"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
“Babies in the Right Place” was the catch cry of the Society for Constructive Birth Control (C.B.C.), but what did it actually mean?
Three artifacts provide the best explanation in that they represent what the founder and President of the CBC, Dr. Marie Stopes, drew, wrote and said. They are:
The logo, designed by Marie Stopes, gives a metaphorical explanation. A lantern shines light (the ‘glass’ of the lantern comprises the words “birth control” repeated many times). “Joyous and deliberate motherhood—a sure light in our racial darkness.”
This advertisement for the C.B.C., if not actually written by Stopes herself was subject to her approval, explains:
…the full meaning of the word “Control” and its value to the Race. As was pointed out at the great Queen’s Hall Meeting, from which the Society sprang, Control should not merely be repressive, and it is just as much the aim of Constructive Birth Control to secure conception to those married people who are healthy, childless, and desire children as it is to furnish security from conception to those who are racially diseased, already overburdened with children or in any specific way unfitted for parenthood.
The Society desires to bring before the Community the fruitful suggestion that the time has now arrived when the wasteful and haphazard production of babies in excessive numbers by the unhealthy and the poverty stricken can not only be quelled at its source, but definite constructive hope is offered to the homes, alas! too often empty, in which sturdy citizens of high character may be reared.
Note that “racially diseased” would have included those with tuberculosis (and other infectious conditions) thought at the time to be caused by a person’s defective heredity. When Dr Sutherland found that TB was primarily caused by infection, not heredity, mainstream eugenists ignored him and instead pondered the problem in their midst: what to do about the ever-increasing numbers of “wastrels” and “defectives” in their midst. Their solutions included contraception, compulsorily sterilisation, infanticide and the lethal chamber.
In the witness box on the second day of the Stopes v. Sutherland libel trial, Marie Stopes said what “babies in the right place” meant:
Patrick Hastings, K.C.: Is the reduction in the birth rate any part at all of your campaign?
Marie Stopes: Not reduction in the total birth rate, but reduction of the birth rate at the wrong part and increase of the birth rate at the right end of the social scale.
Patrick Hastings, K.C.: I may summarise that by saying the birth of children at the best period of their mother’s life for the children and the mother.
The Lord Chief Justice: That previous answer seemed to indicate something different from that.
Ernst Charles, K.C.: I thought so.
Patrick Hastings, K.C.: I am sorry: it may be my fault that I am trying to keep your answers as short as possible. Would you, in your own words, describe to us in a few sentences what are the objects and purposes of your Society?
Marie Stopes: 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. [Emphasis added].
Considerable effort goes into creating a logo and an advertisement. Stopes was under oath when she spoke to the Court. As such, her messages cannot be said to be “inadvertent” or taken out of context.
“Babies in the Right Place” is, at first sight, a worthy aim, but when you discover it is based on eugenic pseudo-science, motivated by social class-prejudice and will be achieved by trampling on people, then…well, let’s phrase it as a question:
What would you do?
If it happened today, would you support it?
Here is what Dr. Halliday Sutherland did: he spoke out against negative eugenics and he attacked Stopes’ Mothers clinic. In his 1922 book Birth Control, he wrote:
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” came from Hilaire Belloc’s book of the same name. It was a slave society in which the poor had no societal role other than as workers. Shortly after the book was printed, Sutherland received a writ for libel from the President of the C.B.C., Marie Stopes. You can read about their bitter legal battle here.
Dr Halliday Sutherland lived an eventful life: From “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show” to being bombed by Zeppelins in World War 1. Click here for links to the great stories elsewhere on this site.
From John Bull, 2nd February 1924, page 13.