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Letter from Mrs. Mae C. Mitchell opposing the Sheppard-Towner Maternity and Infancy Protection Bill, December 7, 1920

This letter’s author opposed the Sheppard-Towner bill, arguing "for the sake of ... motherhood" that the federal government should not encroach on physicians' authority and livelihoods. Later lawsuits challenged the constitutionality of the program’s funding. Though the Supreme Court dismissed those cases, the challenges and opposition dissuaded Congress from renewing the act in 1929.

The Public Health Service is a splendid institution, for health, but motherhood is a sacred institution, and not a public one…

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

Letter from Mrs. Mae C. Mitchell opposing the Sheppard-Towner Maternity and Infancy Protection Bill Letter from Mrs. Mae C. Mitchell opposing the Sheppard-Towner Maternity and Infancy Protection Bill

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.