First federal welfare legislation in the United States, cosponsored by Senator John Morris Sheppard of Texas and Representative Horace M. Towner of Iowa and enacted on November 23, 1921; it provided federal money to the states for maternal and infant health care and hygiene. It authorized annual federal appropriations of $1 million to be apportioned among the states; this "humanizing" law operated only in cooperation with the states. Opponents considered it an unwarranted intrusion on state jurisdiction, and some states refused to accept its provisions. The act lapsed in June 1929.
Sheppard-Towner Act (1921)
From: United States Statutes at Large, 67th Cong., Sess. I, Chp. 135, p. 224-226
November 23, 1921
For the promotion of the welfare and hygiene of maternity and infancy, and for other
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in
Congress assembled, That there is hereby authorized to be appropriated annually, out of any money
in the Treasury not otherwise appropriated, the sums specified in section 2 of this Act, to be paid to the
several States for the purpose of cooperating with them in promoting the welfare and hygiene of maternity
and infancy as hereinafter provided.
Sec. 2. For the purpose of carrying out the provisions of this Act, there is authorized to be
appropriated, out of any money in the Treasury not otherwise appropriated, for the current fiscal year
$480,000, to be equally apportioned among the several States, and for each subsequent year, for the period
of five years, $240,000, to be equally apportioned among the several States in the manner hereinafter
provided: Provided, That there is hereby authorized to be appropriated for the use of the States,
subject to the provisions of this Act, for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1922, an additional sum of
$1,000,000, and annually thereafter, for the period of five years, an additional sum not to exceed
$1,000,000: Provided further, That the additional appropriations herein authorized shall be
apportioned $5,000 to each State and the balance among the States in the proportion which their population
bears to the total population of the States of the United States, according to the last preceding United States
census: And provided further, That no payment out of the additional appropriation herein
authorized shall be made in any year to any State until an equal sum has been appropriated for that year by
the legislature of such State for the maintenance of the services and facilities provided for in this Act.
So much of the amount apportioned to any State for any fiscal year as remains unpaid to such State
at the close thereof shall be available for expenditures in that State until the close of the succeeding fiscal
Sec. 3. There is hereby created a Board of Maternity and Infant Hygiene, which shall consist of
the Chief of the Children's Bureau, the Surgeon General of the United States Public Health
Service, and the United States Commissioner of Education, and which is hereafter designated in this Act as
the Board. The Board shall elect its own chairman and perform the duties provided for in this Act.
The Children's Bureau of the Department of Labor shall be charged with the
administration of this Act, except as herein otherwise provided, and the Chief of the Children's
Bureau shall be the executive officer. It shall be the duty of the Children's Bureau to make or
cause to be made such studies, investigations, and reports as will promote the efficient administration of
Sec. 4. In order to secure the benefits of the appropriations authorized in section 2 of this Act, any
State shall, through the legislative authority thereof, accept the provisions of this Act and designate or
authorize the creation of a State agency with which the Children's Bureau shall have all necessary
powers to cooperate as herein provided in the administration of the provisions of this Act:
Provided, That in any State having a child-welfare or child-hygiene division in its State agency of
health, the said State agency of health shall administer the provisions of this Act through such divisions. If
the legislature of any State has not made provision for accepting the provisions of this Act the governor of
such State may in so far as he is authorized to do so by the laws of such State accept the provisions of this
Act and designate or create a State agency to cooperate with the Children's Bureau until six
months after the adjournment of the first regular session of the legislature in such State following the
passage of this Act.
Sec. 5. So much, not to exceed 5 per centum, of the additional appropriations authorized for any
fiscal year under section 2 of this Act, as the Children's Bureau may estimate to be necessary for
administering the provisions of this Act, as herein provided, shall be deducted for that purpose, to be
available until expended.
Sec. 6. Out of the amounts authorized under section 5 of this Act the Children's Bureau is
authorized to employ such assistants, clerks, and other persons in the District of Columbia and elsewhere,
to be taken from the eligible lists of the Civil Service Commission, and to purchase such supplies, material,
equipment, office fixtures, and apparatus, and to incur such travel and other expense as it may deem
necessary for carrying out the purposes of this Act.
Sec. 7. Within sixty days after any appropriation authorized by this Act has been made, the
Children's Bureau shall make the apportionment herein provided for and shall certify to the
Secretary of the Treasury the amount estimated by the bureau to be necessary for administering the
provisions of this Act, and shall certify to the Secretary of the Treasury and to the treasurers of the various
States the amount which has been apportioned to each State for the fiscal year for which such appropriation
has been made.
Sec. 8. Any State desiring to receive the benefits of this Act shall, by its agency described in
section 4, submit to the Children's Bureau detailed plans for carrying out the provisions of this Act
within such State, which plans shall be subject to the approval of the board: Provided, That the
plans of the States under this Act shall provide that no official, or agent, or representative in carrying out
the provisions of this Act shall enter any home or take charge of any child over the objection of the parents,
or either of them, or the person standing in loco parentis or having custody of such child. If these plans
shall be in conformity with the provisions of this Act and reasonably appropriate and adequate to carry out
its purposes they shall be approved by the board and due notice of such approval shall be sent to the State
agency by the chief of the Children's Bureau.
Sec. 9. No official, agent, or representative of the Children's Bureau shall by virtue of
this Act have any right to enter any home over the objection of the owner thereof, or to take charge of any
child over the objection of the parents, or either of them, or of the person standing in loco parentis or
having custody of such child. Nothing in this Act shall be construed as limiting the power of a parent or
guardian or person standing in loco parentis to determine what treatment or correction shall be provided for
a child or the agency or agencies to be employed for such purpose.
Sec. 10. Within sixty days after any appropriation authorized by this Act has been made, and as
often thereafter while such appropriation remains unexpended as changed conditions may warrant, the
Children's Bureau shall ascertain the amounts that have been appropriated by the legislatures of
the several States accepting the provisions of this Act and shall certify to the Secretary of the Treasury the
amount to which each State is entitled under the provisions of this Act. Such certificate shall state (1) that
the State has, through its legislative authority, accepted the provisions of this Act and designated or
authorized the creation of an agency to cooperate with the Children's Bureau, or that the State has
otherwise accepted this Act, as provided in section 4 hereof; (2) the fact that the proper agency of the State
has submitted to the Children's Bureau detailed plans for carrying out the provisions of this Act,
and that such plans have been approved by the board; (3) the amount, if any, that has been appropriated by
the legislature of the State for the maintenance of the services and facilities of this Act, as provided in
section 2 hereof; and (4) the amount to which the State is entitled under the provisions of this Act. Such
certificate, when in conformity with the provisions hereof, shall, until revoked as provided in section 12
hereof, be sufficient authority to the Secretary of the Treasury to make payment to the State in accordance
Sec. 11. Each State agency cooperating with the Children's Bureau under this Act shall
make such reports concerning its operations and expenditures as shall be prescribed or requested by the
bureau. The Children's Bureau may, with the approval of the board, and shall, upon request of a
majority of the board, withhold any further certificate provided for in section 10 hereof whenever it shall
be determined as to any State that the agency thereof has not properly expended the money paid to it or the
moneys herein required to be appropriated by such State for the purposes and in accordance with the
provisions of this Act. Such certificate may be withheld until such time or upon such conditions as the
Children's Bureau, with the approval of the board, may determine; when so withheld the State
agency may appeal to the President of the United States who may either affirm or reverse the action of the
Bureau with such directions as he shall consider proper: Provided, That before any such
certificate shall be withheld from any State, the chairman of the board shall give notice in writing to the
authority designated to represent the State, stating specifically wherein said State has failed to comply with
the provisions of this Act.
Sec. 12. No portion of any moneys apportioned under this Act for the benefit of the States shall be
applied, directly or indirectly, to the purchase, erection, preservation, or repair of any building or buildings
or equipment, or for the purchase or rental of any buildings or lands, nor shall any such moneys or moneys
required to be appropriated by any State for the purposes and in accordance with the provisions of this Act
be used for the payment of any maternity or infancy pension, stipend, or gratuity.
Sec. 13. The Children's Bureau shall perform the duties assigned to it by this Act under
the supervision of the Secretary of Labor, and he shall include in his annual report to Congress a full
account of the administration of this Act and expenditures of the moneys herein authorized.
Sec. 14. This Act shall be construed as intending to secure to the various States control of the
administration of this Act within their respective States, subject only to the provisions and purposes of this
Approved, November 23, 1921.
Text Citation (Chicago Manual of Style format):
"Sheppard-Towner Act." American History Online. Facts On File, Inc. http://www.fofweb.com/activelink2.asp?
ItemID=WE52&iPin=E03320&SingleRecord=True (accessed July 1, 2015).
Primary Source Citation (Chicago Manual of Style format):
U.S. Congress. "Sheppard-Towner Act." United States Statutes at Large, 67th Cong., Sess. I, Chp. 135, p. 224-226. American History Online. Facts On File, Inc. http://www.fofweb.com/activelink2.asp?
ItemID=WE52&iPin=E03320&SingleRecord=True (accessed July 1, 2015).
Other Citation Formats:
Modern Language Association (MLA) Format
American Psychological Association (APA) Format
Additional Citation Information
Return to Top