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  • Domestic Economies: Family, Work and Welfare in Mexico City, 1884–1943
  • Elizabeth Salas
Domestic Economies: Family, Work and Welfare in Mexico City, 1884–1943. By Ann S. Blum (Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press, 2009) 396 pp. $30.00

Blum’s study draws connections between domestic labor and child-welfare institutions in Mexico City from 1884 to 1943. After the 1943 government decree Ley de Seguridad (Law of Social Security), which declared children to be “nonworking dependents” of their employed parents and the nation, Mexicans no longer regarded children younger than seven as workers.

Blum addresses themes and sources that integrate gender, race, and class with domestic labor demands. Orphanages, child-welfare agencies, child adoptions, and juvenile-court decisions provided servants for the middle and upper classes on a regular basis until the 1940s. The sources marshaled for this study tend to have originated from the ranks of the educated upper classes with negative views about the working poor—legal codes, population censuses, court cases, medical and health care providers, public-welfare records, and articles from the print media.

Blum calls upon testimony from a few middle-class women reformers and social workers to show the lack of solidarity between women of the different classes. At times, she refers to the dominant images of deserving and needy children as reflecting the racist attitudes of people of European descent toward those of Native and mixed ancestry. Blum missed an opportunity to analyze and integrate Catholic religious practices that established colonial foundling homes for children—“hijos de la iglesia”(children of the church)—that women abandoned on church doorsteps. These children were trained to serve as cheap labor for the upper classes.

Blum brings to light, however, new sources that provide more of the views of working poor people. They used scribes to send letters to social-welfare agencies about reclaiming children left at orphanages during times of financial stress. Journalists also reported that working-class parents would demand government action to make the neighborhoods better places for children to live. But the working class often fought losing battles against perpetual low wages and unresponsive government agencies that intervened negatively in the lives of families. Blum could have interjected the “La Llorona”(the Weeping Woman) revenge stories that adult Mexicanas created to protest mistreatment by men and children.

Blum acknowledges the difficulties of finding sources that come directly from single mothers, children in the welfare system, wet nurses, and young females adopted into middle-class families as servants. The key most startling assertion in the book is that demands for domestic service continued to be a key factor in the circulation of children and the creation of child-welfare policies in Mexico City. [End Page 489]

Elizabeth Salas
University of Washington, Seattle


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