Halliday Sutherland

"A born writer, especially a born story-teller. Dr. Sutherland, who is distinguished in medicine, is an amateur in the sense that he only writes when he has nothing better to do. But when he does, it could hardly be done better." G.K. Chesterton.

Marie Stopes Memorial Lecture 1975


Madeleine Simms delivered the 1975 Marie Stopes Memorial Lecture: The compulsory pregnancy lobby – then and now (Simms, M. (1975). Journal of the Royal College of General Practitioners, 25, 709-19.) in which she made defamatory remarks about Dr Halliday Sutherland. She said:

The League’s other enthusiasm was for fostering marriages “at the best age for reproduction.” To this end, it advocated giving young people furniture vouchers and other “marriage gifts” as Hitler was doing in Germany, with apparent success since the German birth rate was rising. Indeed, the Nazis were held in some esteem by the League, particularly by one of its founders and most active members, Dr Halliday Sutherland, a Catholic convert who had been involved in the libel action against Marie Stopes
in 1923. He called attention to the heroic efforts of Hitler and Mussolini to increase the birth rates of the white races, and he commended the Nazi Penal Code of November, 1936 which made “public ridicule of marriage or of maternity, and all propaganda in favour of birth control and abortion” into criminal offences. Even after the war he is still to be found advocating the death penalty for contraceptive manufacturers: “If saboteurs deserve hanging, so also do they” (Sutherland, 1947). He naturally also held Nazi views about women. Education for girls should not fit them for careers, but for breeding, or, as he put it more delicately, for “looking for a home”. Pope Pius XII had stated that a woman’s place was in the home, and that “society must find its cure in women.” If anyone doubted the Pope’s wisdom, said Dr Sutherland, “then let him make an anthology of what the greatest men have written in gratitude to their mothers.” Neither the Pope nor Dr Sutherland remark on what the greatest women have written in gratitude to their fathers.

Halliday Sutherland died in April 1960 so was not able to defend himself against Simms’ allegations in 1975. So, forty years late, here is a reply to Simms’ assertions about Dr Sutherland.

The “League,” being of course the National League of Life, sought to foster marriages and increase the birth rate because its members, among others, were alarmed at the fall in the birth rate in England and Wales since 1881 onwards. Its formation was in part reaction to the Neo-Malthusians, who thought that the decrease in the birth-rate was beneficial and the eugenists who sought to put a stop to the “differential birth-rate”.

Halliday SuthelandStating that Sutherland was “involved in the libel action against Marie Stopes in 1923” was interesting given that Sutherland’s “involvement” had a specific name: the defendant. Given that Stopes was the plaintiff, an alternative view is that the libel action was actually against Sutherland, not the other way round.

What evidence does Simms provide to support her assertion that “the Nazis were held in some esteem…by one of its founders and most active members, Dr Halliday Sutherland”? The only reference given in the published text of the lecture is to Sutherland’s book Control of Life. One would have expected a better standard of citation, particularly from someone holding the title “Research Fellow”. I turned my copy of Control of Life to verify what Simms had said.

Control Of Life by Halliday Sutherland

Control of Life, published in post-War Britain reflects the austerity of its times. It begins on a gloomy note


The trend of the birth-rate in Britain is towards national eclipse-in the form of a dwindling population in which, for the first time in our history, old men and old women will outnumber boys and girls. Photos of a bevy of grandchildren around an aged couple are likely to be replaced by pictures of an only child surrounded by its thirty surviving progenitors, including sixteen great-great-grandparents aged 80 and upwards. All will be poorer. Young adults will have to support a larger number of old people. The infirm and old will have fewer young workers to help them. And these are only a few of the dangers in the inverted social pyramid that we have been building in Britain and in the Dominions overseas.

The purpose of this introduction is a call to action and to set up the argument of the book: that Britain’s population and the birth-rate needed to increase.

In Chapter XII MARRIAGE LOANS AND CHILDREN’S ALLOWANCES, Sutherland discussed the effect that Marriage Allowances and Children’s Allowances have on the birth rate. He begins:

No civilisation can survive without children; and one of the most unnatural features of life in modern Britain is the premium on childless marriages.

He then quotes the words of the statistician and eugenist, Dr. (later Sir) R.A. Fisher:

If we consider two couples, one childless, and the other supporting four children, receiving the same income for equivalent social services, we may consider their effective incomes, available for personal expenditure, as being in the ration of three to two; or, to put it another way, the childless couple receives a bonus amounting to a third of their income in consequence of the fact that they have not four children.

If there were incentives that causes the birth-rate to be suppressed, then a removal of these incentives, or their replacement by others, provide the solution to the problem.

Sutherland then outlined various measures that had been introduced by nation states to increase their populations. On the basis that writing more about a particular measure might indicate favour, I have listed below the measures, the countries which introduced them and the number of lines of text allocated to them:

  • Unsuitable Houses – discussed in the context of Britain – 22 lines
  • Marriage Loans – discussed in the context of Germany and, briefly, Italy and Sweden – 76 lines
  • Family Allowances – discussed in the context of France and Belgium – 35 lines
  • Equalisation Funds – discussed in the context of France and Belgium – 35 lines
  • Alternative Measures – discussed in the context of Britain and Jewish Palestine (as it then was) – 54 lines and
  • Contributory Insurance Schemes – discussed in the context of Britain- 21 lines

On this basis, it is clear that Sutherland had a lot to say about Marriage Loans. He began:

The purpose of marriage loans is to promote early and fruitful marriages; and in Germany the Marriage Loan Act of 1933 was passed by the National Socialist Government. It was also the intention of the German Government to induce women to withdraw from the overcrowded labour market.  For that reason the loans, which varied from £30 to £50 (sterling), were granted to interest free from physical or mental disease, provided that the wife , who must have been previously employed, gave up her employment.

He then outlined some of the other features, including the provision that “in the event of the couple having four children the loan became a free gift”.

Sutherland described German marriage loans as a “courageous and generous policy”:

The purpose of this courageous and generous policy was to relieve unemployment, to increase the marriage rate, and to stimulate the birth-rate. The British National Health Insurance Plan was copied from Germany; and these German marriage loans are surely preferable to the hire-purchase racket whereby birth-rates in the Western democracies have been depressed.

He then outlined the main criticism of the German plan (“that no age limit had been fixed for the beneficiaries”) and suggested improvements (“it might be advisable to limit the loans to couples at the ages best suited for reproduction, that is to say between 20 and 30 years of age”). Following the outline of the German scheme, Sutherland then gave brief descriptions of Italian and Swedish marriage loan schemes.

He provided evidence to report the scheme’s success and quoted Professor Burgdoerfer, Director of the Reich Statistical Office:

the decisive factor is…the return of confidence on the part of the people, in the political and economic government of the nation.

and commented on Dr Burgdoerfer’s statement:

I think that was true.

It is clear that Sutherland was in favour of marriage loans and of the German measure passed in 1933 passed by the National Socialist Government.

The question remains: is it fair to describe what he wrote as revealing, as asserted by Simms, that he “held the Nazis in some esteem”? After all, the Nazis were in power for just over 12 years and, during that time they implemented, shall we say, a wide-ranging agenda. Sutherland expressed support (after the war) of the effectiveness of a single measure of this regime and, according to Simms, this shows that he “held the Nazis in some esteem.” An alternative view is that this sets the threshold too low and that, given the insinuation made in the statement, it is unfair and unjustified.

Simms also asserted that Sutherland “called attention to the heroic efforts of Hitler and Mussolini increase the birth rates”. Let’s examine this statement:

While Sutherland did write about marriage loans in Germany, Italy and Sweden, and in doing so called attention to them, there is nothing in the text to support this assertion. Where did “heroic efforts of Hitler and Mussolini” come from? Sutherland neither referred to, nor used the names of these leaders, but to the countries they led. He described the single German measure as “courageous and generous,” and in Simms’ hands, this becomes the personal qualities of “Hitler” and “Mussolini” as soubriquets for “Germany” and “Italy”.

Simms does not mention Sweden and, had she been consistent, she would have said:

Sutherland called attention to the heroic efforts of Hitler, Mussolini and Hansson to increase the birth rates.

…but she didn’t. Why not? I don’t know, but I have my views and suspect that this did not have the dramatic effect that Simms wanted. As a grandson though, I am probably biased, so you decide.

In Chapter X WHY DOCTORS HAVE SMALL FAMILIES Sutherland refers to the fact that British middle and professional classes were not reproducing themselves to sufficient numbers and sheeted this home to two causes: (a) an increase in material prosperity; and (b) a decline in religious beliefs. In respect of (a) Sutherland wrote:

…a high standard of comfort may promote a moral outlook unfavourable to an adequate birth-rate. This happens when people maintain that a high standard of personal comfort must be maintained at all costs-even at the appalling cost of the hire-purchase system. Under that particular financial racket, when the weekly pay or the monthly salary has to provide for the payment of hire-purchase instalments over a period of many months or of several years, there may be little or no money for the expenses of having a child. One of Hitler’s good deeds was to prohibit this racket in Germany.

This is in Simms favour: Sutherland thought that Hitler’s prohibition of hire-purchase was a good deed.

Turning to the statement: Sutherland “commended the Nazi Penal Code of November, 1936 which made “public ridicule of marriage or of maternity, and all propaganda in favour of birth control and abortion” into criminal offences.”

Here is what he wrote:

These marriage loans were an indirect help in suppressing the practice of abortion, which had become so common that in the year 1929 in Berlin the proportion of abortions to live births was 103.4 to 100. Moreover, by the German Penal Code of 5th November 1936, public ridicule of marriage or of maternity and all propaganda in favour of birth control and of abortion were made criminal offences. In April, 1935, the proportion of abortion to live births had fallen to 14.3 per 100.

Is this a commendation? Again, I have my views, but as a grandson I am probably biased. You decide whether Sutherland measured up to Simms’ rhetoric.

Now let’s turn to Simms statement:

Even after the war he is still to be found advocating the death penalty for contraceptive manufacturers: If saboteurs deserve hanging, so also do they.

On page 60 of Control of Life, Sutherland railed against the manufacture and sale of contraceptives and asked who was financing this activity, frustrated that their names were hidden behind nominee companies. He wrote:

And who are the ladies and gentlemen whose wealth is derived from the sale of contraceptives and the destruction of the British people? Let us have their names; for if saboteurs deserve hanging, so also do they.

You could read this, as Simms did, as Sutherland advocating the death penalty for contraceptive manufacturers. After all, that is what is written, so it is fair comment. An alternative view is that he was pointing out that saboteurs were treated differently to contraceptive manufacturers even though they both were – in Sutherland’s opinion – deliberately destroying and damaging Britain’s future .

Simms continues:

He naturally also held Nazi views about women…

Other than general knowledge, I don’t know what “Nazi views of women” were and whether there was basis for this view or whether it is merely a cat-call. As stated earlier, the reference provided by Simms is Sutherland’s book, Control of Life, and the material does not, in my opinion, support the assertion. It’s easy to make assertions; it takes considerably more effort to verify and validate them.

I find it ironic that, in delivering what was billed as a “memorial” lecture, Simms was so forgetful when it came to the views and activities of the person in whose name the lecture was given. There is plenty of evidence that Stopes’ own views were aligned to the Nazis. Let me be clear: this is not a label that comes about from opinion, or seeking to throw the pejorative epithet “Nazi!” as a term of abuse; it comes from the writings of her hagiographers and from her interactions with the Nazis.

Firstly, Stopes views on breeding were close to those of the Nazi party. In Marie Stopes and the Sexual Revolution (Faber & Faber 1993 p.219), June Rose wrote:

“…the Nazi policy of breeding for fitness was uncomfortably close to her own.”

[Update: 9 November 2015: Rose’s use of the word “uncomfortably” is revealing. After all, who experiences the discomfort? One can safely presume that Stopes was comfortable with her own views. The discomfort is felt, I believe, in the mind of the author and the reader. “Uncomfortably” is placed there as a gentle comforter to protect the reader from the bald fact.]

In an interview with The Independent newspaper, Rose said:

Marie was a radical, but she was a right-wing radical. Many of her admirers today – people who draw inspiration from her life and work – tend to be middle-class feminists rather than working-class women. Her birth-control clinics were set up to alleviate the burden of working-class women who otherwise were destined to have large families bred in extreme poverty. But one shouldn’t lose sight of her motives – the creation and preservation of a system of breeding which is in many respects similar to that advocated in Nazi Germany.

Rose’s descriptions “close” and “similar” raise the questions “how close?” and “how similar?” In a column for the British newspaper The Guardian, Zoe Williams was more specific in positioning Stopes when she wrote:

“Her eugenics programme was actually slightly to the right of Hitler’s, just because her definition of defective is so broad.”

In her article, Williams goes on to discuss Birth Control News, which Stopes set up in 1922:

“There are certainly issues of Birth Control News that seem to suggest, just with their news agenda, that some people should be sterilised for nebulous reasons of defectiveness, like not being rich enough. As you might expect, there are strong strains of racism: she described the southern Italians as a “low-grade race”; she was accused of anti-semitism even by her birth-control allies; and in a stinging attack on the French who, in the early 1920s tightened their laws against contraception, she said that if they really wanted to repopulate their nation, they should “eliminate the taint of their large numbers of perverted or homosexual people.””

Secondly, Stopes who attended the International Congress for Population Science in Berlin in 1935, a conference in which she took an active part. In The Nazi Connection Eugenics, American Racism, and German National Socialism, Stefan Kuhl described the conference:

The 1935 International Congress for Population Science in Berlin marked the apex of international support of Nazi Race policies and represented a great success for the Nazi race propaganda machine. This Congress assembled prominent eugenists, anthropologists, population scientists, and geneticists from all over the world. German racial hygienists constituted the largest group of participants, delivering 59 of the 126 presentations.

Thirdly, it was Stopes, who on 12th August 1939, merely one month before the outbreak of the Second World War, sent a volume of her poetry Love Songs for Young Lovers to Hitler with this message:

Dear Herr Hitler,

Love is the greatest thing in the world: so will you accept from me these Love Songs for Young Lovers that you may allow the young people of your nation to have them? The young must learn love from the particular ’till they are wise enough for the universal.

I hope too that you yourself may find something to enjoy in the book.

Believe me,

Yours faithfully,

Marie Stopes.

(Source: Marie Stopes and the Sexual Revolution by June Rose, Faber & Faber 1993 p.219).

Fourthly, Stopes was anti-Semitic. One instance of this was discovered by June Rose when researching her book as reported in The Independent on 23rd August 1992:

During the Second World War…friends whom [Stopes] invited to lunch, asked if they could bring along a child they were caring for – a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany. Dr Stopes responded: certainly not; it would offend her other guests.

Rose did not include this episode in her book Marie Stopes and the Sexual Revolution. According to the newspaper article, this was on the grounds that it was “too distasteful”.

Do these facts mean that Stopes held the Nazis in some esteem? Well of course, that’s for you to decide: I have my views but accept that, as a grandson, you might think that I’m biased.

My point is that Simms gave the 1975 Marie Stopes Memorial Lecture as a research fellow of the Eugenics Society which, in 1945 faced a severe P.R. problem owing to the Nazi eugenic atrocities. Stopes was well known to the Society as a benefactor (she left the larger part of her estate to in upon her death in 1958). Surely the “elephant in the room” made Simms’ assertions at once bold and quite ridiculous.

While eugenists would argue that the Nazis misinterpreted Galton’s work and took it to the extreme, it could be said that many had seen where the eugenics experiment was heading. In as early as 1910, George Bernard Shaw delivered a lecture to the Eugenics Education Society in which he said:

A part of eugenic politics would finally land us in an extensive use of the lethal chamber. A great many people would have to be put out of existence simply because it wastes other people’s time to look after them.

(Source: The Daily Express, March 4, 1910)

This does not establish a direct link between the Eugenics Society and the Nazi death camps, but it does reveal to us that, some 23 years before Hitler came to power and murdered the “useless eaters”, Jews, homosexuals and others whose deaths represented German racial purification, at least one man had the insight to see where eugenic ideas might lead. Sutherland was another, opposing eugenics on moral grounds and because its agenda threatened to curtail his work treating and curing tuberculosis (see here). There were others too, most notably GK Chesterton.

In conclusion: A person doesn’t have to agree with others, nor share their views. And, if they don’t, they can oppose their views and counter their arguments. They should not however, resort to ad hominem attacks, nor defame the good reputation of others, particularly if they are no longer alive to defend themselves. I don’t say this as a hearty exhortation to “play the game by the rules”. I say it because one day all of us will be dead (like Stopes, and Sutherland, and from October 2011, Simms herself). At that time, what will remain is that person’s work and, if that is found wanting, it will undermine the memory of the credibility that they once appeared to have.

One comment on “Marie Stopes Memorial Lecture 1975

  1. Sarah
    2 February 2015

    An important long overdue clarification. You have explained very clearly the complex lay of the land involved. Thanks

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This entry was posted on 1 February 2015 by in Eugenics, Opposition to eugenics, Political views, Stopes v Sutherland, World War 2.

Stopes v Sutherland libel trial 1922-24

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