Tuberculosis pioneer. Best-selling author. Convert to Catholicism. Enemy of eugenics, and eugenicists.
The “Roman Catholic doctor” three-word bio persists in this article on atlasobscura.com: How a 1918 author introduced the world to the concept of female pleasure. I contacted the website to make my comments known (the headings refer to the appropriate parts of the article on which I have commented):
When cross-examined during the Stopes v. Sutherland libel trial, Dr. Sutherland said that he:
“did not mean experiments, if you mean by experiments, a surgical experiment” (Box, 1967, p. 265)
He later explained that he believed that Stopes work was a social experiment:
“The distribution of this knowledge and these contraceptives among the poor is an attempt to redistribute the birth rate. I say that this is a social experiment, and I think it is a harmful one.” (Box, 1967, p. 267)
The redistribution of the birth rate refers to the fact that Britain’s birth rate had been falling since the mid-1880s, and that the poorer classes of society were reproducing at a faster rate than their richer compatriots. Britain’s eugenists (of whom Stopes was a leader) felt that this was “dysgenic”, because the worst “stocks” would have the greatest influence on Britain’s genetic inheritance.
Sutherland’s book Birth Control was an impassioned argument for social justice. Stopes was of the political “right” and Sutherland attacked her work from the political “left”. One instance in the book, and there are others, was his assertion that Stopes’ eugenic agenda would lead to the further impoverishment and exploitation of the poorer classes:
“…if children are to be denied to the poor as a privilege of the rich, then it would be easy to exploit the women of the poorer classes. If women have no young children why should they be exempt from the economic pressure applied to men?”
“The English poor have already lost even the meaning of the word “property,” and if the birth controllers had their way the meaning of the word “home” would soon follow. The aim of birth control is generally masked by falsehood, but the urging of this policy on the poor points unmistakenly to the Servile State.”
The “Servile State”, a concept that Sutherland borrowed from Hilaire Belloc, was a eugenic state in which the poor were prevented from having children and had no societal role other than to work.
Actually, eugenics was Stopes’ crowning cause. Her promotion of contraceptives were subservient to her eugenic aims. The evidence for this comes from Stopes herself.
For instance, on day two of the Stopes v. Sutherland libel trial she explained—under oath—that she had opened her clinic to achieve a:
“reduction of the birth rate at the wrong part and increase of the birth rate at the right end of the social scale” (Box 1967, p. 76)
Asked by her counsel: “Would you, in your own words, describe to us in a few sentences what are the objects and purposes of your Society?” [the society being the Society of Constructive Birth Control and Racial Progress which Stopes had set up to run the clinic] she replied:
“The object of the Society is, if possible, to counteract the steady evil which has been growing for a good many years of the reduction of the birth rate just on the part of the thrifty, wise, well-contented, and generally sound members of our community, and the reckless breeding from the C.3 end, and the semi-feebleminded, the careless, who are proportionately increasing in our community because of the slowing of the birth rate at the other end of the social scale. Statistics show that every year the birth rate from the worst end of our community is increasing in proportion to the birth rate at the better end, and it was in order to try to right that grave social danger that I embarked upon this work.” (ibid.)
In delivering the Galton Lecture in 1996, the historian Richard A. Soloway described as one of the “bedrock” tenets of the Society of Constructive Birth Control was the belief:
“that the haphazard production of children by ignorant, coerced, or diseased mothers is profoundly detrimental to the race.” Another was the conviction that “many men and women…should be prevented from procreating children at all, because of their individual ill health, or the diseased and degenerate nature of the offspring that they may be expected to produce.” At the same time, the SCBC regretted “the relatively small families of those best fitted to care for children.” In accordance with its motto, “Babies in the right place,” it was as much an aim of the SCBC “to secure conception” to those couples, as it was “to furnish security from conception to those who are racially diseased, already overburdened with children, or in any specific way unfitted for parenthood.” (The Galton Institute, 1996, p. 61)
That she did not achieve her eugenic agenda was because of social reformers who changed the direction of birth control toward “family planning” clinics, and opponents who spoke out against her work. It was not from want of trying on the part of Marie Stopes.
The words “referred to” contained a hyperlink, presumably as a citation. The link took me to page 276 of Mothers and Daughters of Invention: Notes for a Revised History of Technology by Autumn Stanley. It read:
“Most pertinent here, [Stopes] also invented and patented several contraceptive devices and preparations. Among them were her ‘Racial’ brand contraceptive sponge (the reference was to the human race), her ‘Pro-Race’ or ‘Racial’ cervical cap, her diaphragm, and her own spermicides (Neushul)”
This would suggest that if people referred to “racial caps,” it was because Stopes had given them that name by her brand, rather than the other way around.
I would be interested to know what evidence there is to support your assertion.
This sounds innocuous enough, and who could not want the “bettering of the human race”? It is when we look at the detail of what was proposed that we find an abhorrent scheme.
Stopes’ view was that the human race could be bettered if laws were passed for the compulsory sterilisation of “hopelessly bad cases, bad through inherent disease, or drunkenness or character”, “wastrels, the diseased…the miserable [and] the criminal”, the “degenerate, feeble minded and unbalanced” and “parasites”. See “Problems of Population and Parenthood” report of the National Birth-Rate Commission 1918-20, p. 133 and Chapter 20 of Stopes 1920 book, Radiant Motherhood.
Stopes felt that the economy would be improved as well:
“From the point of view of the economics of the nation, it is racial madness to rifle the pockets of the thrifty and intelligent who are struggling to do their best for their own families of one and two and squander the money on low grade mental deficients, the spawn of drunkards, the puny families of women so feckless and deadened that they apathetically breed like rabbits.” Marie Stopes in “John Bull”, 2nd February 1924, page 13.
Sutherland was a doctor involved in the fight against tuberculosis at the beginning of the 20th Century. His work took him among the urban poor. Leading eugenists ruled that the cause of, or a susceptibility to, tuberculosis was hereditary and stated that the “cure” was to breed such people from the British “race”. That’s when Sutherland, nominally a Presbyterian and an an atheist by belief, began to oppose them.
Box, M., ed., 1967. The Trial of Marie Stopes. London: Femina Books Ltd.
Sutherland, H., 1922. Birth Control: A Statement of Christian Doctrine Against the Neo-Malthusians. London: Harding and More.
The Galton Institute, 1996. The Galton Lecture 1996: Marie Stopes, Eugenics and the Birth Control Movement by Richard A. Soloway. London: The Galton Institute (formerly the Eugenics Society).