In 1921, the first federal maternal and child health initiative, the Sheppard-Towner Act, caused divisiveness among physicians but had a positive effect for the founding of the Academy: It helped drive interest in the need for a national organization of pediatricians devoted to children’s health and advocacy.

The “maternity act” offered $1.25 million in matching grants to states for initiatives to fight infant and maternal mortality, covering home visits by nurses, infant welfare clinics and other activities. By the end of 1925, all but five states were participating.

The law was considered radical at the time. Among those opposed to the program were anti-suffragists and organized medicine. Most pediatricians, however, approved of it.

During the 1922 American Medical Association (AMA) meeting in St. Louis, the AMA Section on Diseases of Children voted to support the law. On the same day, the AMA House of Delegates, meeting elsewhere in the city,...

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