"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.
There were (and are) those who believe that Dr. Sutherland’s attack on Marie Stopes’ work was instigated and financed by the Catholic Church. In other words, that it was a put up job.
For instance, in her introduction to The Trial of Marie Stopes, Muriel Box wrote:
Since the establishment of the first birth control clinic in London, the Catholic Church had become doubly alert and eager for an opportunity to cross swords with its founder. That opportunity was seized within a few weeks of the Queen’s Hall meeting by a certain Dr. Halliday Sutherland who happened to attend a lecture on birth control given by Dr. McIlroy, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology of the Royal Free Hospital to the Medico-Legal Society. During her talk Professor McIlroy referred to the rubber check pessary as being ‘the most harmful method of contraception she had encountered in her experience.’
Dr. Sutherland was aware that this type of pessary was the one in use and much in favour at Marie Stopes’s clinic. Dr. McIlroy’s opinion was exactly what he had been waiting for to enable him to attack nor only the doctrine of birth control in general but Marie Stopes and her work in particular. So, while Marie set off for America in October, confident and hopeful of increasing the success of her mission there as well as at home by giving an address in the New York Town Hall, Dr. Sutherland retired quietly to his home in Gloucestershire and started to write a book on birth control, which was published in the early spring of the following year. [Emphasis added]“The Trial of Marie Stopes” (1967) Muriel Box (editor) Femina Books.
In this context a letter, preserved today in the British Library, becomes especially significant. Dated 1st January 1925, it was from the National Detective Agency (which was, as the name suggests, a firm of private detectives) to a Mrs. Bootle (who appears to have been a proxy for Dr. Stopes). It read:
1st January 1925.
Reverting to your call upon us this morning, we beg to place upon record that very exhaustive and searching enquiries have been made regarding the subject in question, and we find that the suggestion contained in the Catholic Times, namely that Dr Sutherland was financed and influenced in the Publication of his book, is untrue.
You appreciate that the source of our information is very secret, and it was very necessary to proceed with great caution when making these enquiries, and it is on this account that we think it advisable, if possible, that we should have an interview with Dr Stopes, so that we could explain the whole position, could you arrange this? as [sic] we feel we cannot do justice to this matter in correspondence.
[signed] Chandler & Selby
A.G. Selby.British Library Western Manuscripts. Stopes Papers MS58697 (Jan 1925-Jun 1925) Vol. CCLI (ff. 174). Various correspondence which includes correspondence with the National Detective Agency.
While the reason for the secrecy surrounding the source was not stated, it is fair to presume that it was because their source was unimpeachable, someone well-placed who would have known the truth. I have provided a detailed citation so that the source of my information can be checked and so that any assertions I make based on the source can be challenged (I also did this in Exterminating Poverty: The true story of the eugenic plan to get rid of the poor, and the Scottish doctor who fought against it which has around 700 citations). I hope that this post will lay a false conspiracy theory to rest but, as with so much that is false about Stopes v. Sutherland, I won’t be holding my breath.
Author, Exterminating Poverty: The true story of the eugenic plan to get rid of the poor, and the Scottish doctor who fought against it (in conjunction with Neil Sutherland).
Photo by Craig Whitehead on Unsplash