to be female, whereas rural labor favored males, the geographic discrepancy reinforces the impression that children sought as "adoptive sons and daughters" were in fact being incorporated, in some status or another, as laborers.

The exploitation experienced by youngsters who circulated informally often characterized arrangements overseen by the Casa as well. In her history of the congregation, Mother Superior Bernarda Morin noted, "Many people affirmed that the purpose of the Casa ... was to raise servants for the comfortable class of society, and not just any servants, but robust and healthy ones, with no needs or defects...." (76) She went on to describe a particularly repellant custom in which individuals seeking child servants arrived at the Casa and inspected hundreds of orphans, who were lined up "like a herd of defenseless little lambs." Eventually, the nuns eliminated this "degradation, too humiliating for the human race," but they had little control over the "condition of slaves" that characterized children's status in the homes of their masters. The Casa administrator voiced similar concerns, declaring:
 Placement in domestic service is the best option we have. [But] for
 this one has to close one's eyes to the sufferings to which those who
 must do it are exposed. With the awareness that it is really slavery,
 one must submit to the hard necessity of giving away some girls who
 are older and who are of an age at which they can take care of
 themselves, to make room for so many others in the Casa. (77)

Other sources further attest to the violence to which these children were subjected. The autobiography of a man who spent his childhood in the Casa de Huerfanos in the 1860s recounts the severe abuse he and other orphans suffered at the hands of a priest who regularly "adopted" youngsters from the institution. (78) Judicial and newspaper sources record the murders of at least two adolescent orphans from the Casa by masters and mistresses in the 1910s. (79)

In short, the Casa de Huerfanos continued to provide orphan labor to the households of Santiago and to surrounding haciendas into the twentieth century. And once again, the nature of its operations belies a clear-cut distinction, much less a simple progression, between "informal" or "private" modes of social provision and "formal" or "institutional" ones. Even as nuns and administrators lamented the fate of the "children of Providence" as criados in exploitive households, the asylum replicated, and may even have lent a certain institutional legitimacy to, the ostensibly "traditional" relations of dependence and subordination implicated in child circulation.

Finally, if the Casa took strategic advantage of popular practice by outsourcing the care of its orphans first to wet nurses and later to foster households, private citizens were similarly tactical in their engagement with the Casa. As already noted, parents and caretakers capitalized on the administrative reach and financial resources of the asylum when they sought it out as a headhunter for and underwriter of informal rearing arrangements. Private citizens interacted with the Casa in ways that reinscribed and reproduced informal trajectories of child circulation in two additional ways.

The first involved the Casa's insertion in circuits of child mobility that were not only informal but were patently illicit: those involving the illegal trafficking of minors. While most children were deposited directly on the asylum's premises, two off-site foundling wheels operating in other neighborhoods of the city collectively received several hundred minors each year. (80) In the 1890s, the Casa administrator charged that these off-site wheels had become sites of clandestine child trafficking, citing "denunciations that children received in the wheel had been given to people who had requested them, paying for them, [an act] effectuated, of course, without the knowledge of the administrators." (81) Such reports suggest that individuals seeking to obtain youngsters, very likely with exploitive designs in mind, capitalized on the steady flow of children passing through the poorly monitored periphery of the abandonment apparatus. (82) Here it was not the Casa's institutional reach or financial clout that buttressed informal modes of circulation but rather the shortcomings of its administrative oversight that did so. It is of course impossible to estimate the volume of this illicit traffic--such children were never recorded in the logbooks of the Casa--but the administrator considered it enough of a problem that he repeatedly called for the closing of the off-site wheels. (83) This was yet another dimension of the Casa's complex insertion within broad networks of child circulation.

Finally, and in a very different vein, parents and prospective caretakers might avail themselves of the Casa as a site not of illicit commerce but of just the opposite: legal formalization. Apparently, some individuals recurred to the institution to legalize fostering arrangements that were otherwise entirely informal. The youngster Olga Diaz was removed from the asylum the same day she entered it in 1929. A note on the contract that one Domitila Poblete signed in order to take out the youngster explained, "this girl was only received in order to give her to this person [Poblete] who adopted her, and she left the same day." (84) In other words, whoever had previously maintained the girl (probably her natal family) deposited her at the institution with the sole purpose of transferring her to the foster mother Poblete. In this case no obvious financial benefit accrued to either party through the Casa's mediation. (85) Their reason for performing this transaction through the foundling home may well have been the desire to formalize in some measure, through the "adoption" the Casa transacted, a custody transfer that was otherwise entirely informal and extralegal. (86)

Indeed, the transfers of children overseen by the Casa were cloaked in a mantle of fictitious legality captured in the ubiquity of the term "adoption" in the institution's documentation. Throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, those who solicited children, those who wrote letters of recommendation for them, and the institution's own administrators invoked the term. Yet as noted above, civil law did not provide for the legal institution of adoption. (87) As in its role as recruiter and subsidizer of wet nursing arrangements, in providing an institutional imprimatur for informal fostering, the Casa de Huerfanos again served to buttress practices of child circulation.


The literature on child abandonment in Europe and, more recently, in Latin America has been motivated by several overarching questions, including who abandoned children were, what prompted their parents to deposit them at foundling homes, and why the practice reached such massive proportions in some societies at particular historical moments. The preceding analysis of Santiago's Casa de Huerfanos suggests that examining foundling homes within the broad context of child circulation may help shed light on these questions. Taking into account the backdrop of child circulation helps to illuminate the cultural logic of depositing a child at the foundling home from the perspective of the parents who did so. Rather than an exceptional or deviant act, abandonment needs to be understood as consistent with wider cultural patterns and practices. In this sense, my findings echo recent scholarship that has questioned the utility of "child abandonment" as a category. (88) In a context in which many poor children were not reared exclusively within their natal families, what exactly constitutes "abandonment" in the first place? Particularly in Chile, and in other Latin American societies in which the circulation of minors was rampant, "abandonment" turns out to be a rather spurious normative designation, less a discrete phenomenon than an arbitrarily isolated sliver of a complex reality.

The evidence from Santiago's Casa de Huerfanos may also prompt us to reevaluate the scope and significance of the institution of the foundling home itself. When placed in the broader context of informal modes of child circulation, modes with which it both intersected and which it reinscribed through its own modus operandi, the Chilean asylum, which received tens of thousands of children from the early 1850s through the mid 1920s, suddenly seems smaller and less significant, its scope and importance circumscribed. In some instances it seems to have functioned merely as a recruiter or underwriter of wet nurses' labor. For a significant part of its history, it maintained its wards under its own roof for only limited sojourns, sending them out to the private households of wet nurses and later to foster caretakers-cum-employers. The Casa, in short, functioned not as an orphanage in the sense of an institution that cared for children from infancy to the age of majority in lieu of their parents, so much as a clearinghouse for the distribution of children, and child labor, to urban and rural households.

Yet the significance of the Casa's financial resources, administrative reach, and institutional legitimacy should not be underestimated. Its roles as contractor, mediator, and clearinghouse were no less significant for being circumscribed. The evidence suggests that the Casa facilitated child circulation among parents and caretakers--arrangements that, in many instances, might not have been possible without its intervention. The institution also turns out to play a role in the formalization of fostering relationships that otherwise enjoyed no legal legitimacy. Finally, in attracting large numbers of abandoned children it could not adequately supervise, the Casa appears to have contributed, however inadvertently, to an illicit traffic in children.

This discussion poses a question: if the Casa in some sense duplicated forms of welfare provision and labor management that private households already provided, what purpose did it serve? Why did public authorities for decades pour seemingly endless resources into the institution? The obvious answer is that the Casa provided ready access to a boundless supply of child workers of all ages and both sexes to the households of elites and those who enjoyed elite patronage. Yet the institution's significance for its backers and patrons cannot be reduced to its role as a purveyor of child labor, however important that role. Unwanted children were hardly a scarce good in nineteenth-century Chilean urban and rural society; on the contrary, they were ubiquitous. Both elites and non-elites would have had, and indeed did have, access to them regardless of the Casa's activities. As noted above, many children arrived at the Casa with letters of "recommendation" from their parents' masters, mistresses, and other patrons. That is, the well off were as wont to recur to the Casa to place the children of the poor as to solicit them as laborers.

This fact suggests that the Casa must have served other purposes as well. One important one, I would argue, was the opportunity it provided elites to exercise conspicuous benevolence. While a full analysis of this dimension of the Casa falls beyond the purview of this article, it is worth briefly mentioning. In a culture in which charity to one's subordinates was a crucial dimension of elite identity, and especially elite female identity, the Casa provided a perfect opportunity for public displays of beneficence. The masters and mistresses and other patrons who placed children; the households who solicited them; and the nuns, administrators, doctors and (after the first decades of the twentieth century) professional social workers who ran the institution were all bound in a time-honored ritual of conspicuous altruism towards poor parents and children. Moreover, the Casa provided a forum for the exercise of conspicuous beneficence on the part of the state itself. Born of eighteenth-century enlightened Bourbon ideals of charity and education, the Casa's founding reflected new ideas about the state's responsibility for the weak and vulnerable. Expanded during a period when social distances were widening and class relations were becoming increasingly tense, (89) the institution provided further opportunity for the state to showcase its concern for the poor and their children.

Ultimately, this analysis of the Chilean Casa de Huerfanos speaks not only to the cultural dynamics of child abandonment or the institution of the foundling home but also to the historical evolution of welfare provision. For more than thirty years, scholars of the family working on diverse cultural and historical contexts have repeatedly returned to an enduring tension: that played out between the family's "traditional" private functions, on the one hand, and the (often ill-intentioned or at least inept) public powers that would usurp them, on the other. The tension is evident, for example, in Jack Goody's well-known 1969 article on the institution of adoption cross-culturally, in which he criticized the assumption on the part of modernization theorists that state provision of services to the needy were necessarily preferable to traditional modes of provision through, for example, extended families. This same tension is invoked, in more alarmist terms, in Christopher's Lasch's 1977 classic, Haven in a Heartless World, which lamented the assault of the ever-expanding "apparatus of mass tuition"--the health, education, and welfare services of self-styled experts, planners, and reformers--on the "haven" that is private family life. Finally, a decade later, John Boswell's study of infant abandonment in the ancient world echoed a parallel sentiment, concluding that the institutionalization of welfare provision to abandoned children in the late Middle Ages displaced the informal "kindness of strangers"--with disastrous consequences for the children's welfare.

The case of child circulation in nineteenth-century Santiago, Chile affords a somewhat different perspective on the relationship between public powers and private practices. It belies any straightforward distinction between "traditional," ostensibly private, or familial forms of social provision, and more "modern," public, or institutional ones. What the Casa de Huerfanos suggests is that public and private modes of provision were inextricably, even synergistically, interrelated. Rather than undermining popular practice or challenging popular beliefs, Santiago's foundling home both relied on and reinscribed informal modes of social provision as well as the "traditional" social relations of dependence and exploitation that often undergirded them. Informal benevolence (or self-interest) and public welfare efforts merged, as the institution capitalized on the everyday practices of private households and popular notions of charity in order to care for its wards. Surely the institution's survival over the course of more than two centuries is in part attributable to its success in harnessing prevailing popular practices and enlisting the collaboration of private households of all social levels in its mission.


I wish to thank the Social Science Research Council and Yale University, whose support permitted the research project on which this article is based, as well as Beatrix Hoffman and Elizabeth Kuznesof for their feedback on earlier versions of this paper. An anonymous reader provided valuable comments. I am very grateful to the personnel of the Casa Nacional del Nino, especially the Director, Ms. Maria Cristina Rojas, and Mr. Carlos Eduardo Sanchez Aravena, for their generous collaboration with this research.

1. Among the best-known of the European monographs in English are: Rachel Fuchs, Abandoned Children: Foundlings and Child Welfare in Nineteenth-Century France (Albany, 1984); Philip Gavitt, Charity and Children in Renaissance Florence: The Ospedale degli Innocenti, 1410-1536 (Ann Arbor, 1990); David Kertzer, Sacrificed for Honor: Italian Infant Abandonment and the Politics of Reproductive Control (Boston, 1993); Ruth McClure, Coram's Children: The London Foundling Hospital in the Eighteenth Century (New Haven, 1981); David Ransel, Mothers of Misery: Child Abandonment in Russia (Princeton, 1988); and Joan Sherwood, Poverty in Eighteenth-Century Spain: The Women and Children of the Inclusa (Toronto, 1988).

2. Recent works on child abandonment and foundling homes in Latin America include: Donna Guy, "Ninos abandonados en Buenos Aires (1880-1914)" in Lea Fletcher, Mujeres y cultura en la Argentina del siglo XIX (Buenos Aires, 1994); Maria Luiza Marcilio, Historia social da crianca abandonada (Sao Paulo, 1998); Jose Luis Moreno, "El delgado hilo de la vida: los ninos expositos de Buenos Aires, 1779-1823," Revista de Indias 60: 220 (2000), 663-685; Rene Salinas Meza, "Orphans and Family Disintegration in Chile: The Mortality of Abandoned Children, 1750-1930," Journal of Family History 16: 3 (1991), 315-329; and Renato Pinto Venancio, Familias abandonadas: Assistencia a criance de camadas populares no Rio de Janeiro e em Salvador, seculos XVIII e XIX (Rio de Janeiro, 1999).

3. Marcilio, Historia social, 136.

4. Jean-Robert Cadet, Restavec. From Haitian Slave Child to Middle-Class American (Austin, 1998); Ruth C. L. Cardoso, "Creating Kinship: The Fostering of Children in Favela Families in Brazil," in Kinship Ideology and Practice in Latin America, Raymond T. Smith, ed. (Chapel Hill, 1984); Claudia Fonseca, Caminos de adopcion (Buenos Aires, 1998) [first Spanish edition]; Elizabeth Anne Kuznesof, "The Puzzling Contradictions of Child Labor, Unemployment, and Education in Brazil," Journal of Family History 23 (1998), 225-239; Maria Mannarelli, Pecados publicos. La ilegitimidad en Lima, siglo XVII (Lima, 1993); Joan Meznar, "Orphans and the Transition to Free Labor in Northeast Brazil: The Case of Campinas Grande, 1850-1888," Journal of Social History 27 (1994), 499-515; Nara Milanich, "Historical Perspectives on Illegitimacy and Illegitimates in Latin America," in Minor Omissions: Children in Latin American History and Society, Tobias Hecht, ed., (Madison, 2002); and Ibid. The Children of Fate: Family, Class, and the State in Chile, 1857-1930, PhD dissertation, Yale University, 2002, chapters 5 and 6; Muriel Nazzari, "An Urgent Need to Conceal," in The Faces of Honor: Sex, Shame, and Violence in Colonial Latin America, Lyman L. Johnson and Sonya Lipsett-Rivera, eds. (Albuquerque, 1998).

5. See, for example, Ann Blum's recent work on the Casa de Ninos Expositos in Mexico City: "Public Welfare and Child Circulation, Mexico City, 1877 to 1925," Journal of Family History 23: 3 (1998), 240-271. The concept of child circulation has also been applied to foundling homes in Portugal: Isabel dos Guimaraes Sa, A circulacao de criancas na Europa do Sul: o caso dos expostos do Porto no seculo XVIII (Lisboa, 1995). See also the contributions to Catherine Panter-Brick and Malcolm T. Smith's edited volume, Abandoned Children (New York, 2000).

6. Ann Blum's fascinating analysis of clientelism and patronage in the operation of the Mexico City foundling home is one of few such analyses. Blum, "Public Welfare ...".

7. John Boswell, The Kindness of Strangers: The Abandonment of Children in Western Europe from Late Antiquity to the Renaissance (New York, 1988).

8. These critics contend that abandoned children were subject to higher rates of mortality than Boswell acknowledges and, more importantly, that the attitude of their rescuers was characterized less by kindness than by self-interest, since those who took in abandoned children routinely sought to enslave, prostitute, or otherwise exploit them. See Louise A. Tilly et al., "Child Abandonment in European History: A Symposium," Journal of Family History 17: 1 (1992), 1-23.

9. These terms are used by Sa, A circulacao de criancas, 24. She also characterizes them as "direct" and "indirect" modes of abandonment.

10. On childhood in elite families, see Ann Twinam, Public Lives, Private Secrets. Gender, Honor, Sexuality, and Illegitimacy in Colonial Spanish America (Stanford, 1999) and Manuel Vicuna, La belle epoque chilena (Buenos Aires, 2001). To be sure, elite children were routinely wetnursed, in Chile and elsewhere, and Vicuna notes the crucial role of servants in rearing elite children. But significantly, nurses and nannies were brought into the household where they worked; the legitimate children of well-off families were never sent out to them, as they were, for example, in eighteenth-century France.

11. Such an observation, of course, runs counter to Marcilio's observation about the scarcity of documents for the Brazilian case.

12. See, for example, Igor Goicovic, "Mecanismos de solidaridad y retribucion en la familia popular del Chile tradicional," Revista de Historia Social y de las Mentalidades, ano III, num 3 (1990), 61-88.

13. Rene Salinas, "Familia y hogar en Chile central a mediados del siglo XIX: Los Andes, 1835-1865," in Historia e Populacao: Estudos sobre a America Latina, Sergio Odiolon Nadalin, Maria Luiza Marcilio, and Altiva Pillati Balhana, eds. (Sao Paulo, 1990), 199.

14. These conclusions are based on wills drawn randomly, in roughly twenty-five-year intervals, from the Archivo Notarial de Santiago [vol 212 (1850), 538 (1875), 1940 (1900), 1645 (1925)] and the Archivo Notarial de San Felipe [vol 50 (1850), 92 (1875), 118 (1896)]. Of course, will-writers were not necessarily representative of the community at large, deriving disproportionately from that segment of the populace that was better off economically and had some patrimony to pass down. What this means for wills as indicators of the dimensions of child circulation is difficult to say. As will be discussed below, households of all social stations took in children, though the poorest households, which would not be represented among testators, were more likely to send children to be reared than to receive them.

15. Indagacion sobre la muerte de un nino encontrado en el canal Rafaelino [?] en Codegua. 1885. Archivo Judicial de Rancagua, Leg 911, 490.

16. Thelma Galvez Perez and Rosa Bravo Barja, "Siete decadas de registro del trabajo femenino, 1854-1920," Revista Estadistica y Economia 5 (1992), 1-52, 16. Of course, the operative word here is "recorded." Such statistics, derived from censal data, need be taken with a grain of salt, especially since domestic service was not always defined as a form of employment. See Elizabeth Quay Hutchinson, Labors Appropriate to their Sex: Gender, Labor, and Politics in Urban Chile, 1900-1930 (Durham, 2001), chapter 2, for an analysis of the ambiguities inherent in data on women's labor in this period.

17. The impact of the Civil Code is discussed in Milanich, Children of Fate, chapters 1 and 2.

18. Milanich, Children of Fate, chapters 1 and 2. Nazzari, "An Urgent Need to Conceal," highlights a different strategy among colonial Brazilian elites, who "fostered" the illegitimate offspring of their own families but concealed their true identities.

19. Jose Tapia con Cruz Altamirano sobre entrega de un nino. 1867. Archivo Judicial de Valparaiso, Leg 1135, 6.

20. Archivo Notarial de Quillota, 1875, vol. 153, foja 46. Note that the references to Segundo Gonzalez's services, industry, and work should not be read as indications of his servile status. Nineteenth-century testators often used the language of "servicios" to refer to the merits of their beneficiaries, whether they were sons and daughters, spouses, adoptive children, or others.

21. Milanich, Children of Fate, chapter 5. The scenarios recounted in Chilean notarial records echo the adoption of minors by economically independent women in sixteenth-century France, as described by Kristin Gager, Blood Ties and Fictive Ties: Adoption and Family Life in Early Modern France (Princeton, 1996).

22. The italics are mine. Jose Venegas, Deberes de la mujer cristiana (Santiago, 1891), 425, 328.

23. Contra Maria Ramirez por hurto. Abril 1895. Primer Juzgado del Crimen de Santiago. Uncatalogued case, Archivo Nacional (hereafter, UCAN).

24. Archivo Notarial de Curico, vol 11 (mfilm 1/02), foja 21, 1858.

25. This was the case, for example, in Contra Felisa Mallea por mal trato de Victoria Cavieres. 1918. Tercer Juzgado del Crimen de Valparaiso. UCAN and Jose Ramon Vidaurre con Beatriz Vidaurre sobre impugnacion de lejitimidad. Julio 1901. Segundo Juzgado del Crimen de Valparaiso. UCAN. There are even instances in which these patrones had reared servant-parents before in turn rearing (and benefiting from the labor of) the servants' children. As Gabriela Cisternas declared of the orphan Isidro Dias, "this child as well as his mother have been reared and attended to by me: I have been the true mother and his only help after God." Cisternas rejected the custody claims of the boy's maternal grandmother, who claimed she was "keeping him for her service." Juana Ferra con Gabriela Cisternas sobre entrega de un nino. 1885. Archivo Judicial de Valparaiso. Leg 1430, 19.

26. For an overview of the institution of life-cycle apprenticeship in Europe, see Andre Burguiere and Francois Lebrun, "The One Hundred and One Families of Europe," in A History of the Family, vol 2, Burguiere, Klapisch-Zuber, et al, eds. (Cambridge, 1996).

27. Cases in which masters and mistresses were convicted of abuse include Contra Andrea Martinez por heridas a Elena Martinez, menor. Mayo 1892. Primer Juzgado del Crimen de Valparaiso. UCAN and [Caso Puelma]. November 1894. Primer Juzgado del Crimen de Santiago, Caja 16, provisional cataloguing system. This last case, which involved the abuse of three orphaned siblings by their caretakers, became a cause celebre in the Santiago press in 1894. In another case the mistress was not convicted, but the child was nevertheless removed from her custody: Sobre lesiones a la ninita Maclovia Peralta. Agosto 1901. Primer Juzgado del Crimen de Santiago. UCAN. Finally, in other cases, the charges were suspended and the fate of the minor is unrecorded: Contra Felisa Mallea, op cit, and Contra Manuel Mancilla por maltrato al nino Eduardo Calderon. Julio 1919. Tercer Juzgado del Crimen de Valparaiso, UCAN.

28. Contra Andrea Martinez por heridas a Elena Martinez, menor. Mayo, 1892. Primer Juzgado del Crimen de Valparaiso, UCAN, and Contra Felisa Mallea por mal trato de Victoria Cavieres. 1918. Tercer Juzgado del Crimen de Valparaiso. UCAN.

29. AJS, 1850, vol. 212, fj 37

30. Jose Ramon Vidaurre con Beatriz Vidaurre sobre impugnacion de lejitimidad. Julio 1901. Segundo Juzgado del Crimen de Valparaiso. UCAN. See also the Mallea case, cited above.

31. For an extended etymological discussion of the term "huacho," see "Apuntes sobre chilenismos y otros vocablos," Revista Catolica, Tomo XX (1911), (no author), 649-51. As the article notes, the term "huacho" was also used to refer to animals not reared by their mothers, "especially domesticated ones that are raised in the home." The phrase "huacho mal agradecido" appears in the Puelma case, cited above, and in Jose Manuel Armijo con Jose Ignacio Silva, por calumnias e injurias. Gaceta de los Tribunales, #2956,16 octubre 1889, 2903.

32. I located only a single example of a rearing contract in the archives. It involved the permanent transfer of a young boy from his mother's custody to that of an adoptive couple. Causa civil sobre entrega de nino a dona Petronila Mendez. 1868. Archivo Judicial de Talca. 7a serie. Legajo 422, 3. Apparently, the service contracts involving child laborers that were customary in nineteenth-century Argentina were not widespread in Chile. See Mark D. Szuchman. Order, Family, and Community in Buenos Aires, 1810-1860 (Stanford, 1988), chapter 3.

33. In its lack of recognition for adoption, Chilean civil law mirrored civil codes elsewhere in Latin America, North America, and Europe. Adoption was not recognized in most of these societies, including Chile, until well into the twentieth century.

34. While the legal records cited above show that the judicial system was at times called upon to mediate disputes that arose between parents, children, and caretakers in the context of child circulation, in fact courts rarely emitted decisions in these cases and never developed a consistent jurisprudence in adjudicating them. See Milanich, Children of Fate, ch 6.

35. On the history of the Sisters of Providence in Chile and their work with orphans, see the memoirs of the Mother Superior, Bernarda Morin. Historia de la Congregacion de la Providencia de Chile, Tomo I (Santiago, 1899). Strictly speaking, the Sisters initially assumed charge only of older orphans, who at the age of 5 or 6 returned to the institution from the homes of rural wetnurses charged with their care during their first years of life. In the 1870s, they also took over the reception of incoming infants and their distribution to the wetnurses. The wetnursing network is described below.

36. For an analysis of the evolution of the Casa's population, see chapter 2 of Manuel Delgado Valderrama, Marginacion e integracion social en Chile. Los expositos, 1750-1930, Tesis de Maestria, Universidad Catolica de Valparaiso, 1986.

37. Anon. La Congregacion de las Hermanas de la Providencia en Chile (Santiago, 1924), 45. The institutional tutelage of the Sisters of Providence ended in the 1940s, but the Casa has continued to function as an exclusively public entity up to the present day. Located on its original site in the Santiago neighborhood of Providencia (which took its name from the nuns), the institution is now known as the Casa Nacional del Nino. It is among the oldest, if not the oldest, continuously functioning social welfare establishment in Latin America.

38. Adolfo Meyer, Guia Medica de Higiene y Beneficencia (Santiago, 1902). The calculation was based on the assumption that Santiago had a population of 250,000 inhabitants.

39. Delgado, Marginacion e integracion, 55. Unlike in some European studies of abandonment, Delgado corrects the calculation to exclude those children--approximately ten percent of the total--known to have been born outside the city.

40. These included the following: el Asilo de Salvador, la Casa Talleres San Vicente de Paul, la Casa de Maria, el Patrocinio de San Jose, la Casa de Santa Rosa, la Casa de la Veronica ("Santa Maria Salome"), an apparently unnamed Casa de Asilo located on calle de Davila, la Casa de Belen, la Casa de la Purisima ("Asilo de Nazaret"), el Asilo de la Patria, el Asilo de la Misericordia, el Asilo del Carmen, and la Protectora de la Infancia (also known as "la Protectora" or "la Santa Infancia"). This tally was compiled from mention of the institutions in newspapers, the census, ministerial archives, ecclesiastical records, and various contemporary publications on charitable activities. This calculation includes only those asylums that provided residence to children assumed not to have a family willing or able to take care of them. It does not include the schools, clinics, and other institutions directed at poor children who lived with their families (or other families).

41. Moises Poblete Troncoso, Lejislacion sobre los hijos ilejitimos (cuestion social). Memoria de Prueba. Facultad de Leyes i Ciencias Politicas de la Universidad de Chile. (Santiago, 1912), 24. The author indicates that he received this information from the Oficina Central de Estadistica, although it is unclear how the number was calculated.

42. Manuel Delgado, Marginacion e integracion.

43. Entry and exit files exist intermittently for the period from the 1870s to the 1930s. I have located only a single volume of the Wetnurse Books, which corresponds to the late 1850s and early 1860s.

44. In the final decades of the nineteenth century and first decades of the twentieth, illegitimacy rates among Casa children ranged from 78 to 90 percent. Delgado, Marginacion e integracion, 132.

45. Memoria de la Casa de Huerfanos, [MCH], 1899, 1900, 1907.

46. On the ambiguous evidence regarding trends in fostering practices over time, see Milanich, Children of Fate, 285-292. The gist of this discussion is that the disappearance of fostered children from Chilean wills may reflect less changes in practices of circulation than it does other, extraneous factors, such as changes in will-writing protocols or the changing profile of testators. Meanwhile, judicial records suggest striking continuities in practices of circulation through at least the first decades of the twentieth century.

47. Gavitt, Charity and Children, 19. Of course, some scholars argued for a reverse causality, in which parental indifference was actually a cause of high mortality rather than a result of it. See Edward Shorter, The Making of the Modern Family (New York, 1975), chapter 5, especially 203-4.

48. Over half of those who entered the foundling home of Paris in the mid-nineteenth-century were less than a month old, and some 90 percent of children admitted to the Ospedale degli Innocenti in Renaissance Florence were less than three weeks old. Fuchs, Abandoned Children, 64; Gavitt, Charity and Children, 188. In one of the classic expositions on maternal sentiment, Shorter takes "the frequency with which lower-class women exposed newborn infants" as "a reasonable guide to the lack (or presence) of maternal affection." Shorter, Making of the Modern Family, 192.

49. An additional 14.5 percent were less than three months old when they entered the Casa. Delgado, Marginacion e integracion, 137-8.

50. As one mother wrote: "Out of charity [it is hoped that you will accept the infant of] the unhappy bearer of this [letter], with her paying each month whatever she can since she has no milk and cannot find another nurse to care for him, since the one she had no longer wants to care for him and forced her to take him back ..." Libro de Documentos de Entradas [LE], 1873-1882, 141. Even more wrenching is the semi-literate letter of another mother: "I haven't nursed her myself because my milk dried up because of my suffering and also my strength isn't enough to earn enough to maintain myself and dress myself and pay four pesos and one real, which is what I pay for her and so they haven't taken care of her for me I handed her over nice and healthy and she has an [infected] navel and is all cosida [?] for lack of my protection ..." LE, 1877, 1686.

51. LE, 1899, 14353.

52. The role of inquilino households in practices of child circulation is discussed in Milanich, Children of Fate, 278-280.

53. Numerous letters echo this logic. The aunt of one child who "has no father" and whose mother had died in childbirth wrote to the Casa: "we beg the Sisters to do the charity of receiving him in their Casa since we don't know what to do since he is so little and we have to go around nursing him, and I as the aunt of the [mother of the children] am taking charge of the two older girls." LE, 1873-82 [1879], 3050. And another wrote: "I am a widow ... and I have three children and my circumstances oblige me to abandon my youngest daughter who is around three months old ... and is not baptized due to a lack of money." LE, 1873-82 [1874], 445. The orphaned Juan Oliva, somewhere between 3 and 5 years old, entered the Casa in November 1902, because "it has not been possible to place him with someone who could take him in," but his brothers, ages 12 and 18, were "set up [ocupados] in some homes." LE, 1901-2, [1902], 4387. See also LE, 1873-82, [1874], 445; LE, 1888, 7778, 8039; LE, 1896-8, 13339, 13616, 13637; LE 1901-2, [1903], 4396; LE, 1907, 5219, 5447; LE, 1912, 6414; LE, 1928, 2450, 2801, 2901.

54. Carta de Manuel S Marchant. LE, 1883, 5608. See also LE, 1887, 7601; LE, 1888, 8107; LE, 1898, 13440.

55. MCH, 1882.

56. Dona Mercedes Campos con D. Alejandro D'Huique sobre filiacion y alimentos. 1851. Archivo Judicial de Santiago. Leg 1130, 15.

57. Jose Bustos con Carmen Iglesias i otros sobre filiacion. 1884. Archivo Judicial de Santiago. serie B. Legajo 123, 27.

58. Libro de Amas [LA], #7121. According to the wetnurse registry from the 1850 and 60s, some ten percent of children were "lost" with their nurses. The assumption was always that they had died and their deaths had not been reported or that the nurses had absconded with them. We can only speculate whether some of these children had simply been returned to their parents without the Casa's knowledge.

59. LA, #7574. The case raises the possibility that many of the children remitted to the Casa by caretakers who had not been paid were sent back out with these same nurses once the Casa had assigned them a stipend. This is impossible to verify because, given the limited information on wetnurses, it is generally impossible to know where individual children were sent once they were deposited at the Casa.

60. In any case, three months later, the girl died. LE, 1898, 13639. Ortiz's request is echoed in a similar petition a decade earlier, in which a mother asked the Mother Superior "... do me the favor of writing me a letter ... indicating the name, street, and number of the wet nurse who takes my daughter and in this way [I will have] the pleasure of being able to see her and help her however I can." LE, 1885, 7296.

61. As late as the 1920s, the mortality rate still hovered around 75 percent. Salinas, "Orphans and Family."

62. Registro de Entradas, 1894-1915. This registry shows that approximately 1,700 older children entered the Casa during the ten years, 23 months recorded (entries are missing for a number of years). Approximately half of these children were survivors remitted from wet nurses' homes; the other half were newcomers to the institution.

63. Libro de Documentos de Salidas [LS], #29. Carta de Manuel Caravantes. 5 febrero 1858.

64. LS, #26. Carta del Cura Rector de San Saturnino de Yungai. 4 febrero 1858

65. LS, #4. Carta de [illegible], 12 febrero 1858 y Carta de Marcial Plaza. 26 febrero 1858.

66. LS, #48. Carta de Pedro Isidoro Combet. 8 mayo 1862.

67. LS, #135. Carta de Jose del Trancito Concha. 21 julio 1862.

68. LS, #152. Carta de Jose Ramon Valenzuela. 1 septiembre 1862.

69. LS, #38. Carta de Jose Ramon Valenzuela. 3 mayo 1862; LS, #201. Carta de Jose Ramon Valenzuela. 16 marzo 1863.

70. That is, the registry includes both children who were returning to the Casa from wet-nurse households as well as older children entering the Casa for the first time.

71. Casa de Huerfanos Libro de Cartas [CHLC], Cox a Sr Don Vicente Santalices y de la Cerda. 16 oct 1899; and CHLC, Cox al Sr Intendente. 26 octubre 1899.

72. Registro de Entradas, 1894-1915. The book is incomplete and scattered months, and sometimes years, are missing. But the destiny of some 1,700 children is recorded in the existing registries. Again, they include both older children who had survived infancy with the wet nurses as well as those who had been abandoned to the Casa system after about age 5.

73. Some 77 of the 228 contracts in which the adoptee's age is specified involve children under age two. While, as we have seen, households took in even infants with the purpose of grooming them for service, it seems unlikely that people recurring to the Casa de Huerfanos for domestic servants, who had their pick of orphans of all ages, would choose very young children. Also, several contracts refer to the petitioners' intention to bequeath their possessions to the child. This tally is drawn from the 239 contracts found in LS, 1922-1930.

74. Anecdotal evidence further supports this theory. In a request from the 1920s, one woman sought to place a "criatura" (baby) in the institution and to take out an eight-year-old girl to "be in charge of" (para hacerse cargo de ella), LE, 17982. In another note, dated 1927, noted feminist Elvira Santa Cruz wrote on behalf of a woman who sought "un chico," a boy, from the Casa. The letter described the prospective caretaker as married, with at least one adult daughter, and living on an hacienda near Santiago. Given what we know about those who took children in and their motives for doing so, the petitioner seems a highly unlikely candidate for adopting a son and heir.

75. An additional 16.8 percent of girls were adopted by rural households and just over 13 percent were adopted by their wet nurses. As mentioned above, most wet nurses lived in rural locales. As for boys, over 29 percent went to rural households and just over 17 percent were adopted by their wet nurses.

76. Morin, Historia, 234.

77. MCH, 1902, 49. After the 1880s, the boys were sent to the Casa de Talleres, where they were trained as artisans until they left the Casa. Much less is known about their situation upon leaving the institution.

78. Pinto, P.N. [Pablo Perez], El Huerfano. Historia verdadera contada por un exposito de la Casa de Maternidad de Santiago [Curico, 1898]. Perez claimed to have spent several years in the Casa in the 1860s. While some aspects of his autobiography are clearly fictional, many details of his story are corroborated by internal documentation from the Casa de Huerfanos. On the veracity of Perez's account, see Milanich, Children of Fate, 179-80.

79. Maria B. Guemes por homicidio de Maria L. Caballero. 1915. Archivo Judicial de Santiago. Leg 1657, 10. See also the case of the servant Ester Valdivia, reported in El Chileno. 17 noviembre 1915, p. 2, cited in Alejandra Brito Pena, "Del rancho al conventillo. Transformaciones en la identidad popular-femenina (Santiago de Chile, 1850-1920)" in Voces femeninas y construccion de identidad, Marcia Rivera, ed. (Buenos Aires, 1995), 39.

80. The foundling wheel was a contraption that existed across Europe and Latin America, including Chile. It consisted of a wheel-like device embedded in the wall of the orphanage (or other reception center) in which a baby could be placed and then spun around to be received by someone inside the building. A wheel on the corner of Alameda and Maestranza Streets in Santiago operated in the 1880s, and probably earlier. In the year 1885 alone, over 500 children entered the Casa through this wheel. By the 1890s, this wheel was apparently no longer in operation, but another one operated on Cerro Street, receiving 250-300 children a year. MCH, various years.

81. MCH, 1899.

82. It is not clear who exactly administered these wheels, but they were not under the direct control of the administrators or the nuns.

83. The administrator urged that the off-site wheels be closed down because "there are no resources to monitor them properly ..." MCH, 1899; the MCH for 1897 also contains such denunciations. The administrator also brought up the problem with his colleagues on the city's welfare board, the Junta de Beneficencia.

84. LS, #752, 16 diciembre 1929.

85. Poblete was not a nurse and hence did not receive a wage from the Casa. But nor did she leave the small "dowry" caretakers often deposited for children in the 1920s and 30s, which might have been an incentive for parents to transfer their children to others by way of the Casa.

86. A parallel example is a document in which a local judicial authority witnessed a mother's transfer of her infant to a woman identified as a senora, "authorizing her to legitimate her as her own daughter" and "promising not to reclaim her for any reason." It is unclear what the Casa de Huerfanos had to do with this transaction, but the fact that the document was filed among the Casa's records suggests that the institution was somehow implicated in the transaction. LE, 1912, 8713.

87. LS, 1922-1930. One administrative form listed the child's name and the name of the person whom they were "adopted by." Ann Blum makes a similar point about the Casa de Ninos Expositos in Mexico City, which presided over adoptions in spite of its non-existence as a legal institution in Mexican civil law. Blum, "Public Welfare," 249.

88. Panter-Brick and Smith, Abandoned Children.

89. On the widening class divisions that characterized nineteenth-century Chilean society, see Luis Alberto Romero, ?Que hacer con los pobres? Elite y sectores populares en Santiago de Chile, 1840-1895 (Buenos Aires, 1997).

By Nara Milanich

Barnard College, Columbia University

Department of History

New York, NY 10027
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