In 1918 the Argentine University of Córdoba inaugurated a set of reforms which became one of the most significant developments in the history of Latin American education and student politics. The Córdoba Reform produced a renovation and reorganization of universities not only in the Plata area, but also throughout most of Latin America. Furthermore, the events of 1918 made Argentina’s university students an important political force in the Republic and established models of student expression and action which have persisted into the 1960s. Also, the student leaders of the 1918 movement eventually became important members of the nation’s political and intellectual leadership. Finally, there emerged from the reform a philosophy concerning social, economic, and political issues which characterized student thinking in Argentina for several decades.

The students who carried out the reform were influenced by many factors—internal changes in Argentina’s economic and political structure, developments in Europe and Latin America, the conditions of the universities themselves, and the current of new ideas prevalent in the Republic during the first decades of the twentieth century. The purpose of this paper is to examine particularly the intellectual background out of which the university reform developed. More specifically it will focus on two principal arguments: 1) that the prevailing intellectual climate in Argentina in the two decades prior to the Córdoba movement had a significant impact upon the Argentine university students in their actions and thoughts of 1918; and 2) that although the reform was initiated and carried out almost solely by the students themselves, with little aid or encouragement from the faculty, several prominent intellectuals served as “maestros de la juventud,” providing inspiration and stimulation for the students.

Because the protagonists of the 1918 reform in some ways intended their movement to improve the quality of Argentina’s university professors, much rhetoric of the student campaign was openly antiprofessorial. As a result, few professors at first backed the student movement, although many favored the overall reformist aim of educational improvement. As Gabriel del Mazo, a participant in the events of 1918, has noted, “the best known intellectual figures did not respond to the great moment. Only a very small minority of professors truly supported it.”1 Nevertheless, this lack of general intellectual backing at the outset should not obscure very real contributions to the orientation and the spirit of the movement itself.

In the decades immediately prior to the Córdoba Reform Argentina underwent important changes which greatly influenced the intellectuals and students connected with the effort to renovate the Republic’s university system. During the latter half of the nineteenth century Argentina had become one of the most productive agricultural nations in the world and the wealthiest of the Latin American republics. Economic expansion was accompanied by a marked population increase. The 1895 census counted four million Argentines; by 1914, this figure had doubled. Much of the increase represented the more than two million European immigrants who entered and remained in Argentina during this period. Population shifts complemented population growth. The first national census of 1869 had shown 25 percent of the Republic’s citizens living in cities of more than 2,000 persons, 75 percent on farms. By 1914 the ratio was 53 percent urban to 47 percent rural.2

Political changes were particularly notable during these years. In the 1890s middle-sector political parties, the Radicals and the Socialists, were formed to challenge the upper-class Conservatives for national leadership. Urban labor, influenced by European philosophies of socialism and anarcho-syndicalism, began to organize into cooperative groups and unions. In 1912 the so-called Sáenz Peña electoral law was approved, extending the secret and obligatory ballot to all males over 18 years of age. Four years later, in 1916, the Radical Party candidate, Hipólito Yrigoyen, captured the presidency. His election ended thirty-six years of rule by the Conservative “oligarchy,” which had received its main support from Argentina’s wealthy landed classes.3

In addition to domestic changes, international events had a considerable impact upon the generation of young men who instigated the Córdoba Reform. The Mexican Revolution of 1910 and the resultant constitution of 1917, which emphasized reforms favoring the workingman and the peasant, indicated to the Argentines that significant political and social developments were taking place in other areas of Latin America. Moreover, the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 led many Argentines to reappraise their country’s relationship with the Old World and to seek new models for their political and intellectual development. Many Argentines blamed the war directly on the institutions and ideas of nineteenth-century Europe. Looking to their own country, the youth of Argentina determined to avoid the mistakes of the now discredited European nations. As the reformista Gabriel del Mazo later wrote: “Faced with European civilization in crisis, the intellectual leadership of Europe was broken, and there arose for the youth the vital need to save our people from the fate of the European people.”4

If World War I represented the failure of capitalism, established religion, and nineteenth-century political and social philosophies, the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 in Russia had an exhilarating effect on Argentine intellectuals and students. For many youths the Revolution seemed to indicate hope for a new era of democratic rule and social justice in the New World. Julio V. González, an important figure in the 1918 reform, epitomized the influence of the Russian experience on the youth of the Republic when he declared: “We say that Bolshevism is an elevation of the human spirit toward peace and love, a creative idea, a new philosophy and morality.”5

At this time foreign thinkers as well as foreign events were important for Argentine youth. The Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío resided in Buenos Aires during the 1890s and left as a heritage to many young men his thoughts on the modernist literary movement in Latin America. Of special appeal for the youth of Argentina, and for most of the continent, was the work of Uruguayan José Enrique Rodó, whose essay Ariel (1900) had great impact on the reform generation. In Ariel Rodó argued that it was the explicit responsibility of youth to defend Latin America’s unique spiritual and idealistic values against the encroachment of the materialistic and utilitarian philosophies which had enjoyed so much currency in the nineteenth century. Responding to the Spanish-American War of 1898, Rodó argued that the younger generation should be on particular guard against the expansionist policies of the pragmatic and materialistic United States, which threatened to inundate Latin America with its own values and customs.6 These arguments of Rodó were clearly evident in the essays and speeches of Argentine socialist writer Manuel Ugarte, who argued in front of university audiences for Latin American solidarity against any invasion, physical or spiritual, from the North and who was also a firm supporter of the university reform.7

During these decades of significant national and international development, Argentina’s own intellectuals produced an impressive quantity of important works which reflected the effects of these events. Between 1890 and 1920 there occurred in Argentina a period of great intellectual activity, a period which produced some of the most original, lasting, and influential thought in Latin America. By 1920 the outstanding thinkers of these years, particularly José Ingenieros, Ricardo Rojas, Alejandro Korn, Joaquín V. González, Alfredo L. Palacios, and Manuel Gálvez, had given Argentina Latin American leadership in the fields of serious scholarship and literary production and “comprised the greatest single collection of scholarship and ability ever assembled in Latin America up to that time.”8 All of these men, who were either at one time university professors or closely connected with university groups, exercised considerable influence upon the reformistas of 1918, primarily because they were concerned with the status of their own country during a period of turbulent growth and change. Through an examination of past- and present-day factors they sought some guidelines for the future course of the Republic.

In their writings these thinkers responded to the industrial and urban development of the Republic with arguments in favor of social reform to redress past inequities and social mobility and integration to replace the hierarchical structure of the nineteenth century. During the latter part of the previous century positivistic and materialistic philosophers, justifying the actions of the privileged classes, had enjoyed considerable influence. Many of these writers, taking a page from Rodó, argued in favor of idealistic philosophies in opposition to the dogmas of Comte and Spencer. Of overriding concern for all was nationalism, emphasizing pride in Argentina’s traditions and uniqueness and a desire to see all social-economic groups included and active in national life. Finally, most saw educational reform as a necessary and desirable means to achieve these goals and complete Argentina’s transition from the nineteenth to the twentieth century.

Despite Argentina’s impressive economic advances by the turn of the century, the benefits and the distribution of national wealth tended to concentrate at the upper levels. The lower classes, particularly the urban and rural working classes, failed to share in the economic boom. Also, despite the formation of labor unions, Argentina’s working groups enjoyed little real political influence. Therefore, in the early 1900s a number of Argentine thinkers began to discuss the need for improved conditions among the Republic’s proletariat. Probably most outstanding of those concerned with these problems were the leading Socialists Juan B. Justo and Alfredo L. Palacios, both of them prominent in university circles. Justo, who founded the Argentine Socialist Party in 1896, also held a position as professor in the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Buenos Aires. Palacios, elected to the Argentine Congress as its first Socialist deputy in 1904, served in later years as professor and administrative official in the Universities of Buenos Aires and La Plata. In their legislative actions, public speeches, writings, and university lectures, they often emphasized the need for social-economic reform to redress the widespread social injustices prevalent in early twentieth-century Argentina.9

Nationalism, an important and varied force in Latin American history, owes much in its development to the influence of intellectuals and university students.10 In the early twentieth-century Argentina two men closely connected with university groups, Joaquín V. González and Ricardo Rojas, stand out as exponents of nationalist thought. González, congressman, cabinet minister, journalist, and first president of the University of La Plata, wrote several works emphasizing the importance of studying the uniqueness and the glories of Argentine history to establish among the Republic’s citizens a sense of national tradition. “A people without traditions of their origin,” he said, “appear to me to suffer the same griefs as men who have not known their fathers.”11 The uniqueness which González saw in Argentina was the mixture of European and American races, cultures, and experiences, a mixture which through conflict and assimilation formed a people and a tradition distinctly Argentine.12

Ricardo Rojas, professor in the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters at the University of Buenos Aires during the pre-reform period, is perhaps Argentina’s best known nationalist writer. Like González, Rojas underscored the importance of studying Argentine history and the uniqueness of Argentine traditions to form a national “consciousness.” Rojas was concerned particularly with the need to emphasize the Republic’s historical tradition within the national school system. Reporting to the Minister of Education in 1909, Rojas suggested that an awareness of the country’s history would serve to form a national spirit” and “Argentinize” the children of European immigrants who would be entering Argentina’s schools.13 Also like González, Rojas perceived the uniqueness in the Argentine experience to be the mixture of native and European cultural traditions on American soil. In his writings he urged Argentines to cease aping European cultural standards or reverting to a reactionary nativism and instead to fuse the best of both into a national synthesis. As Rojas stated in one of his most influential works: “We want neither the gauchesque [native] barbarism nor the cosmopolitan [European] barbarism. We want a national culture as the source of a national civilization; an art which will be the expression of both phenomena.”14

The importance of idealism as opposed to the dominant positivistic and materialistic values of late nineteenth-century Argentina was closely related to the Argentine intellectual’s search for a unique national tradition and national character. The young nationalist writer Manuel Gálvez, in El solar de la raza, scathingly criticized the emphasis upon accumulation of wealth and the imitation of materialistic European values which he believed characterized his fellow countrymen. In opposition to these seemingly dominant symbols, Gálvez proposed that Argentines seek more meaningful modes of life in the examples provided by the traditions, culture, and customs of Spain. The virtues of idealism and spiritualism found on the Iberian peninsula, Gálvez argued, if properly studied and applied, could produce in Argentina a revitalization of the national conscience, making the Republic a truly unique and autonomous entity.15

Alejandro Korn, Professor of Philosophy in the Universities of Buenos Aires and La Plata, was among the most influential of those who stressed idealism in the development of a new Argentina. Born of German parents and influenced early in life by Immanuel Kant, Korn spent his first teaching years struggling against the Positivism which had come to dominate the new University of La Plata. Opposing the deterministic thought in vogue at the university, Korn taught his students the importance of individual effort to remake seemingly immutable values and situations, and he urged the youth to develop their own individual personalities through a constant search for improvement. When the reform spread from Córdoba to La Plata in 1919, Korn gave the rebellious students his full support. Uniting himself with the reformista cause, Korn said of the movement in 1918: “We have announced the coming of an intense ethical and esthetic culture, genuinely Argentine, ennobled by the wish for social justice and destined to surpass, without impairment to science, the intellectualist and utilitarian era. It is pleasing to see the youth, albeit by different routes, seeking the light of new ideals.”16

Argentine thinkers during the 1890-1920 period assumed that the Republic’s educational system needed reform. Probably most representative of this concern was Joaquín V. González, national Minister of Education from 1900 to 1902 and founder and president of the University of La Plata from 1906 to 1909 and 1912 to 1918. González was aware of long-standing criticisms of Argentine and Latin American universities—that they were divorced from concern with community problems, dedicated to the training of formalistic professionals, and lacking free intellectual exchange, and he sought to make Argentina’s third university a model of change and a successful example of new and progressive educational theories.17 Borrowing from German and North American improvements in higher education, González tried to orient the new school toward concern with local and national problems and to provide a physical environment conducive to free intellectual interchange, closer student-professor relationships, and the development of independent thought and expression.18

The ideas of these men were transmitted to the youth of Argentina in a variety of ways: in monographs and journals, through lectures at the university, and in discussion groups and cultural associations inspired by the intellectual activity of this period. One of the most important of these cultural associations in its influence on the reform generation was the Ateneo Universitario, organized and directed by student leader José María Monner Sans. Begun in 1914, the Ateneo included students and professors from the various branches of the University of Buenos Aires. The members of this group met weekly to discuss philosophical and political themes of current interest. In September 1915 the Ateneo initiated a bimonthly journal, Ideas, which dealt with contemporary problems and championed particularly the cause of educational reform. Ricardo Rojas, José Ingenieros, Leopoldo Lugones, and Juan B. Justo were among the principal contributors to Ideas. Two student leaders active in the reform, Gabriel del Mazo and Hiram Pozzo, were early and active members of the Ateneo. In 1918 del Mazo served as an officer of the Federación Universitaria de Buenos Aires, and Pozzo was a leading figure of the movement in Córdoba and president of the Federación Universitaria de Córdoba during the reform campaign. From the beginning the Ateneo itself was a strong advocate for the reform and a continuous supporter of the student cause.19

Many of the ideas current in Argentina prior to the reform appear prominently in the life and thought of José Ingenieros, a man who exemplified the intellectual ferment in the Republic during the first two decades of the twentieth century and whom the reformistas themselves often mentioned as being influential in stimulating their actions in 1918. Ingenieros, a versatile author of many impressive scientific, sociological, historical, and philosophical works, delineated many of the problems which faced the Argentine students of 1918 and offered concrete suggestions for their solution.

Born in 1877 in Buenos Aires, José Ingenieros was exposed early in his life to a concern with social problems through the influence of his father, an Italian immigrant and staunch Socialist. Growing up in an atmosphere of intellectual and political debate, young José became a student activist during the mid-1890s while enrolled in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Buenos Aires. Coming under the influence of Juan B. Justo, then a professor in the medical school, Ingenieros became an important member of Justo’s newly-formed Socialist Party. In 1894 he was named president of the Centro Socialista Universitario, formed by a group of medical students, and the following year became a member of the executive committee of the national party organization.20 As a political activist he wrote articles and editorials for the Socialist La Vanguardia, produced pamphlets explaining the tenets of socialism, and spoke on the need for social reform to public gatherings and labor meetings.21

In 1902 Ingenieros abandoned political activities and devoted himself to studies in science and medicine. His particular interests were in the areas of biology and abnormal psychology, and in 1904 he accepted a position as a psychiatrist in the Buenos Aires Police Department. His scientific work recommended him to the Argentine government, which in 1905 named him representative to the Fifth Congress of Psychology at Rome. During the period between 1902 and 1907 Ingenieros produced seven books and numerous articles concerning his scientific investigations and began to establish an international reputation in his field.

After holding a position in the University of Buenos Aires, Ingenieros returned to Europe in 1911, where he remained until 1914. In this three-year stay he began to shift the focus of his attention from scientific study to writings of a philosophical, social, and political nature. His post-1910 works still owed much to his training in medicine and the scientific disciples, however, and his frequent failure to reconcile these two interests resulted in severe criticism of his thought. Ingenieros found it particularly difficult to reconcile his faith in Positivism and evolutionary theories, based on his scientific interests, with his growing commitment to idealism.22

This emphasis upon idealism, a dominant theme in his post-1910 works, was perhaps best reflected in one of the first of his philosophical studies, El hombre mediocre. Published in 1913, this essay rivaled Rodó’s Ariel in its impact upon Latin American youth. The book was widely read, and twenty thousand copies were published and sold within the space of four months, an impressive number for the Latin American market at that time.23

El hombre mediocre presented in outline the principal aspects of Ingenieros’ later writings. He began by emphasizing the importance of ideals as motivating factors for individual and social progress. By his definition an ideal represents the striving for something better, “the gesture of the spirit towards some perfection.”24 Ideals are not absolute, nor can they be formulated dogmatically or a priori. Rather, they change and are reformed in the light of experimentation and human experience. As society evolves, stimulated by ideals, the best of the present will contribute to the formation of the future through a process of natural selection. The men who will bring about this better future will be young men, the formulators of ideals. These ideals will be based on experience and reality and tend toward something better than that which past generations have accomplished.

Who is the “mediocre man”? Look around you, Ingenieros said. He is the common or mass man, the echo and the shadow rather than the voice and substance. What are his characteristics? He fears originality. He never speaks for himself and only repeats what he hears, what is common, and what is expected. He is incapable of forming or striving for an ideal. The “mediocre man” stays within the confines of the ordinary, and anything which upsets the routine makes him uncomfortable. His social function is to provide stability, not progress. He prefers silence and inertia to creation and activity. Sancho Panza, the practical companion of the idealistic Don Quixote, is the epitome of the “mediocre man,” for he unites in one person “the most conspicuous proportions of foolishness, egoism, and soundness.”25

In contrast to the many Sancho Panzas of the world is the “superior man,” who formulates the ideals of a society and in attempting to realize these ideals provides the force for progress. The “superior man” perceives the needs of his times and adapts his talents to meet them. While the “mediocre man” stands with the crowd, the “superior man” does not fear to stand alone. Despite obstacles and the criticisms of the majority, the “superior man” has the ability to maintain his faith in the correctness and significance of what he is doing. Drawing upon Argentine history, Ingenieros singled out Domingo F. Sarmiento as a “superior man,” one who constantly sought the improvement of his country and who was not afraid to stand alone in an unpopular position which he believed correct.

Ingenieros argued that as there are “mediocre men,” so, too, there are “mediocre times,” when ideals are lacking and society stagnates. Democracy, which tries to impose equality, leads to a climate of mediocrity. Inequality is the rule of nature and cannot be removed through legislation. Ingenieros’ solution was rule by an “aristocracy of merit.” In other words, the “superior men,” the educated, perceptive, and creative minority must provide national leadership. “When a generation feels fed up with deception, duplicity, servility,” he concluded, “it has to seek in the geniuses of its race the symbols of thought and action which will stimulate it to new efforts.”26

Following the publication of El hombre mediocre, Ingenieros returned to Buenos Aires from Europe in 1914. He then accepted a teaching position in the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters in the University of Buenos Aires and founded and became the first editor of the Revista de filosofía, a journal which featured contributions from the leading Argentine intellectuals of the day. In the first edition of the Revista, published in January 1915, Ingenieros explained the purpose of the journal and in so doing underscored his own nationalism. With regard to the formation of ideas, he contended, the older peoples of Europe are passing the symbolic torch of leadership to the newer peoples of America. In the New World distinct and original experiences are producing distinct and original patterns of thought. In time these new currents will supplant older philosophies. Argentina represents the most energetic example of this process, and from the Argentine experience will come a uniquely Argentine philosophy. The Revista de filosofía, he concluded, will promote argentinidad, or “the new sense that the nascent race in this part of the world will be able to impress upon human experience and ideals.”27 It should also be noted that the Revista devoted much space to articles on educational improvements and firmly supported the university reform.

Two major works produced by Ingenieros in this period, Sociología argentina and La evolución de las ideas argentinas, further delineated the author’s nationalism. In these volumes he stressed the natural and historical features which he believed would inevitably make Argentina one of the leading nations of the world. La evolución de las ideas argentinas placed particular emphasis upon the role of enlightened and revolutionary young leadership in promoting the progressive and liberal growth of nineteenth-century Argentina.

The need for educational reform in Argentina was a constant concern for Ingenieros. In a speech presented to a scientific meeting in 1916, he dealt with the problems posed for Latin American universities by world developments of the early twentieth century. This brief essay, “La Universidad del porvenir,” contained many of the concepts which the Argentine students of 1918 incorporated directly into the reform.

Ingenieros began by stating that the university in Latin America should become “a school of social action, adapted to its surroundings and its time.”28 Contemporary universities, he claimed, were not capable of dealing with modern philosophies nor of fulfilling the needs of their own societies and must he overhauled. Specifically they should be open to all capable of learning, regardless of social or economic condition. Professors and students should have a greater role in administration, and university extension courses, including night school and adult education classes, should be encouraged.

The role of the university, he continued, was to deal with national problems. Latin American universities should cease slavish imitation of old European models, with their emphasis on formalistic and antiquated learning, and instead should concentrate upon the development of new ideas and native culture. Finally, the goal of Latin American higher education should he to produce young men who are socially aware, concerned with national issues, and capable of independent thought.

Throughout the majority of his works following El hombre mediocre Ingenieros, like most of his colleagues, stressed his belief in the ability and the responsibility of young people to produce a better world than their fathers. He placed his faith in a “new generation” of youth, a “pure” generation, freed from any ties with the past and capable of formulating independent and revolutionary theories leading to societal progress. In a 1917 essay which reviewed the state of Argentine philosophy, Ingenieros directed the following words to “the youth,” who for him represented “the hope of humanity”:29

Respect the past in the just measure of its merits, but do not confuse it with the present nor seek in it the ideals of the future. It is not true that all past time was better. Always look forward, even though you make mistakes. It is worth more to humanity to be mistaken in a vision of dawn than to be certain in response to twilight. And do not ever doubt that again and again others will look farther; to serve humanity, your nation, your school, your sons, it is necessary to believe firmly that all future time will be better.

It is difficult to measure exactly and precisely the nature and intensity of Ingenieros’ impact on the 1918 reform generation. He gave his moral and written support to the students and saw the reform as the justification of his own work. But he did not participate actively in the movement, as did Alfredo L. Palacios and Juan B. Justo, nor were his writings frequently cited during the student campaign.

One measure of his influence is provided by the comments of student leaders after 1918. In a laudatory work on Ingenieros published in 1926 Gregorio Bermann, an important reform figure, stated that the nationalist Sociología argentina and La evolución de las ideas argentinas made Argentina’s youth proud of their nation’s past and produced “the ineffable sensation of not being strangers in our own land, but the most legitimate sons of a glorious heritage.”30 Sergio Bagú, another biographer and a student leader in the University of Buenos Aires in the early 1930s, emphasized the significant effect of Ingenieros upon the youth of Latin America generally, stating, for example, that “El hombre mediocre was the first great voice which was raised in all the continent to form the awareness of a new generation.” Writing about the Córdoba movement itself, Bagú argued that “of the inspirers that the university reform had in Argentina, José Ingenieros was the most substantial, enthusiastic, and consequential.”31 Other reform figures, like Gabriel del Mazo and Nicolás Besio Moreno, and later student leaders, like Héctor P. Agosti, have also underscored Ingenieros’ impact on the youth.32

Another measure of Ingenieros’ effect on the reform is the coincidence between his major themes and the thoughts expressed by the students of the reform. It should also be noted, however, that the reformistas often rejected many implications of Ingenieros’ thought, particularly concerning the “leveling-to-mediocrity” function of democracy and his suggestions for elite rule. The student revolutionaries championed democracy and equal participation in university government as integral parts of their program, and their stated goal was to change the Argentine university from an elite institution to a school representative of all citizens in the nation.

No one Argentine intellectual provided a comprehensive ideological plan which the Argentine students followed to the letter in 1918. The youth often took what they wanted and needed from the thoughts of contemporary national thinkers and rejected that which was not applicable to their particular situation. Nevertheless, it seems clear that the impulse for change and the general ideological trends in Argentina during the pre-reform years, best exemplified for many by Ingenieros, were crucial factors in the development of the student movement.

For most of the pre-1918 period the influence of the intellectual activities of Ingenieros and his colleagues was confined primarily to the area of Buenos Aires and La Plata. The interior city of Córdoba, remote from the national capital and possessing a strong colonial, Catholic, and conservative tradition, remained relatively unaffected by the new currents so evident along the coast. The University of Córdoba, Argentina’s oldest institution of higher learning, was a perfect example of the socially remote university which men like Ingenieros were seeking to renovate. It appeared incapable of meeting the needs of a modern society and suffered from conservative administrative control, restricted entrance, nepotism in the selection of faculty, part-time professorships, and a heavy Jesuit influence in the content of texts and lectures. On a trip to Córdoba just prior to the 1918 student uprising the Socialist Party deputy Juan B. Justo discovered that the university library did not contain a single volume by Marx, Engels, Huxley, or Darwin. Speaking to the National Chamber of Deputies, Justo argued that the right to consider and to respect the ideas of others was completely ignored within the university.33

Despite Córdoba’s isolation, the city and the university could not for long remain totally untouched by the intellectual activities occurring in the nation. By 1915 the basic tenets of the new thought being developed in the Republic began to leave their mark on several young men in Córdoba. One of the first signs of this influence was seen in a speech given by Deodoro Roca, a recent graduate of the university. Delivered in December 1915, during the presentation of diplomas in the University of Córdoba, the address attacked the formalistic and antiquated educational methods prevalent there. Roca criticized the university’s emphasis on factual knowledge and neglect of interpretation, and he scored its lack of concern with pressing national problems. He suggested that reforms be introduced which would transform the university into a progressive institution capable of producing national leaders concerned with national issues. Roca urged the students of Córdoba to carry out these reforms through collective action.34

Between 1916 and 1918 a group of young graduates and students continued to emphasize the need for educational reform in the University. They were led by Roca and by intellectuals like Arturo Orgaz, Saúl Alejandro Taborda, and Arturo Capdevila, all of whom were later to be pro-reform professors in the University of Córdoba. During these years they organized discussion groups and round tables, founded journals which introduced the ideas of Argentine thinkers to the young men of the city, and invited figures like Alfredo L. Palacios to Córdoba for public lectures.35

It was against this background that the university reform emerged. In March 1918 at the beginning of the school year, a group of Córdoba students closely associated with the young intellectuals mentioned above demanded that university officials reopen a boardinghouse for medical students, which the administration had closed. When the student demand was rejected, the reform-minded youths refused to attend classes and began a campaign to implement sweeping changes in the university structure. To apply political pressure they held mass public rallies and parades, sent petitions and telegrams to local and national officials asking for favorable intervention on their behalf, and obtained support from labor groups, political parties, and other student organizations.

After almost nine months of agitation the students of Córdoba were successful in their efforts. In October 1918 President Hipólito Yrigoyen issued an executive decree which approved the introduction of the student reform program into the University of Córdoba. The basic points of this program provided for student participation in university government through representatives on the administrative councils elected by specified procedures, made attendance at classes voluntary, granted professors more freedom in their choice of lecture material, and permitted greater flexibility in examinations. Between 1918 and 1921 subsequent student campaigns succeeded in extending these reforms to the Argentine universities in Buenos Aires, La Plata, Rosario-Santa Fé, and Tucumán. During this period the reform and reform-influenced ideas also began to spread to neighboring Uruguay, Chile, and Peru.36

A study of student actions in 1918 and a sampling from the most important student documents of the reform reveal how much the intellectual ferment of early twentieth-century Argentina influenced the university movement. For example, the students’ concern with social justice was most often demonstrated through attempts to improve the conditions of Argentina’s urban working classes. During the reform movement itself labor unions in Córdoba and throughout the Republic generally supported the student actions, not so much in sympathy with the need for educational reform, but more because the youth seemed to be carrying out an anticonservative, prodemocratic campaign of social reform. The actual instance of greatest student-worker cooperation occurred in September 1918, when several labor groups in Córdoba called a general strike. As soon as the strike was announced, the Reformista Federación Universitaria de Córdoba published a declaration which criticized the capitalist economic system and offered student support to the workers in return for the aid given by the labor unions to the university movement. In addition Federation representatives were sent to strike headquarters to provide guidance and encouragement to the workers. On the day following the student statement two Federation leaders were arrested by the local police and charged with inciting the strikers to armed revolt. Their arrest prompted various protest messages from labor groups throughout the nation and after 24 hours the youths were released. A statement by local labor leaders on September 5 denied that the students had promoted any disorders and added that the workers willingly accepted the backing of the university federation.37

Within the reform program itself can be found abundant evidence of the students’ desire to make the university a more socially active and socially responsible institution than in its “ivory-tower” past. One of the most oft-mentioned desires of the reformistas was to establish “university extension” courses to educate the urban working classes. Additional planks in the reformista platform which underscored their sense of social consciousness included provisions for adult education night classes, state financial aid for impoverished students, and the orientation of medical training toward problems of public health.

Finally one of the primary goals of the reform was to open the Argentine university to the middle and lower classes. Historically the Republic’s institutions of higher learning had been restricted to members of the upper and upper-middle classes. Student declarations of 1918 constantly repeated the need to lift entrance restrictions and to admit into the university all citizens who were academically qualified, regardless of social-economic background. The reform statutes which introduced unregulated attendance at classes and permitted greater flexibility in taking examinations were concerned explicitly with this goal. The reformistas argued that students from the lower social-economic brackets were deprived of educational opportunities because of their need to earn a living. A greater flexibility in class attendance and the taking of examinations, the reformistas claimed, would enable them to work at part- or full-time jobs while studying.38

Idealism, a word frequently associated with student activities in all parts of the world, was another important theme in the 1918 reform. Throughout the documents of the student campaign can be found the assumption that the pre-1918 Argentine university produced “mediocre men,” trained in a formalistic, conservative, and excessively factual manner, lacking the ability to produce creative and independent thought and fearful of new ideals. As the rebellious youth argued, the reform sought to change the Republic’s universities so as to produce graduates eager to create, to experiment, and to be stimulated by higher ideals than those in vogue. The key to this change, the reformistas claimed, lay in allowing the students themselves to participate in university government. By placing representatives on administrative councils, voting in the election of university officials, and in the long run determining the hiring and retention of professors, the youth would be able to reinvigorate Argentine higher education and reorient it toward the production of graduates more in line with modern national needs.

The argument for student participation in university government, the real heart of the reform program, was perhaps best expressed in the famous “Córdoba Manifesto,” issued by the members of the Federación Universitaria de Córdoba in June 1918. It proclaimed that with the reform the students had broken “the last chain that, in the full twentieth century, tied us to the ancient monarchic and monastical domination,” and it went on to say that the universities have been up to now the secular refuge of mediocrities. . . . The universities have come to be the faithful reflection of those decadent societies, which persist in offering the sad spectacle of a senile immobility.” The cause of this stagnation was the faculty—professors who commonly kept their posts through favoritism or nepotism, whose lectures, usually uninspired and repetitive, were attended only because they were required for graduation. The reformistas demanded a voice in the selection of professors because to maintain the present relation of governed to governors is to agitate the ferment of future upheavals.” Finally the manifesto argued that of all elements within the university the students were best qualified to choose their own professors, for, “the youth live always in the act of heroism. They are disinterested, they are pure. They have not yet had time to be contaminated. They are never mistaken in the election of their own teachers. . . . From now on the only ones who can be professors in the future university republic will be the true builders of souls, the creators of truth, of beauty, and of goodness.”39

An interesting comment on the importance of idealism was made by Alberto Mendioroz, representative of the Federación Universitaria de La Plata, in an address to the First National Congress of University Students (Córdoba, July 1918). According to Mendioroz, the dominant themes in Argentine history prior to the reform were an emphasis upon material progress and a corresponding failure to develop a spiritual relationship between the nation and its people: “In the absorbing task of rising and enriching ourselves, we have neglected the ideal.” The gap between material enrichment and spiritual fulfillment, he added, had been particularly noticeable among the many immigrants who had come to Argentina to live and to work, but who had not felt themselves truly a part of the nation. It is the duty and the responsibility of the university youth, who will be the future national leaders, to formulate and to provide the necessary ideals and spiritual relations to integrate the newcomer from Europe into national life. The universities, and the university reform, Mendioroz concluded, should be the focal point for this effort. “From the university,” he said, “can and should come the spiritual harmony of the nation. The university will give to the nation a host of idealistic and loving sons to rule it.”40

Interwoven with the reformistas’ emphasis upon the importance of idealism was an equally strong emphasis upon nationalism. This nationalism was manifested clearly in the students’ recognition of the university’s role in providing national leaders. As Osvaldo Loudet, first president of the Federación Universitaria Argentina, stated in an address to the First National Congress of University Students: “The future of a people depends on the culture and on the morality of its directing classes, and the university is that which forms, molds, and orients these guiding elements.”41

Implicit in the reformistas’ words and deeds was the assumption that the pre-1918 Argentine university had failed to concern itself with national problems and had produced not a responsible national leadership, but unimaginative and self-seeking professionals. The reformista leader Gregorio Bermann emphasized the need for changes in this situation when he spoke to the founding congress of the Federación Universitaria Argentina, held in Buenos Aires during April 1918. In his address Bermann stated that the purpose of the reform was “to bring the university nearer to the urgent national problems which place the future of the country in danger, problems which the university with inexplicable indifference, has failed to consider, . . . and not to form, finally, as it now does, mediocre professionals, but rather men of thought and of character.”42

Finally, the declarations proceeding from the Argentine student movement of 1918 show a serious concern with the position of the Republic vis-à-vis other Latin American republics and the more advanced countries of the Western world, a concern typical of many nationalist intellectuals in contemporary emerging nations. For the reformistas, Argentina had made great strides toward modern nationhood through its economic expansion of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the development of political parties, and political reforms such as the Sáenz Peña law of 1912. Much more was needed, however—concern with social welfare and social justice, an equitable distribution of the nation’s income, and attention to the integration of the lower and middle classes into national life. The aim of the students in 1918 was to reform and to modernize the Republic’s semi-colonial universities so as to create institutions and leaders concerned with the nation’s unfinished business and to insure Argentina the national greatness which so many of the youth and the leading intellectuals foresaw as the Republic’s inevitable destiny. A manifesto from the Córdoba students, issued in March 1918, perhaps best highlighted this sentiment, when it proclaimed for the youth: “We form the ascendant generation, which has to struggle for the progress of the country, quick to conceive its destiny in the consortium of modern societies.”43

The repercussions of the Córdoba Reform of 1918 continue down to the present. From the reform dates the emergence of Latin American university students into the political scene as an organized, articulate, and often effective force. In recent years student activities have become the focus of increasing scholarly study and interest.44 The intellectual ferment in Argentina prior to 1918, emphasizing particularly the themes of social reform, idealism, nationalism, and educational reform, so clearly evident as influences in the reform, goes far to explain the nature and the orientation of the Argentine student movement. Similarly the works of such “maestros de la juventud” as Alejandro Korn, Alfredo L. Palacios, and José Ingenieros on the reformistas provide another significant means of understanding the reform. The contributions of these men to the Argentine student revolt of 1918 seem to resemble the contemporary influence of figures such as Herbert Marcuse, Albert Camus, Ernesto “Che” Guevara, and others on the student rebels of the 1960s.

The intellectual in Latin America has always enjoyed prestige and nowhere more than with university students, who are usually among the first to be stimulated by new and exciting ideas. The leading thinkers in Argentina during the pre-reform period made a large contribution to forming a “new generation” of university youth, a generation which then sought to shape universities in order to provide a new national leadership, a new national character, and a new national purpose.


Gabriel del Mazo, La reforma universitaria y la universidad latinoamericana (Buenos Aires, 1957), 15.


James K. Scobie, Argentina: A City and a Nation (New York, 1964), 276.


For more information on these political developments see Alfredo Galletti, La política y los partidos (Buenos Aires, 1961), 11-75; and John J. Johnson, Political Change in Latin America: The Emergence of the Middle Sectors (Stanford, 1958), 94-99.


Gabriel del Mazo, La reforma, 11.


Julio V. González, La reforma universitaria (2 vols., Buenos Aires, 1927), II, 174.


José Enrique Rodó, Ariel (Montevideo, 1900).


Manuel Ugarte was one of the special guests invited to attend and address the founding meeting of the Argentine National Student Federation in April 1918. Gabriel del Mazo (ed.), La reforma universitaria (2 vols., Buenos Aires, 1927), II, 123-124.


John J. Johnson, Political Change, 96.


Both Palacios and Justo were from the beginning strong supporters of the university reform, as was, indeed, the whole Socialist Party. Por example, when the Córdoba students rioted in June 1918 to initiate the reform, the editors of the Socialist Party newspaper La Vanguardia wrote that “save certain excesses, which are very justifiable in these moments of passion, the attitude of the Córdoba university youth deserves our warmest applause.” La Vanguardia (Buenos Aires), June 17, 1918, 2.

Palacios, who was one of the few professors to participate actively on the side of the student reformistas in 1918, remained a firm advocate of the reform throughout his university and political career and maintained constantly the affection and respect of Argentine and Latin American students generally as a “maestro de la juventud.” See Antonio Herrero, “Acción universitaria de Alfredo L. Palacios,” Nosotros (Buenos Aires, 1924), 372-387; and Alfredo L. Palacios, La universidad nueva (Buenos Aires, 1925).


Arthur P. Whitaker and David C. Jordan, Nationalism in Contemporary Latin America (New York, 1966), 16.


Joaquín V. González, La tradición nacional (Buenos Aires, 1888), 39.


Joaquín Y. González, Mis montañas (Buenos Aires, 1893). González’s son, Julio Y. González, a student at the University of La Plata in 1918, was an important activist in the reform and later became one of the foremost professor-politicians within the reformista ranks. See Julio V. González, La universidad: teoría y acción de la reforma (Buenos Aires, 1945).


Ricardo Rojas, La restauración nacionalista: informe sobre educación (Buenos Aires, 1909).


Ricardo Rojas, Eurindia: ensayo de estética sobre las culturas americanas (Buenos Aires, 1922-1924), 21.


Manuel Gálvez, El solar de la raza (Buenos Aires, 1913).


Alejandro Korn, “La reforma universitaria (Con motivo del movimiento estudiantil en la Universidad de La Plata),” in Gabriel del Mazo (ed.), La reforma universitaria, IV, 223. See also Alejandro Korn, Influencias filosóficas en la evolución nacional (Buenos Aires, 1936). Korn’s influence was most evident in the writings of one of his students and an important figure in the reform, Héctor Ripa Alberdi. Addressing a continent-wide student meeting in 1921 Ripa Alberdi affirmed that “there are two forces which are beginning to demolish the old edifice of culture and in which I have placed all my hope—the vigorous rebirth of the idealist philosophy and the healthy rebelliousness of the youth.” Héctor Ripa Alberdi, “La Argentina naciente: por el comienzo de una nueva vida americana,” in Gabriel del Mazo (ed.), La reforma universitaria,


At the time of its founding in 1905 the U.L.P. was antedated by the University of Córdoba (1613) and the University of Buenos Aires (1821).


Joaquín V. González, The National University of La Plata: Report Relative to Its Foundation (Buenos Aires, 1906).


José María Monner Sans, Historia del “Ateneo Universitario” (1914-1920) (Buenos Aires, 1930).


Jacinto Oddone, Historia del socialismo argentino (2 vols., Buenos Aires 1934), 240.


Much of this biographical information is taken from the prologue to José Ingenieros, Antología: su pensamiento en sus mejores páginas (Buenos Aires 1961).


A discussion of the relationship between Positivism and idealism in Ingenieros’ work can be found in William Rex Crawford, A Century of Latin-American Thought (Cambridge, 1963), 116-142. Crawford also underscores Ingenieros’ interest in and appeal for Latin America’s youth.


Sergio Bagú, Vida ejemplar de José Ingenieros: juventud y plenitud (Buenos Aires, 1936), 145-146.


Jose Ingenieros, El hombre mediocre (Madrid, 1913), 6.


ibid., 78.


ibid., 324.


José Ingenieros, “Para una filosofía argentina,” Revista de filosofía (Buenos Aires), January, 1915, 2.


José Ingenieros, La Universidad del porvenir y otros escritos, sobre filosofía, educación y cultura (Buenos Aires, 1956), 15.


José Ingenieros, Proposiciones relativas al porvenir de la filosofía (Buenos Aires, 1918), 130-131. Emphasis in the original.


Gregorio Bermann, José Ingenieros: el civilizador—el filósofo—el moralista—lo que le debe nuestra generación (Buenos Aires, 1926), 17.


Sergio Bagú, Vida ejemplar, 184.


Héctor P. Agosti, José Ingenieros, ciudadano de la juventud (Buenos Aires 1945); Nicolás Besio Moreno, “José Ingenieros, arquetipo de su generación (1877-1925)” Revista del mar dulce (Buenos Aires), December, 1955, 3-5; and Gabriel del Mazo, “Homenaje a José Ingenieros: Ingenieros y el movimiento continental de los estudiantes,” Revista de la facultad de ciencias médicas y del centro de estudiantes de medicina (La Plata), January-March 1941, 73-78.


Juan B. Justo, El conflicto universitario de Córdoba (Buenos Aires 1918) 12.


From the speech entitled “Ciencias, maestros y universidades,” in Deodoro Roca, Ciencias, maestros y universidades (Buenos Aires, 1959), 13-21.


“Los años 1916 y 1917 en Córdoba (crónica sumaria),” in Gabriel del Mazo (ed.), La reforma universitaria, II, 208-214.


More detailed accounts of these events can be found in Gregorio Bermann, Juventud de América: sentido histórico de los movimientos juveniles (México, 1946), 81-100; Julio V. González, La universidad, 19-106; and Richard J. Walter, Student Politics in Argentina: The University Reform and Its Effects, 1918-1964 (New York, 1968).


La Prensa (Buenos Aires) September 6, 1918, 10.


The most comprehensive statement of the Argentine student goals during the 1918 movement can be found in the reports and resolutions of the First National Congress of University Students, held in Córdoba in July 1918. See Gabriel del Mazo (ed.), La reforma universitaria, III.


“La juventud argentina de Córdoba a los hombres libres de Sud América: manifesto (1918),” in ibid., II, 7-15.


Alberto Mendioroz, “Discurso en nombre de la Federación Universitaria de La Plata,” in ibid., Ill, 21-26.


Osvaldo Loudet, “Discurso del presidente de la Federación Universitaria Argentina y presidente del congreso,” in ibid., in, 17.


“Discursos en la gran asamblea de la Federación Universitaria de Buenos Aires de solidaridad con el movimiento de los estudiantes de Córdoba, en lo que se proclamó la fundación de la Federación Universitaria Argentina (11 de abril de 1918),” in ibid., II, 93.


“Nuevo manifiesto (marzo 31 de 1918),” in ibid., II, 20.


See particularly Kalman H. Silvert, “The University Student,” in John J. Johnson (ed.), Continuity and Change in Latin America (Stanford, 1964), 206-226.

Author notes


The author is Associate Professor of History at Washington University.