Abstract

This essay examines the Casa de Huérfanos, the largest and most important orphanage in Santiago, Chile in the late nineteenth century, through the lens of child circulation. By child circulation, I refer to a diverse constellation of practices, from apprenticeship to adoption, in which minors were reared outside their natal households by unrelated caretakers. Child circulation has been a ubiquitous practice in Latin American and Caribbean societies from the colonial period into the twentieth century. Using notarial and judicial records, I attempt to reconstruct the basic cultural contours of child circulation in Chile. I then explore how the orphanage, which may be characterized as a "formal" or "institutional" mode of child circulation, interfaced with the "informal" or "extrainstitutional" cultures and practices of circulation described in the first section. The documentation reveals that, rather than displacing "traditional," informal modes of charity, the expanding public welfare apparatus of the late nineteenth century actually reproduced, reinscribed, and in some measure legitimated these practices. This analysis of the Casa de Huérfanos thus sheds light not only on the comparative history of foundling homes and child abandonment but also on the historical evolution of welfare provision in its informal and institutionalized guises.

Additional Information

ISSN
1527-1897
Print ISSN
0022-4529
Pages
pp. 311-340
Launched on MUSE
2004-12-27
Open Access
No
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