"Dr. Halliday Sutherland is 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
In Norman Haire and the Study of Sex, Dr. Diana Wyndham asserted, falsely in my opinion, that Dr Halliday Sutherland held “Nazi views” and “advocated the death penalty for contraceptive manufacturers”. In this article I will examine whether these assertions are justified.
The article comes in two versions. There is this web-article and there is a “.pdf” format article at the bottom of this page. The latter has references to the material on which I base my article. The references were omitted on this page because they would clutter the format.
Dr. Wyndham wrote:
“The Catholic convert Dr Halliday Sutherland was a founder and extremely active member [of the League of National Life] who continued to hold Nazi views in 1944 and advocated the death penalty for contraceptive manufacturers.23”.
“Simms (1975, 713) quoted Sutherland (1944) who commended the 1936 Nazi Penal Code for making ‘public ridicule of marriage or maternity, and all propaganda in favour of birth control and abortion’ criminal offences.”
Simms’ lecture was published in The Journal of the Royal College of General Practitioners in October 1975. Here is the part in which Simms quoted Sutherland:
“[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. 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).”
Simms cites “Sutherland, 1947”. Under “References” the source is given:
“Sutherland, H. (1947). Control of Life. London: Burns & Oates.”
The date reveals a discrepancy: Control of Life was published in 1944 and, to my knowledge, there was only one edition [see “Correction” below]. Wyndham appears to have seen the error as well. Working on the basis that there was one edition of Control of Life, I have used the 1944 edition in writing this article.
Simms does not specify the page on which the quote appears and cites an entire book as the source. One would have expected a better standard of work from a “Research Fellow” of the Eugenics Society.
Control of Life is a 276-page book that reflects the austerity of wartime Britain in the quality of the paper and the tightly-packed text. Chapter I begins:
“HOW NATIONS DIE
“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 on our history, old men and old women will outnumber boys and girls.”
As this introduction suggests, the book concerns the consequences of the falling birth rate in Britain and other countries.
In Chapter XII of Control of Life Sutherland is discussing the measures used by various different countries—including Australia, Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Jewish Palestine, Sweden and Wales—to increase their declining birth-rates. Sutherland wrote about German, Italian and Swedish marriage loans. The German marriage loans were legislated by the National Socialist (Nazi) government in its first year of office.
In a section in which Sutherland is analysing the direct and indirect impact of German marriage loans on the birth rate, 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.”
Sutherland’s statement is clearly analytical and there is nothing in his statement to suggest he “commended the 1936 Nazi Penal Code” as Simms asserted. As a basis for asserting that Sutherland “continued to hold Nazi views in 1944,” it is a non-starter.
I will now turn to the second assertion, that Sutherland “advocated the death penalty for contraceptive manufacturers”. As mentioned above, Wyndham based her assertion on Simms’ lecture. Simms said: “Even after the war [Sutherland] is still to be found advocating the death penalty for contraceptive manufacturers: “If saboteurs deserve hanging, so also do they” (Sutherland, 1947).”
In Control of Life Sutherland criticised the huge profits being made on contraceptive goods, and of their frequently inferior quality. 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.”
In her book, Wyndham conflates Sutherland’s alleged Nazi-views and his calling for the death penalty for contraceptive manufacturers. It is not hard to believe that a man with Nazi views would call for such an extreme measure. Yet the evidence for Sutherland’s alleged Nazi views fell over, and on the basis of this quote, we are to be persuaded that he wants changes in the laws making the manufacture of contraceptives a capital offence.
An alternative and, in my opinion, better view is that Sutherland used a rhetorical argument for dramatic effect, constructed as follows:
You might not agree with Sutherland’s viewpoint, but that is not the point. The point is whether he is advocating the death penalty for contraceptive manufacturers as a political goal, or is he using a rhetorical devise for dramatic effect? In my opinion, it is the latter.
Even a cursory reading of Simms’ lecture reveals it is polemic. Relying on the lecture as evidence, without any qualification whatsoever, is to rely on Simms’ intellectually weak polemic. The result is that Wyndham’s assertions about Dr Halliday Sutherland on page 120 of “Norman Haire and the Study of Sex” are without basis in fact.
Given that Wyndham applied a low threshold as to what constitutes “Nazi” views, I was intrigued to read this in her book:
“The Sun also reported Haire’s statement that there was a growing realisation of the need for “sterilisation of the unfit in the interests of the race” and that soon “all but the very lowest would practice birth control” and, when this happened, citizens would turn on the reckless breeders and insist on compulsory sterilisation.”
A newspaper report…was it true? I searched for primary sources and found the 1928 book: Some More Views on Medical Birth Control. Haire edited this book and wrote the first article, in which he said:
“Compulsory sterilisation of the racially unfit is not legal in England, though it is permitted, or even prescribed, by law in certain other countries. In my opinion, it is a measure desirable in the interest of racial health, and I have little doubt that its adoption in this country is only a matter of time.” [emphasis in original]
“Compulsory sterilization of the unfit”…“in the interest of racial health”. I wondered if Professor Wyndham might notice the overlap between Haire’s views and those of the Nazis. And, if she did, was she going to call it?
To be clear, Haire’s advocacy of contraception did not accord with Nazi views. The Nazis saw contraceptives as an obstacle to growing the German population for war and for the empire that was sure to follow. On the other hand though, the Nazis shared Haire’s enthusiasm for “racial health” and the weeding out of the “racially unfit”.
But Wyndham doesn’t call Haire’s views, and instead, she excuses them:
“This seems horrifying now, but before genetics was understood this view was widely held, and Haire, Stopes and Sanger used eugenic arguments to justify the use of contraception.”
I have three observations to make in respect of this sentence:
Firstly, stating that this view “seems horrifying now” seems to suggest that it was not as horrifying in 1928. Yet it was horrifying then. Among those horrified was Dr. Halliday Sutherland, and that’s why he publicly opposed the eugenic agenda, from 1912 onwards.
Secondly, the statement: “this view was widely held”. This relates to whether a person’s view is easy or difficult to hold, not on the whether the view is morally or ethically defensible.
Thirdly, the statement “but before genetics was understood this view was widely held, and Haire, Stopes and Sanger used eugenic arguments to justify the use of contraception.”
Modern eugenics was a new science in the first part of the Twentieth Century. The scientific knowledge of any era is merely knowledge. Science has no moral agency, though people do.
I suspect that the names of Stopes and Sanger are brought in to make Haire’s views more acceptable to the reader.
Stopes and Sanger used eugenic arguments because they were eugenists. All three went beyond merely justifying contraception: they advocated compulsory sterilisation for the unfit. The decision would be based on a eugenic assessment of a person’s genetic worth (i.e. the value of their genes to the “race”), rather than on the person’s individual qualities or abilities.
And even if you were to accept, as Wyndham seems to suggest, that Haire, Stopes and Sanger were blindsided by science, how do you explain the language used by Stopes and Sanger when talking about the “undesirables”? Their language could hardly be described as “scientific”.
For instance, Stopes advocated compulsory sterilisation for:
In her 1932 “Plan for Peace”, Sanger proposed “giving certain dysgenic groups in our population their choice of segregation or sterilization.” These dysgenic groups included: “illiterates, paupers, unemployables, criminals, prostitutes, and dope-fiends.”
The language reflects a visceral hatred of those less fortunate members of society, and encourages this hatred in others. It was the sort of language to encourage “citizens [to] turn on the reckless breeders”.
All biographers face the challenge of becoming close to their subject, and of allowing their biases to taint their work. The competent biographer has the process, the discipline or other technique to overcome these factors. It allows them to argue, authoritatively and persuasively, that their account is accurate.
Dr. Diana Wyndham’s statement that Halliday Sutherland “continued to hold Nazi views in 1944” is false, because it is built on the sand of Simms’ false polemic. Relying on the lecture without qualification is, in my opinion, poor scholarship indeed. She would have done better to have paid attention to the view of Dr. Haire who wrote in 1928:
“Dr. Sutherland is a medical man of high repute, kind, conscientious, and capable.”
The Adobe version of the article had this alternative title: “If historians find that truth gets in the way of a good story, are they justified in replacing fact with fiction?”
I contacted Dr. Wyndham by e-mail on 1st December 2015 to tell her about the publication of this article. I wrote:
Dear Professor Wyndham,
I have contacted you as a courtesy to let you know that “Norman Haire and the Study of Sex” is the subject of an article to be published this afternoon on hallidaysutherland.com. In particular, it addresses the statement on page 120 that Halliday Sutherland “continued to hold Nazi views in 1944”.
The statement surprised me, because Dr Sutherland’s political views tended to the left, not to nationalism, nor to the right. Indeed, in 1945 Sutherland stood for the Labour party in the British general election (albeit unsuccessfully). In the blog article, I rebut the assertion made in your book (and by Madeleine Simms in 1975) that Dr Sutherland held Nazi views.
Full disclosure: I am a grandson of Dr Sutherland and the curator of hallidaysutherland.com. Given this may create an impression of bias, I am happy to support any assertions I make here or on the website with evidence.
For many years, all that was publicly known about Dr Sutherland was that he was a “Roman Catholic / convert / doctor”. Setting the scene for the Stopes v. Sutherland libel trial, a biography of Marie Stopes might also tell you that Sutherland listened to Professor Louise McIlroy talk on 7th July 1921, and quoted her in his 1922 book “Birth Control”. Little or no other information about Sutherland is given, and it creates the impression that his opposition to birth control was motivated primarily by his religious convictions.
As you might expect, the actual situation was more complex, and much more interesting.
In the early years of the Twentieth Century, Sutherland’s medical interests were in the field of tuberculosis, a disease which killed and disabled 220,000 people in Britain annually at that time. It was particularly hard on the urban poor. As the pupil and protege of Robert Philip (the originator of the “Edinburgh System” to fight the disease), Sutherland was in the forefront of the fight.
In 1911, he became the Medical officer of the St Marylebone Tuberculosis Dispensary, and edited and contributed to “The Control and Eradication of Tuberculosis”. An innovator, he produced Britain’s first health-education cinema film (“The Story of John M’Neil”) and he started the first open-air school for tuberculous children in a bandstand in Regent’s Park. It was his work fighting tuberculosis that led to his opposition to eugenics.
The first signs of Sutherland’s opposition to eugenics came in 1912, when Karl Pearson, Professor of Eugenics at London University, attacked the medical profession in a public lecture “Tuberculosis, Heredity and Environment”. The work of doctors was, he said, nothing more than a failed “experiment”.
“Admit that the sanatorium treatment is purely experimental, admit that dispensaries are another experiment, and that tuberculin is another and perhaps more hazardous one, and there is nothing more to be said than the words “Experiment, but record your observations in such manner that the trained mind can ultimately measure their bearing on human welfare.
“But experiment on human beings is held in itself to be reprehensible. That does not mean that it is not being made day by day; it means simply that it is screened, and the experimental treatment is described as the most efficient and certain cure for human ills. Such description not only disguises its experimental character, but often hides its true nature from the actual experimenter, who forgets the necessity for adequate records to test the value of his work.”
Pearson’s conclusion was not so much scientific as political:
“It is a counsel of despair to spend millions when you have no evidence of the efficiency of the expenditure, because you have nothing better to propose In the next place, why should we do something when we have nothing better to do? To practice the ineffectual as if it were a proven cure checks the road to better things. Admit it that there is no cure for phthisis and it incites men to find one, far more actively than to praise existing “cures”.
“But Eugenists have something better to propose. No one can study the pedigrees of pathological states, insanity, mental defect, albinism, &c., collected by our laboratory, without being struck by the large proportion of tuberculous members—occasionally the tuberculous man is a brilliant member of our race—but the bulk of the tuberculous belong to stocks which we want ab initio to discourage. Everything which tends to check the multiplication of the unfit, to emphasize that the fertility of the physically and mentally healthy, will pro tanto aid Nature’s method of reducing the phthisical death-rate. That is what the Eugenist proclaims as the “better thing to do”, and £1,500,000 spent in encouraging healthy parentage would do more than the establishment of a sanatorium in every township.”
Given Pearson’s standing in Britain—he was a Fellow of the Royal Society and the Galton Professor of Eugenics at University College, London—his opinions had influence. Given that Britain was financially stretched by the demands of a nascent welfare state and an European arms race, such opinions were politically appealing.
In November, Sutherland rebutted Pearson’s assertion of heredity in his article “The Soil and the Seed in Tuberculosis” in the British Medical Journal. He concluded that tuberculosis was not primarily genetic, but that genetic and environmental factors were at play. The basis for the rebuttal was on statistical grounds which was appropriate because Pearson was a brilliant statistician.
In September 1917, there is evidence that Sutherland’s opposition to eugenics on statistical and medical grounds had taken on a moral dimension. In “Consumption: Its Cause and Cure” he criticised eugenists as an obstacle to the cure of the disease, describing them as “race breeders with the souls of cattle breeders”. He argued that in treating the tuberculous, you were not preserving the weak, but conserving the strong. A facsimile of the printed speech can be found at https://hallidaysutherland.com/research/consumption-its-cause-and-cure.
For all the signposting of the “Roman Catholic / convert” schema, it is worth noting that Sutherland’s opposition to eugenics started long before his conversion to Catholicism. Born a Presbyterian, he admitted that by 1906 he was an atheist. Instead of Catholicism motivating Sutherland’s criticism of Stopes’ birth control clinic, it was the other way around: Sutherland’s opposition to eugenics drew him towards the institution which had consistently opposed eugenics.
In 1919, Sutherland converted to Catholicism. In 1921, he criticised the Neo-Malthusians and the eugenists in his book his book “Birth Control”. His criticism of Stopes’ eugenic birth control clinic was a continuation of this aspect of his life.
All that said, it is true that Sutherland was opposed to the ready availability of contraceptives and was an adherent to Catholic doctrine. But to represent him as solely motivated by religion alone, as so many historians have done, is an unsophisticated distortion.
I set up hallidaysutherland.com because I grew fed up with the nonsense published online about Dr Sutherland. That is not to say, though, that the site argues “he was right / she was wrong”, nor to diminish the good things that arose from Stopes work.
Most of all, I hope that the site contributes to a better standard of history than some of the egregiously simplistic guff that has been published to date.
Professor Wyndham replied the same day:
Dear Mark Sutherland,
Thank you to alerting me to your article about my book and for details about your grandfather’s work to eradicate TB. He was right and eugenists were wrong about the way TB was transmitted.
I was surprised to read your implication that I had replaced fact with fiction when truth got in the way of a good story. I was even more surprised to read your conclusion that my book showed ‘poor scholarship indeed’ and that I ‘would have done better to have paid attention to the view of Dr Haire who wrote:
‘Dr Sutherland is a medical man of high repute, kind, conscientious, and capable’ (Norman Haire, 1928, p. 18).
On this page Haire had also written about the ‘brilliantly clever’ Marie Stopes and, in the paragraph which immediately follows the line you have quoted Haire continued:
‘Each of these two people can discuss any other scientific question objectively and dispassionately; but when it comes to Contraception they become emotional, they cast aspersions, they impute motives, they make accusations – all scientific objectivity is lost’ (Norman Haire, 1928, p. 18).
Unfortunately, by only partly quoting Haire, it is you have been replacing fact with fiction.
Professor Wyndham made no attempt to rebut my statement that her 2012 assertion that Halliday Sutherland “continued to hold Nazi views in 1944 and advocated the death penalty for contraceptive manufacturers” was false.
National Birth-Rate Commission 1918-20. (1920). Problems of Population and Parenthood. London: Chapman and Hall Ltd.
Norman Haire, C. M. (1928). Norman Haire. In N. Haire, Some More Medical Views on Birth Control (p. 239). Covent Garden: Cecil Palmer.
Sanger, M. (1932, April). A Plan for Peace. Birth Control Review, 2.
Simms, M. (1975). The Compulsory Pregnancy Lobby–Then and Now. The Journal of the Royal College of General Practicioners, 709-719.
Stopes, M. C. (1920). Radiant Motherhood: . Putnam.
Sutherland, H. (1944). Control of Life. London: Burns, Oates and Washbourne, Ltd.
Sutherland, H. (1912, November 23). The Soil and the Seed in Tuberculosis. British Medical Journal, 1434-1437.
Voluntary Parenthood League. (1921). Speech by Dr. Marie C. Stopes. New York: Voluntary Parenthood League.
Wyndham, D. (2012). Norman Haire and the Study of Sex (2013 printing ed.). Sydney: Sydney University Press.
In the article, I stated: “Control of Life was published in 1944 and, to my knowledge, there was only one edition.” In fact, there were three editions, and that the first edition was reprinted twice, as follows:
Here is the fully referenced Adobe version: Simms Wyndham rebuttal FINAL