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Abstract

The history of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul and the Association of the Ladies of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul in nineteenth-century Mexico counters the argument that “civil society and philanthropy are new to Latin America.” Both organizations operated in cities nationwide, with tens of thousands of members helping hundreds of thousands of persons who were poor. Their activities, which are described in detail, encompassed traditional forms of charity and efforts to address the causes of poverty. Their contributions to the development of Mexican society are explained. Differences between the Mexican and French branches of these groups are discussed. Tables show the growth of membership in each. There were far more Ladies of Charity, mostly because they had fewer outlets for charitable work than men and because personal contact with the poor was seen as a feminine activity. Unlike the Society, the Ladies were directly controlled by the Congregation. Nonetheless, their organization offered them the chance to gain leadership skills since they could vote and hold office within it. They also had the opportunity to interact more with persons (mainly the poor) in the public sphere.

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