A Celebration of Women Writers

"Our Spanish-American Neighbors." by Mrs. Anna A. Dodd (1834-).
Publication: Eagle, Mary Kavanaugh Oldham, ed. The Congress of Women: Held in the Woman's Building, World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, U. S. A., 1893. Chicago, Ill: Monarch Book Company, 1894. pp. 754-759.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

[Page 754] 



In January, 1891, I sailed from New York for the purpose of taking the position of principal literary teacher in the Santiago College, Chili, the largest and best English college in South America. At the end of eight days, after experiencing every variety of climate and weather, including a fierce storm off Cape Hatteras, we reached Colon. Here a perfect transformation scene awaited us–a new Heaven, a new earth and a new people, who spoke to us in a new and unknown tongue.

It required five hours to cross the isthmus, which seemed a mammoth conservatory of tropical plants, or a glimpse into the interior of Africa, with its banana plantations and the rude huts of the negroes, made of sticks and plastered with mud and thatched with grass. The people appeared to be an indigenous growth, and they were as listless and aimless as the vegetation of which they seemed a part. The children were suggestive of the real in art, and would have delighted the heart of the sculptor. They were wholly nude. Their minds had never been profaned with the cultivated idea of modesty of some of our ultra civilized contemporaries, who, for the sake of ethics, would drape the cold and unresponsive marble that leaves so little for the imagination.

I might linger here and tell you much of the ruined and wrecked machinery and the deserted villages, which mutely represented the wrecked fortunes and hopes of thousands of people, as well as the ruined reputation and lost manhood of the speculators whose infamous conduct has furnished food for scandal in the late Panama swindle, but I must hasten on.

The evening of the same day we took the elegant English steamer Santiago for our three weeks' voyage to Valparaiso, the port of Santiago. To exchange the choppy Caribbean Sea and the tempest-tossed Atlantic for the mild and undulating swells of the Pacific was a happy release for the seasick passengers. The ship stopped at every port, which gave a good opportunity to observe the country and the people, but this soon becomes monotonous, as it is a constant repetition. The rugged Andes are bare and desolate, except now and again a fertile strip of land watered by a mountain stream on its way to the ocean. At Guayaquil the weather was truly tropical, 100° in the shade in February. It was toward the close of the rainy season, and the streets were full of green and stagnant water, which offered good breeding ground for the yellow fever. Callao was reached in the height of the carnival season. The captain advised us if we went on shore to put on such garments as we would be willing to cast overboard on our return, for the revelers were no respecters of person. We dis- [Page 755]  creetly remained on board the ship. The condition of the watermen who came out the following day bore testimony to the wisdom of the captain's warning, for their clothes were like Joseph's coat, of many colors, from the frequent drenchings of colored fluids cast on them the previous day. When we left the United States there was a small speck on the political horizon of Chili, which had rapidly developed into a portentous war-cloud, of which we were blissfully ignorant until we reached Callao. Here the captain of the Santiago received orders to go no further, but to transfer all passengers to the Pizarro, an older and less valued vessel. On entering Chilian waters a man-of-war fired a shot across our bows and ordered us to halt. As the muzzles of some very fierce-looking guns were peering through the portholes of the aforesaid man-of-war, no time was lost in obeying orders. We remained quite stationary while the man-of-war performed a sort of nautical war-dance or waltz, by moving entirely around our vessel, while the captain asked several questions, which being answered satisfactorily, we were ordered to "move on." We began to feel like poor Joe in "Bleak House," who responded to a like order by saying, "Where would you have a poor cove move on to?" For we had been told that in all probability we would not be allowed to land at a single Chilian port, but, fortunately, results proved otherwise. We tarried in the Bay of Valparaiso all night waiting for the captain of the port to give us permission to go ashore, still in a state of uncertainty. But morning brought a blessed relief to mind and body, and we lost no time in accepting the freedom of the city.

When I reached Santiago the following day I was literally turned round. Mid-summer in February! Washington's birthday anniversary the hottest of the season! The sun rose in the East as usual, but turned to the North instead of to the South. The constellations had reversed their positions. The Dipper was lost to view. The Southern Cross was not a compensation, for it was a disappointment.

The school year began in March and closed for the summer holidays at Christmas. Santiago is the head of a system of schools established in Chili for the purpose of furnishing funds for missionary purposes. It is on the plan of our seminaries in the North, but it is not intended for propaganda. It meets a much needed want for educational purposes. Its patronage is from the best families in Chili, and now numbers about two hundred and fifty students. The most of the teachers are from the United States. The graduating class, which I taught, was composed of Spanish, French, German, English and American, the latter being represented by one girl. They all spoke two or three languages. The school observes all feast days that the national banks do, but the greatest feast day was the 7th of July. The United States minister also observes this day by a formal reception of all good Americans, foreign ministers and state officials.

Just here I wish to offer a tribute of respect to Patrick Egan who, whatever may have been his errors of commission or omission politically or ministerially, proved himself a humane, Christian gentleman, as his legation was a place of refuge, not only for Americans during that fierce and bloody war, but for the opposing factions who sought his protection.

"Old Glory" never appeared to a better advantage than when peacefully floating in the breeze as a menace even in a foreign country, when the war-dogs were loosened to hound down those who had the courage of their convictions and openly asserted themselves. Every building in the city is required by law to erect a flagstaff, that the national flag may be raised when the order is given to do so, a custom worthy of imitation. The college rejoiced in two, one for the flag of Chili and one for the "stars and stripes." The latter was treated with all the respect due it during the terrible sacking of the city that followed the close of the war.

Santiago, a typical Spanish-American city, is the finest on the Pacific slope. From its geographical position it enjoys a delightful climate much of the year, but its close proximity to the mountains that are covered with snow in the rainy season brings the mercury down to forty or fifty degrees, and occasionally to the freezing point. There is [Page 756]  a scarcity of fuel, as the early Spanish settlers cut away the timber, and tree planting has not become a universal custom with their descendants. Coal is found, but it is expensive; hence the people accustom themselves to do without fire save for cooking purposes. The result is great mortality among children and anæmia among women who rarely live to an advanced age. Men wear their overcoats in and out of doors, rub their fingers to excite warmth, and imbibe wine and strong drink, not only to relieve the biting cold of winter, but also the oppressive heat of summer. Servants move about with shawls on their heads and cover their mouths to retain the heat from exhalation. It is a pitiful sight to see the poor and thinly clad sitting outside of their miserable adobe huts when the weather is fine to enjoy the warmth of the sun. The stores are never heated, and the fruit and flower venders may be seen the whole year round in the open air. This remarkable country, with more attention to the amenities of life, would be a delightful abiding place. It is free from thunderstorms, cyclones and blizzards, and there is no snow except in the mountains. The people are occasionally shaken by an earthquake which at the time is very terrifying, to which I can bear testimony by personal experience. The name Valparaiso means "Vale of Paradise," which is significant of the climate. There are three distinct grades of society in Spanish America, the rich, the middle class and the very poor. The rich are the aristocracy, or nobility, as they style themselves. They are very exclusive, and only admit people of their own rank to intimacy. Their revenues are obtained from mines and haciendas, which are worked by the peons, a mixture of Spanish and Indian.

The rich lead lives of idleness, the men are fond of gain and gambling, and the women of dress and gossiping. The sons of rich men are often educated abroad, and the daughters acquire a few superficial accomplishments and a smattering of languages, either in the convents or from foreign governesses. They have the Spanish style of beauty, and are very devout about attending mass every morning, wearing a black dress and the Spanish mantilla, as bonnets are forbidden in the churches of Chili. In the afternoon they may be seen riding or walking, with uncovered heads. It is a disgrace for a lady to nurse or attend to her children. These (maternal) functions are delegated to servants who are ignorant, and most of them examples of total depravity, as they are supposed to break every commandment in the decalogue. Women do not command respect, but simply admiration in proportion to their beauty, courtesy and gallantry on the part of the men being, like veneering, but on the surface. Young women dare not venture on the street in the daytime without an escort or chaperon. Schoolgirls are not allowed to go and come from school, no matter how short the distance, without a servant at their heels, or a protecting guardian beside them. In Chili a woman is an infant, under the law, until she reaches the age of twenty-five years. To marry under that age without the consent of parents or guardian, would be illegal. If, by any stretch of the imagination, we could fancy these women organizing a literary club after the manner of our women, from the largest cities to the smallest villages, they would be the butt of ridicule in the newspapers and clubs, or thought fit subjects for a lunatic asylum. The women of the United States are regarded by our Spanish-American neighbors as very despotic, and are rarely selected by them as wives.

Schools are greatly needed in these countries to elevate the women as well as the masses. Missionary schools are doing much good, but in many ways they are handicapped and fail to reach the large majority, who need to learn that labor is honorable and that idleness is vice. President Balmaceda understood the wants of the people. He was a progressive and broad-minded man. He built fine public schools to educate the common people, and did much to improve the country, but his efforts did not suit the conservative element, and he was falsely accused of squandering the public money, which finally precipitated the late war in Chili, with which you are all familiar. These schools now stand for his monuments, and the time will come when his memory will be respected. The people are patriotic, in their way; they are great hero-worshipers, and love to honor their distinguished men, when dead, by erecting statues to their memory in the public squares and other places of public resort. [Page 757] 

The bulk of the property is held by the church, and a small minority of the people, who make the laws and place only a nominal tax on the realty. To meet government expenses, heavy duties are imposed on the necessaries of life, but the luxuries escape with a small tribute.

Nearly all business is in the hands of foreigners. Every store and shop, even to a cobbler's stall, must pay a license or patent for revenue. An auctioneer pays one thousand dollars and upward per annum. This burdens the tradespeople and the poor, and there is no redress, the despotism of the rulers being proportioned to the ignorance of the people as a mass. There is no provision made for the indigent poor; the halt, the lame and the blind all meet in the marketplaces and other conspicuous points and beg for aid. Yet the religion of these people is noticeable in all relations of life. Even business houses are dedicated to a patron saint, whose name is deeply cut in the pavement, and his figure placed in the window where goods are exposed for sale. Private houses often have a niche in the outer wall, in which is placed an image of the Blessed Virgin, surrounded by plants and cut flowers, and lighted at night by a gas jet. Cemeteries are filled with tombs built above ground, descending two or three stories, under which is a receptacle for the bones of the "oldest inhabitant." These tombs are fashioned like Greek temples, and are guarded by a favorite saint and the Virgin cut in marble. Some of them are very expensive. One belonging to the De Soto family, built wholly of white marble, surmounted by a life-sized angel exquisitely carved, cost twenty-five thousand dollars. The poor have no permanent burial place; a hole is made in the ground, the same being rented for a certain length of time, but at the expiration of the lease, the body is thrown into the Gehenna beyond the wall, and covered with lime. The cities have no beautiful suburbs. There are quintas and chacras of a block or a few acres, surrounded by high adobe walls to exclude the "Goths and Vandals." These grounds are highly cultivated by the aid of irrigation. Statuary is largely used for decorating the grounds as well as the houses. Except in the parks, there are no fine driveways; the country is in a state of nature, and during the rainy season the roads are wellnigh impassable. Agriculture is conducted on the chacras or small farms in the most primitive manner. The old Abrahamic plow is used to tickle the ground that is expected to laugh with the harvest. Donkeys with their panniers, and clumsy carts drawn by oxen, carry the fruits and vegetables to market. In the month of September I spent the diez e ocho holiday of ten days on a large hacienda of five thousand acres, valued at six hundred thousand dollars, which formerly belonged to Balmaceda. Three thousand acres were in wheat in all stages of growth. Peons were plowing for the last sowing, twenty in a field. These haciendas are superintended by practical Scotchmen or Englishmen, who require the peons to use modern plows. They are stubbornly opposed to change of tools or fashion. Thousands of horses, cattle and sheep roamed over the foot-hills, often straggling across the mountains to the other side. Once a year the cattle of the country are driven in by herdsmen to an appointed place, and, as each owner has his brand, they are easily assorted, taken where they belong and sold.

The peons live for successive generations on the same hacienda. Each family has an adobe house and a plat of ground, and they close together in a sort of village. They work for hire, and are faithful servants. No provision is made for the intellectual and moral elevation of these people. They amuse themselves on Sundays with horse-racing, etc. Bull-fighting is prohibited in Chili, but not in Peru or Mexico. The Chilians are experts in the use of the lasso.

Manufactures are limited to a few necessary articles of but inferior quality. Americans have built most of their railroads, the French improved their harbors, and these, with the German and English, established their commerce.

Briefly outlined, this is the social and political condition of a typical Spanish-American country, which, after an existence of over three hundred and fifty years, is walking in the beaten paths and living after the manner of its ancestors. With a desire for liberty and independence, it threw off the yoke of Spain, but among them- [Page 758]  selves there is a constant struggle for supremacy. They are proud, fond of power, gain, ease and luxury.

The docile peons, although free, are still slaves, and constitute the fighting force in time of war. Through their veins trickles the same blood that coursed through those of the early Spanish discoverers and conquerors. Cortez and Pizarro were religious bigots and fanatics, who came with the sword in one hand and the cross in the other. They fought in the name of Spain's patron saint, Iago, but showed a greater desire to obtain gold than to convert souls to Christianity. "They came, they saw, they conquered," and the descendants of the Incas and the Aztecs rest like an incubus on the sleeping, dreaming Spanish-Americans, who have not only exonerated the crimes of Pizarro, but first exalted him as an hero and later as a saint. After three hundred years his body was exhumed, placed in a glass casket, and enshrined in the cathedral at Lima, Peru, where I saw it on my return home. Minister Hicks, who was present, related to me the ceremonies that attended his consecration. This was done at the close of the nineteenth century. The soil of Peru is so impregnated with niter that the bodies of the dead are preserved.

The early settlements of Spanish America were almost one hundred years in advance of those of North America. The very garden of the continent was their chosen abiding place. From Mexico to Chili, nature has been lavish in her gifts of climate, soil and products. Within a space embracing the tropics and semi-tropics, sea girt on all sides, with ranges of mountains inclosing fertile valleys and rising into tablelands adapted to the culture of every cereal, fruit and plant that may be cultivated for the sustenance and the pleasure of man; gold, silver and precious stones, as well as the baser metals; large domains suited to the grazing of cattle or agricultural purposes; forests in which abound the greatest variety of woods; rivers navigable far into the interior, of the country on the banks of which the soil is inexhaustible; rare and beautiful plants, that may adorn the conservatory or supply the alembic of the chemist for medicinal purposes. Surrounded by the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, barter and trade may be carried on between the two Americas with almost as much ease as on our great rivers of commerce, as the ships that ply up and down the coast are rarely out of sight of land; so that to those who enjoy ocean travel is offered the most delightful opportunity, as summer reigns the year round and the traveler may revel in all the luxuries of the tropic and temperate zones.

Yet, with all these advantages, our Spanish-American neighbors have failed to keep abreast of the times. It is mostly due to two causes: first, the homogeneousness of the people; second, uniformity of religion. In the plan of creation a diversity of races was wisely provided, with the differences of temperament and color to adapt them to the various locations wherein they dwell. The different species of the same race also seems necessary to evolve or develop the highest and best conditions of society. To this variety is due, no doubt, in part, the remarkable advancement and prosperity of the United States. By tacit consent, we all learn to speak the same language which enables us to travel from the Atlantic to the Pacific without guide or courier, and distinguishes us from Europe by removing the insuparable barriers to free intercourse and travel.

The same language is universal in Spanish-America, but there the antecedents have been the same, and their habits and customs gain nothing by contact with each other. Uniformity of religion leads to bigotry and intolerance, as well as persecution of those whose beliefs and forms of worship differ from those of the established church. This is largely true in all of Spanish-America. In Peru, to preach the gospel in Spanish, except after the prescribed methods, subjects the offender to arrest and imprisonment. Chili is more tolerant. Protestant churches are allowed, but they are not permitted to have a belfry or tower in which to place a bell to call the people to worship. Differences of religion and politics are better for the body politic if they may be openly expressed. Free speech, free press, free schools and freedom to worship God according to the dictates of one's own conscience, lie at the foundation of true republicanism. [Page 759] 

With a deep sense of gratitude to Spain for having made it possible for Columbus to discover America, where so many millions of people find free and happy homes, there is a tinge of regret that her own offspring in the New World has been surpassed in achievement and enterprise by her twin sister, North America. Columbus was not a Spaniard. He owed his nativity to that land that has produced poets, painters, sculptors and men of letters, where they breathe an atmosphere filled with inspiration. Columbus felt its influence, and it stirred his pious soul to its very depths. He felt God had given him a mission, but he was looked upon at home and abroad as an impracticable dreamer, until a woman, who understood and interpreted his dream, lent a helping hand, and that woman was a Spaniard.

When Columbus landed on the shores of the New World, he claimed it in the name of his benefactors; when he planted the cross, he dedicated it to Christianity. Since then thousands of people who have been persecuted for opinion's sake have here sought refuge and found a home.

With the dawn of the twentieth century may our Spanish-American neighbors, who are bound to us by natural ties, be still closer bound by bands of steel, bearing the cars of progress laden with a higher civilization. May there be a transfusion of Anglo-Saxon blood to quicken their sluggish veins, to lift them to a higher and better condition materially and spiritually.

[Page 754] 

Mrs. Anna A. Dodd was born at North Bend, Ohio, in 1834. Her parents were natives of the United States. She is a granddaughter of James Silver, who was a judge in Cincinnati, Ohio, for twenty years. She was educated in the free schools of Cincinnati, including the Hughes High School. She has traveled in her own country and South America, having spent nine months in Chili. She married Edwin D. Dodd, of Cincinnati, who is now deceased. She is the mother of three daughters. Mrs. Dodd was principal of a Cincinnati school five years. In religious faith she has been an Episcopalian. Her postoffice address is South Bend, Ind.


Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

This chapter has been put on-line as part of the BUILD-A-BOOK Initiative at the
Celebration of Women Writers.
Initial text entry and proof-reading of this chapter were the work of volunteer
Kylie Polzin.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom