The textile factory Caffarena, founded in 1920, was first located at 1510 San Pablo Street then moved to the property located at 2614 Compañía Street and 374 Cueto. Blas Caffarena Chiozza, a Genoese who arrived to Chile in 1888, first settled in Iquique, then moved to Antofagasta, then to Arica, and finally returned to his homeland.
Between 1917 and 1918, Blas Caffarena settled on the East Coast of the United States, testing new weaving machines and studying dyeing with indigo. In 1920 he returned to Santiago with his machine, his wife and seven children, who included Elena Caffarena (1903-2003), a feminist leader who fought to claim the role of women in society.
Caffarena factory quickly consolidated and became a contribution that gave Yungay District the character of a small scale industrial neighborhood: migrants in the textile business were widely recognized and the foreign colonies and communities contributed to the integration process in the first decades of the 20th century.
Thus, the district was forged as one of the most important in terms of industrial development. The factory has survived countless crises, positioning itself as a renowned company in the field in Latin America.
Regarding the role of Elena Caffarena: a daughter of the Italian textile businessman Blas Caffarena, an immigrant of Genoese ancestry, and Ana Morice. She studied at Liceo de Niñas in Iquique, and finished her secondary education at Liceo No. 4 in Santiago.
She enrolled at the University of Chile’s law school at the start of the 1920s, soon entering the voluntary workshops for the education of workers. There she met Luis Emilio Recabarren, who further motivated her interest in the equal rights of the underprivileged.
She joined the Federation of Students in 1922 and volunteered at the legal defense office. That year she emerged as a student leader when, within the context of the strike for “university reform,” she (along with her companions Maria Marchant and Aurora Blondet) addressed the students to explain the reasons behind the occupation of the Central House of the University of Chile.
She received the title of lawyer in 1926, being one of the first 15 female Chilean lawyers. Her thesis for graduation was titled ‘Enrichment without cause at the expense of others, in the Chilean Civil Code.’
In 1935, following the claims of the English suffragettes, she founded (together with Olga Poblete and others ahead of their time) the Movimiento Pro-Emancipación de las Mujeres de Chile, MEMCH, which for 20 years devoted itself to the organization of women for their “economic, biological and political emancipation.” It was the first women’s political organization in support of such claims. Elena was devoted mainly to promoting women’s legal rights, because at that time the laws considered Chilean women as minors, tied to the will of their fathers or their husbands.
In 1935, they achieved the right to vote at the municipal elections, but it would not be until 1949 that they would gain the right to vote in all elections in Chile. She, who did so much to achieve this, was not invited by President Gabriel González Videla to the ceremony during which the law was enacted in the Municipal Theater. The Law of Permanent Defense of Democracy, called “La ley maldita” (the Wicked Law) was applied and took away the rights and persecuted persons affiliated with the Communist Party. Although Elena was never a militant, her husband, attorney Jorge Jiles was a leader of that community.
During the 1980s, Elena’s house at 244 Seminario Street, became a meeting and debating locale for feminists. Her friends from the University and all those who followed visited the place; that included old and new feminists, both Chilean and foreign researchers in search of a piece of history. During the dictatorship, Saturday gatherings became famous and clandestine meetings meant that the house was raided.
Caffarena worked in defense of human rights that were systematically broken. In the 1980s, she became one of the founders of the Comité de Defensa de los Derechos del Pueblo (CODEPU), (People’s Rights Advocacy Committee) that currently works as a corporation responsible for the medical, social and legal defense of victims of the dictatorship and their families.
Her articles in the magazine Punto Final tell us about her fields of interest: “Abortion in Chile”, “Covered Divorce”, “Divorce and the family”, all from 1994. The texts published in the Law Magazine Revista de Derecho, Jurisprudencia y Ciencias Sociales also confirm what was a constant in her life: the defense of the oppressed, the visibility of the excluded, the struggle for democracy and the demand for rights for women.
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Source: Memoria Chilena.