This article explores the relationship of domestic labor and social reproduction in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Chile, paying particular attention to the roles of children. Children figured as products of women’s reproductive labors, but they were also themselves crucial members of a domestic labor force structured by age as well as gender. Drawing on classified employment ads, judicial cases, and the records of Santiago’s main orphanage, the analysis highlights how the labor of childrearing and the labor of children existed within the same social field. Women’s and children’s domestic work, while increasingly distinct, mutually shaped each other. Children influenced employment opportunities and work arrangements for women, both mothers and childless women, and placed in vivid relief the tensions that pervaded women’s remunerated and unremunerated labors. Women’s work in turn shaped the fate of children. Ultimately, the analysis suggests that domestic and reproductive labor was a resource allocated not just at the level of the individual household but on a societal scale across social groups. Circulating through households of different class statuses and across rural and urban spaces, the labor of childrearing (including wet nursing and fosterage) and the labor of children (as servants and criados) was mobilized across dense social networks. Even as the circulation of this labor linked disparate social groups, it simultaneously differentiated them, materially and symbolically, thereby reproducing the multigenerational patterns of patronage and hierarchy that were constitutive of Chilean society. Finally, while domestic work is often associated with private spaces, the analysis finds that public beneficence institutions played an active role in training, subsidizing, and distributing it.

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