Welfare for the Nation: German Charities, Lutheran Women, and Duty in Buenos Aires, 1880–1930

Friday, January 4, 2013: 11:10 AM
Cathedral Salon (Hotel Monteleone)
Benjamin Bryce, York University
At the turn of the twentieth century, German speakers in Buenos Aires interacted in a wide variety of community institutions. The network of charities and welfare associations certainly ranked highest among them. Many German-language sources described them as key “building blocks” of the community. To maintain these institutions, German women orchestrated large fundraising campaigns and German men donated generous sums. Philanthropic campaigns were all the more successful because community leaders framed welfare using a racialized discourse about the obligation of a so-called “community” to working-class German immigrants.

Using German speakers as a case study, this paper explores the internal structure of one of Buenos Aires’ small but visible ethnic groups. It draws on institutional, religious, and periodical sources that discuss the German hospital, three German mutual aid societies, and a Lutheran women’s home and orphanage. The paper argues that organizing German-language charitable institutions was of central importance for many immigrants in Buenos Aires and that welfare was a key component of a broader effort to promote cohesion along gendered ethnic lines.

By understanding the ways that many actors tried to promote a united German community, I engage in a larger discussion about the place of ethnicity and religion in Buenos Aires society. Through the lens of the institutions at the core of “community,” we see an example of how immigrant groups offered many of the services that the state was also attempting to provide and that Argentine elites discussed as part of a project of modernization. The use of documentation produced by immigrants themselves offers a new way to examine the relationship between ethnic cohesion and Argentine integration.

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