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.

Fact check

I listened to Emma Barnett’s interview of Lesley Hall on BBC Radio 5 Live yesterday (if you access the interview, it starts at 1:52:00). One of Hall’s answers (at 1:59:09) caught my attention:

Emma Barnett: “Do we know why she [Stopes] was so committed to offering as she puts it reproductive choices, was it anything to do with eugenics?”
Lesley Hall: Very little… it was basically about enabling women to control their health and space out… to have healthy babies… she was very much about healthier babies and she saw that basically about enabling women to, you know, control their own motherhood and have space babies out and to be able to be better mothers”.

The Emma Barnett Show, BBC Sounds
https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m000pg5z accessed 18 November 2020

This post addresses whether Stopes’ birth control clinic had “very little” to do with eugenics. Before continuing however, there are two things I should mention to put Hall’s remarks into context.

Firstly, for those who don’t know, Hall is foremost amongst the experts of Marie Stopes. Indeed, I drew on her work when I wrote Exterminating Poverty. She is a Research Fellow at the Wellcome Library in London and the Honorary Associate Professor of the Department of Science and Technology Studies at University College London. As an historian, she has published books and articles and chapters on issues to do with sexuality and gender in the UK in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Secondly, the question was put in the final thirty seconds of the interview and, while Hall was answering, the BBC played the “coming up to the break” music. I mention this because it must have been very off-putting for Hall when she was answering the question.

Nonetheless, the first words were “very little” and, given the rest of the answer continued in the same vein, I have set out below some of the evidence to the contrary.

In 1921, Stopes set up the Society for Constructive Birth Control and Racial Progress. Its eugenic aims were outlined in the Tenets of the C.B.C. In 1923, Stopes told the High Court why she had set up the C.B.C.

“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 the 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.”  

“The Trial of Marie Stopes” edited and with an introduction by Muriel Box. Femina Books (1967). Page 50.

The logo for the clinic:

While the logo encompasses spacing babies (“joyous and deliberate motherhood”), the light of the lantern is filtered through the mesh (the word “birth control” repeated over and over) to illuminate the “racial darkness”.

The brand-name of the cervical caps dispensed there, “ProRace” and later “Racial”:

Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
The “ProRace” Cervical Cap

Stopes’ advocacy of laws to sterilize undesirables in Chapter 20 of Radiant Motherhood.

Stopes advocacy of the Gold Pin as a way to effectively sterilize C3 mothers in Wise Parenthood.

Stopes’ advocacy of compulsory sterilization for “hopelessly bad cases, bad through inherent disease, or drunkenness or character” at the National Birth Rate Commission in 1918. It should be noted that many eugenists considered tuberculosis to be an inherent disease.

All of this evidence, comprising of the words and works of Dr. Marie Stopes, contradicts Dr. Hall’s assertion that Stopes’ work had “very little” to do with eugenics.

Photo by Markus Winkler from Pexels

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This entry was posted on 19 November 2020 by in C.B.C., Eugenics.

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