The purpose of this study is to examine how the political cohesion of American women led to the passing the Sheppard-Towner Maternity and Infancy Protection Act (STA) of 1921,which was enacted as the first federal social-welfare measure in the United States. There were several results of STA: a social reform movement, a women's movement, and a transition in the role of state and federal governments in the area of child welfare.
Around the early 20th century, drastic social changes including urbanization, industrialization and the influx of immigrants had greatly affected the American family. When women, especially highly-educated, middle-class women, felt the social injustice and inequality prevailing in the city, they started the settlement movement, which extended later child-welfare movement later.
In 1912, the Children's Bureau was created for the purpose of investigating and reporting all matters pertaining to the welfare of children. After 1912, the Bureau took the lead in the child-welfare movement. Julia Lathrop played a key role as first chief of the Bureau. Lathrop chose to stress infant and maternity-related mortality as the Bureau's top priority. The Bureau mobilized women's groups to research the accuracy of birth registration statistics in 1913. At the same time, the Bureau pursued investigations of mother and infant mortality in selected communities. Based on these activities, Lathrop proposed a nationwide program for "the public protection of maternity and infancy with federal aid".
STA was the first major dividend of the full enfranchisement of American woman. With the passing of the 19th Amendment in August, 1920, women's political potential was turned into lucrative voting power. As a result, fifteen women's groups formed the Women's Joint Congressional Committee (WJCC) in November 1920.
While the supporters of the Sheppard-Towner bill, consisting of social reform groups, particularly the WJCC, continued to be politically potent, patriotic groups and the American Medical Association (AMA) were fiercely opposed to the bill. Furthermore, because of Sheppard-To vner's emphasis on preventive medicine, the AMA viewed the bill as a threat to doctors' rights and feared state control of the medical field. The Sheppard-Towner bill was finally passed on November 23, 1921.
After STA was enacted many women's groups joined the program initiated by the Children's Bureau. STA expired in 1929. Later, The Social Security Act of 1935 provided the same kind of public-health care for mothers and infants. STA functioned as one link between two periods of American history-fading Progressive Era and the coming era of New Deal social-welfare reform.