Work, Play, and Singing Lottery Numbers: The Public Role of Charity Children in Eighteenth-Century Spain

Friday, January 4, 2013: 10:30 AM
Balcony J (New Orleans Marriott)
Valentina K. Tikoff, DePaul University
Each year in late December, Spaniards gather in bars and workplaces to hear the winning numbers called out or “sung” for the annual Christmas lottery. This was a duty of children at Madrid’s San Ildefonso school that served principally as an orphanage until the late twentieth century. This tradition can be traced back to early modern Spain, and the San Ildefonso wards were far from unique in performing public roles for the broader communities in which they lived. Perhaps best known is charity children’s participation in funeral processions, a phenomenon practiced in other Western European municipalities as well. The public roles of institutionalized children were not limited to such symbolic or ceremonial roles, however. Other aspects of civic life, from employment to recreational activities, also embedded these children in broader urban contexts. While some activities dated to earlier periods, new ideas about child development, charity, education, work, and gender that emerged during the eighteenth century fundamentally affected the ways that these children interacted with the community in a public environment. 

            This paper explores charity children’s public roles in eighteenth-century Spain, chiefly through a case study of Seville. It investigates the development of policies concerning wards’ activities beyond orphanage walls in addition to children’s lived experiences within the orphanage. Traditional charity designed to protect young women in Spain had focused on providing dowries. Eighteenth-century models increasingly proposed including girls in institutions such as orphanages. This analysis reveals a gender disparity in Seville’s orphanages as well as a more circumscribed public role for female orphans. Nevertheless, girls also exercised visible roles within the accepted tradition of charity children’s public performances.  Identifying the changing perceptions of what vulnerable children needed, provides insight into changing cultures of charity and gender in eighteenth-century Spain.

Previous Presentation | Next Presentation >>