Dr. Halliday Sutherland

"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

Breed like rabbits

“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 from the letterhead of the Mothers’ Clinic
  • an advertisement for the C.B.C.
  • the Court transcript of the Stopes v. Sutherland libel trial

The logo

Joyous and Deliberate Motherhood

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.”

An advertisement for the C.B.C.


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.

The Court transcript of the Stopes v. Sutherland libel trial

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].

A question for you

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.

Love great stories?

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.

“Spawn of drunkards” quotation

From John Bull,  2nd February 1924, page 13.

3 comments on “Babies in the Right Place

  1. lrsenne07
    17 March 2018

    We sorely need this policy today but globally. The poor, and uneducated, especially in the third world, are the main factor causing the destruction of this earth. Love this article. Wish we could put this into practice.

    • markhsutherland
      17 March 2018

      Thank you for your comment.

      “This policy” – as explained in the “Babies in the Right Place” advertisement – has two parts: (1) “to secure conception to those married people who are healthy, childless, and desire children”; and (2) “to furnish security from conception to those who are racially diseased, already overburdened with children, or in any specific way unfitted for parenthood.”

      A work in progress was Stopes’ campaign to compulsorily sterilise: “parasites”; “hopelessly bad cases, bad through inherent disease, or drunkenness or character”; “wastrels, the diseased…the miserable [and] the criminal”; and the “degenerate, feeble minded and unbalanced” (See Chapter 20 of “Radiant Motherhood”).

      Let’s take one of these categories: the wastrels. How is “wastrel” defined? What criteria are applied? Using what process? (How is the decision made? Who decides?) How will you ensure that people will comply with your policy? If they refuse to, then what?

    • scragsma
      21 March 2018

      The solution to poverty and ignorance is not to eliminate the poor and uneducated. The solution is to improve their lot so that they are well-off and knowledgeable. You can’t end poverty by killing off the poor. That was Hitler’s solution, to purge society of those he considered undesirable by simply killing them all. That’s merely an exercise in raw power, the richer and stronger stamping out of existence the poorer and weaker. That’s not civilized.

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This entry was posted on 11 March 2018 by in Eugenics, Lethal chamber, Stopes v Sutherland, Tuberculosis.


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Centenary of the Stopes v. Sutherland libel trial

February 21st, 2023
4.9 years to go.