by Elizabeth Franklin Lewis, University of Mary Washington, March 2013
Just as in the late-Enlightenment period, in nineteenth-century Spain sentimental images of angelic feminine charity existed alongside real-world examples of women’s civic actions to improve Spanish society in the arenas of health, education, child-rearing, penal reform, and the establishment of the Red Cross in Spain. Much like in other European countries and the US, efforts to move these activities out of the realm of religion and into that of the law began to intensify during this time. While many women (and men) participated in many organizations and initiatives, none was as actively and visibly involved in every aspect of charity as was Concepción Arenal. Her many publications, including her award-winning treatise La Beneficencia, la filantropia y la caridad” (1861) and her important bi-monthly journal La Voz de la Caridad (1871-1884) are testaments to her fervor to improve life for the underprivileged and disenfranchised.
Our nineteenth-century exhibit begins with Arenal’s first important publication on charity, La Beneficencia, la filantropia y la caridad” (1861). The image of angelic feminine charity evident in a reproduced engraving of French women aiding victims of the Franco-Prussian War was a controversial topic that was much in the news of the day, something we see reflected in Arenal’s own writings in La Voz de la Caridad especially in her interest in the work of the Red Cross. A searchable database gives a glimpse into the depth and breadth of the articles published during its thirteen-year existence, and is an important research tool, cataloging this important text that has yet to be digitized or indexed.