Making better babies: public health and race betterment in Indiana, 1920-1935

Am J Public Health. 2002 May;92(5):742-52. doi: 10.2105/ajph.92.5.742.


In 1920, Indiana's Division of Infant and Child Hygiene inaugurated its first Better Babies Contest at the state fair. For the next 12 years, these contests were the centerpiece of a dynamic infant and maternal welfare program that took shape in Indiana during the decade of the federal Sheppard-Towner act. More than just a lively spectacle for fairgoers, these contests brought public health, "race betterment," and animal breeding together in a unique manner. This article describes one of the most popular expressions of public health and race betterment in rural America. It also raises questions about the intersections between hereditarian and medical conceptions of human improvement during the early 20th century, especially with respect to child breeding and rearing.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Child Welfare / history*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Eugenics / history*
  • Government Programs / history
  • Health Education / history
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Hygiene / history*
  • Indiana
  • Infant
  • Prejudice
  • Public Health Administration / history*
  • Rural Health / history