Paramount Destiny: The Gender Consequence of Constitutionalizing Public Health


  • Kristina Haahr Wichita State University


14th Amendment, gender equality, women's rights, public health legislation


Ratified in 1868, the Fourteenth Amendment granted citizenship to "all persons born or naturalized in the United States," including recently freed slaves. The Amendment also precluded states from denying to any person "life, liberty or property, without due process of law," or to "deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."1 However, within the initial rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court on the Amendment, that broad language was narrowly interpreted. Instead of expanding individual citizens' rights, the initial cases only protected individual rights guaranteed under a newly designated federal citizenship, and protected the states' rights to wield their police powers through industry regulation. The Court’s first case, Slaughterhouse Cases (1873)2 left intact new state legislation intended to clean up the New Orleans water supply. For those involved with sanitation reform, this early decision was a win. But for reformers working to earn legal equality for women, it was a loss as the second decision on the Amendment, Bradwell v. State of Illinois (1873)3, denied the rights of women to enter into the professions. Thus through the initial Fourteenth Amendment decisions, public health and sanitation were protected over legal parity for women.