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H.R. 12634, A bill to encourage instruction in the hygiene of maternity and infancy, July 1, 1918

Montana Representative Jeannette Rankin, the first woman elected to Congress, introduced this bill to address critical health needs of mothers and infants through clinics and health education. Childbirth was a leading cause of death for women, and the U.S. lagged behind many nations in infant mortality. A version of this bill became the Sheppard-Towner Act in 1921.

Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives and Records Administration

House Resolution 12634, A bill to encourage instruction in the hygiene of maternity and infancy

Protecting Mothers and Infants

In 1921 Congress passed the first federally funded social welfare program, the Sheppard-Towner Maternity and Infancy Protection Act. To reduce alarming rates of maternal and infant mortality, the act provided support to states for prenatal and infant health care. Women activists, using their newly won voting rights, urged Congress to pass the five-year program and renew it in 1926. But with challenges to its constitutionality in the Supreme Court and opposition from the American Medical Association, the act expired in 1929.