Mexican Maternity Clinic

Date: 1929
Owner: Rockefeller Archive Center
Source Type: Images


This photograph from 1929 shows Mexican women and their young children waiting to be examined at a government-run clinic. Beginning in the late 1920s, many Latin American countries institutionalized measures to enforce eugenics policies that sought to regulate maternity. The social role of women was seen primarily as reproductive, thus regulations were proposed to ensure that the women were producing the "right" sort of babies: healthy, not prone to alcoholism, and--preferably--white. Most work in this vein took the form of "soft" eugenics, such as the clinic pictured here, that attempted to ensure mothers were disease and vice free because by the logic of Lamarckian eugenics, such external influences could degenerate the national germ plasm. There were, however, some instances of "hard" eugenics, as when governments required women to receive prenuptial certificates that deigned whether they were fit to marry and reproduce.

Yet even medical clinics and the regulation of infant and mother health were inextricably linked to the eugenics project. According to Nancy Leys Stepan, the wellbeing of individual mothers was only important as a means of improving the national germ plasm. Thus clinics such as this served not only to help mothers produce healthy babies, but to regulate pregnancies and ensure that mothers did not receive abortions, which were fairly common among educated whites. As this was the racial group that most Latin American governments wanted to cultivate, it was important to make sure that whites reproduced in sufficient quantities to be the determining factor of the national gene pool. The eugenic goals of the national elite made maternal practices into a political issue, and thus the ability of women to control their own sexuality and reproduction was considered inconsequential compared with their obligations to reproduce for the national good.

Reference: Stepan, Nancy Leys. "The Hour of Eugenics": Race, Gender, and Nation in Latin America. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1996.

CITATION: Mothers and children attending Infant Hygiene Clinic at Veracruz health unit, 1929. Image courtesy of the Rockefeller Archive Center.