City of children: Boys, girls, family and state in imperial Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

First Committee Member

Robert M. Levine - Committee Chair


This study examines the role of children in the promotion of social order within a community that was experiencing rapid urbanization, intensive state formation, and the transition from a slave to a wage labor economy. The establishment of Rio as the capital of the Portuguese Empire in 1808 and of an independent Brazil in 1822, instigated unprecedented forced and free migration to the city. In 1799, Rio's population was 43,000; by 1889 that number had reached nearly 400,000. This dramatic growth brought economic and cultural benefits, but it also intensified problems of unemployment, crime and disease. Elites came to identify the increasingly unruly environment with the poor whom they labeled classes perigosas or dangerous classes. Fears over social unrest were heightened by the prospect of abolition looming in the distance. In response to these conditions, reformers sought to create programs that would help promote order. Children and families of the free poor were central to their mission.My work focuses on the experiences and treatment of orphaned and abandoned children, from infancy to adulthood, in five of Rio's nineteenth-century institutions; the city foundling home, the Recolhimento (an orphanage for girls ages eight and above) and the apprenticeship schools for boys directed by the army, navy and penitentiary. The education boys and girls received within these facilities contributed to the promotion of hierarchical order. Authorities envisioned the children as Brazil's hope for the future. Young females were trained to be devout wives and mothers. Young males were molded to be productive citizens and workers. Race also played a determining role in institutional practices. White orphan girls from poor but honorable families were rarely put to work, whereas female foundlings who were often black or mixed race served as institution laundresses or were placed out as domestics. By comparing patterns in the treatment of boys and girls within Rio's schools and orphanages, my work contributes to our understanding of the role of age in the delineation and formation of gender, race and class identities, an issue of interdisciplinary interest.


History, Latin American

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