Marifran Carlson chronicles the origins and development of Argentina’s women’s movement from colonial times to the 1950s. Her book provides a clearly organized and interestingly written overview of this important topic, and introduces readers to the wide range of thought, actions, and personalities of the people involved in the discussion of women’s nature and concerns.
Carlson’s efforts to tie attitudes toward women’s issues to broad historical themes is one of the strengths of this book. She discusses the beginnings of women’s involvement in philanthropic activities in terms of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century progressivism and secularism; the growth of the woman’s movement in the context of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century massive European immigration into Argentina and the growth of socialism; and the relationship of feminism and growing nationalist sentiment in the twentieth century, ending with a discussion of Peronism’s effect on working-class women.
Within this chronological narrative, the reader finds a good synthesis of the historical debate on progressive versus traditional views of women’s nature; their relationship to men; and their role in the family, both as the debate was carried on by women in the movement and by statesmen. An integral part of this debate, and a factor which adds to the book’s engaging nature, is the frequent incorporation of biographical material on women and men important to the woman’s movement. These include Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Camila O’Gorman, the founding members of the Sociedad de Beneficencia, Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, Victoria Ocampo, Julieta Lanteri, and Alicia Moreau. The author’s personal interviews, especially with Moreau, provide a valuable commentary on the debate between philanthropists and professional women in the history of the woman’s movement and what was seen by many as the movement’s eclipse under Juan and Eva Perón.