Late-nineteenth-century reformist elites in Chile worried incessantly about the affective and social structure of the lower-class family, which they believed was being undermined by widespread illegitimacy, cohabitation, child-rearing by unrelated caretakers, and infant mortality. This dissertation will ask why poor families, in particular lower-class mothers and their children, became the subject of ardent reformist preoccupation in this period. Second, given that the lower-class family was not merely a discursive construction of elites, I will inquire into the popular beliefs and practices surrounding the family. Particular attention will be paid to two issues: first, the ubiquity of female-headed households, which were common not only in Chile in this period but are a recurring phenomenon in the Latin American past and present; and second, the role of children, whose prominence in elite discourse suggests they occupied a particularly critical role in the state's contested relationship with popular culture. Using judicial records that illuminate the contours of lower-class family life, materials from the public bodies responsible for welfare activities, as well as the writings of the doctors, philanthropists, and bureaucrats who founded and staffed these institutions, I will treat the family not just as a fundamental social unit but as a political space where the most deeply held cultural mores of different social groups came into dispute.