Background: Quality of care is central to current efforts under National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) in India to sustain gains in utilization of institutional maternal and newborn care. For effective planning around institutionalizing quality improvement systems, it is important to critically evaluate India’s maternal health policy and services in historical perspective. Objectives: The narrative review was conducted (i) to trace the evolution of concern with quality in maternal health in the context of health system development in India from independence (1947) to the present; and (ii) identify quality-related issues and areas for further action to improve maternal and infant survival outcomes. Materials and Methods: Peer reviewed scientific publications were identified through systematic searches of scientific databases, grey literature and policy documents. Altogether 174 documents were reviewed. Prospectively designed forms extracted data on (i) health system and quality development; (ii) service performance; (iii) health and safe delivery outcomes. Results: In the first four decades after independence, concerns with infrastructure expansion and vertical disease eradication programmes neglected quality of maternal healthcare in India. With growing concern for quality, strategies addressing this were incorporated in NRHM launched in 2005, including public health standards and quality assurance system in reproductive and child health services. Conclusion: Focus on quality in maternal health in India has increased in recent years, especially under NRHM, and this has helped accelerate progress in maternal and neonatal outcomes. Further action areas include the need to increase funding, match rising demand with quality services and enhance functioning of quality assurance system.