Little Mothers: Precocious Puberty in 20th-Century Peru and Beyond
This paper examines the multiple scales of representing Latin American child mothers in the twentieth century. It explores the development of popular fascination with Lina Medina in particular, from stories about her in Spanish, English, and even German mainstream presses, to her appearance in sensationalist, sideshow venues in the 1950s and 1960s, including the book Amazing but True. Simultaneously, it considers the way that she and girls like her appeared as scientific “case studies” of precocious puberty in the medical community.
Besides comparing popular and scientific scales of representing Lina and other “little mothers,” the paper explores how the girls’ pregnancies operated at national and trans-national scales of racialized obstetric knowledge. Peruvians struggled to explain “little mothers” by blaming their pregnancies on backward sexual perversions of rural, indigenous populations in their country. At the same time, Peruvians used these girls as objects of medical expertise, touting in French journals the advanced work of Lima physicians in performing successful Caesarians or understanding the phenomena of young pregnancies—all the while aware that the Western medical community was coming to believe that precocious puberties were a special problem among non-white people of the world.
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