Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Maternal health policy: Nursing's legacy and the Social Security Act of 1935
by Pope, Bonnie L., Ph.D., Florida Atlantic University, 2011, 164; 3462566
Abstract (Summary)

This study explored the work of nursing and the social influences of eugenic policies established during the Progressive Era (1890-1930) on the writing and passage of the Social Security Act of 1935. The research questions: “Did eugenic philosophy and practice influence the Social Security Act of 1935 in relation to Maternal Health Policy?” and ‘What was nursing’s influence on the Social Security Act of 1935?” required the social history research method. Data were evaluated with the conclusion that eugenic policies did influence the writing and passage of the Social Security Act. Also, that nurses, and other women, played a specific, important and constructive role in developing the Act.

During the late 1800s and early 1900s prominent leaders of business, science, philanthropy, and social reform supported the eugenic agenda to assure the well-being of hard working “Anglo-Saxon” American citizens. Industrialization and scientific advances in medicine gave Americans the impression that the “production” of healthy, intelligent children could be controlled, efficient, and predictable. Better breeding as a means for social improvement, which fueled the eugenics movement’s use of science to solve social problems through governmental involvement, had two sides. Positive eugenics increased information on health and illness prevention, and established well baby clinics; however, negative eugenics advocated controlled reproduction through sterilization of persons considered “unfit.” By 1935, twenty-eight states had eugenic sterilization laws.

Noted reformers during this time (Lillian Wald, Jane Addams, and Florence Kelley) worked with Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson to establish the Federal Children’s Bureau. The Bureau had a direct influence on the maternal and child health policy established by the Social Security Act of 1935. This legacy continues today in the continued fight for women and children’s social and economic rights.

The Social Security Act’s intention, economic security for all citizens, was not realized. Sections of the Act focused on maternalistic social views and sought to maintain a patriarchal family structure. The language of the Social Security Act created barriers to benefits for the most vulnerable. In fact, it seems reasonable to conclude that institutionalized health care disparities laid their roots in America through this legislation.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Baer, Ellen
School: Florida Atlantic University
School Location: United States -- Florida
Source: DAI-B 72/09, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Nursing, Health care management
Keywords: Eugenics, Health care reform, Maternal health policy
Publication Number: 3462566
ISBN: 978-1-124-74003-4
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