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The CÃ-rculo de Lectura de Señoras [ladies' reading circle] and the club de señoras [ladies' club] of santiago, chile: Middle- and Upper-class Feminist Conversations (1915-1920) Ericka Kim Verba This article shares two of the analytical premises underscoring much recent scholarship in what could be termed the developing field of "comparative feminisms." First, national feminist movements may best be understood within an international framework. Second, feminist movements , while by definition aimed at improving the conditions of women in society, at the same time represent class-based movements. The value of these postulates to the historian is that they allow her to move beyond the banner of "universal sisterhood" to explore the origins and development of a given feminist ideology or organization in all its complexity. This is what I hope to accomplish in the following discussion of the first two secular and autonomous associations of middle- and upper-class Chilean feminists established in Santiago, Chile: the CÃ-rculo de Lectura de Señoras and the Club de Señoras. Founded within a month of each other in 1915, both the Circle and Club left an indelible mark on their women participants and, through them, on the larger Chilean society.· Their partially overlapping memberships included some of the most reputable middle-class and aristocratic women of the epoch, many of whom went on to fill important and—for women—ground-breaking posts in both government and the private sector . More impressive than the sum of their members' individual accomplishments , these institutions were among the first of what would eventually become many autonomous women's organizations focused on promoting improvements in the political, social, and economic situation of Chilean women from the 1920s to the present decade. The names of founding members of both the Circle and Club appear on the rosters of these later organizations and their coalitions up until 1949—the year Chilean women finally won the vote—and even beyond. As one woman would write, upon the election of the first woman to the Chilean Senate in 1950, and in homage to these early Circle and Club women: It has only been a year since we received our political rights as if they were a delectable morsel of bread already set on the table; but those © 1995 Journal of Women's History, Vol. 7 No. 3 (Fall) 1995 Ericka Kim Verba 7 of us who for half a century have been kneading this morsel, struggling against all of the obstacles that men's opposition placed across our path... know that this morsel was not served to us ready to be eaten, but rather that it was prepared through the titanic efforts of the pioneras [pioneers].1 Ih fact, Circle and Qub women's organizational efforts, while perhaps titanic, were not really all that pioneering. Autonomous organizations of working-class women predated the Circle and Club by at least three decades. Working-class women founded their own mutual aid societies in Valparaiso and Santiago as early as the 1880s and 1890s. After the turn of the century, they also founded anarcho-syndicalist unions with the radical and twofold objective of improving their lot both as workers and women. On the other end of the class spectrum, aristocratic women actively participated in all-women charitable societies—albeit under the male and hierarchical leadership of the Catholic Church—since the mid-nineteenth century. Even the aristocratic Liga de Damas Chilenas [League of Chilean Ladies], founded in 1912 and devoted to a modern concept of charity or "Catholic feminism," preceded the Circle and Club, if only by a few years.2 The CÃ-rculo de Lectura de Señoras and the Club de Señoras were pioneering women's institutions, however, in one specific and historically significant sense: they were the first secular, all-women associations of women from middle- and upper-class backgrounds organized around the gendercentered goal of promoting the cultural, social, and political uplift of women within Chilean society. This article offers an institutional history of these two interconnected organizations and an analysis of the discussion that took place among their more articulate members over a brief yet formative period roughly from 1915 through 1920. Drawing...


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