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.

The Gold Pin in the Stopes v Sutherland libel trial

Wishbone or gold spring pessary, Europe, 1880-1936. A606489 Science Museum Group Collection Online.

What was the Gold Pin?

The “Gold Pin” (also called the “Gold Spring” and “Wishbone Pessary”) was a device promoted by Dr Marie Stopes. While she believed that it was a contraceptive, others said that the Pin would promote conception and yet others that it was an abortifacient.

How did it work?

A flyer produced by the Mothers’ Clinic stated:

“It requires either a physician or a nurse to put it in place as it has to be inserted by a carrier or introducer which holds the two little prongs together until they are in place within the uterus.”

Exterminating Poverty: The true story of the eugenic plan to get rid of the poor, and the Scottish doctor who fought against it (2020) Mark H. Sutherland (in conjunction with Neil Sutherland), page 68.

Once in place, the carrier or introducer would be withdrawn, the prongs would separate and hold open the entrance to the womb. The flyer continued:

“It is useful in avoiding pregnancy because it is the nature of the uterus to throw our any foreign body. This means that it will not retain the spermatozoa and therefore pregnancy cannot occur so long as the pessary remains in place.”

Exterminating Poverty: The true story of the eugenic plan to get rid of the poor, and the Scottish doctor who fought against it (2020) Mark H. Sutherland (in conjunction with Neil Sutherland), page 68.

Why did Stopes advocate the Gold Pin?

Stopes saw the Pin as a way to effectively sterilize the so-called C3 women, as can be seen from this passage from her book Wise Parenthood (6th edition – published 9th July 1920):

The most difficult cases of all, and at the same time those most urgently needing to exert reliable control over conception are the women who are dissolute, harried, overworked and worried into a dull and careless apathy, or who are so placed that they have neither time nor privacy to take the course recommended. These too often will not, or cannot, take the care and trouble to adjust ordinary methods of control so as to secure themselves from undesirable conceptions. For such there is great hope in the method of the ” gold pin,” or spring, sometimes called the “wishbone” pessary. This is, I understand, used by some experts in this country and is being widely and successfully adopted in America.
The method consists in the insertion into the open neck of the womb, the os, of a little spring which keeps the mouth of the womb very slightly extended and thus acts in such a way that it does not hinder the entry of the spermatic fluid, but that conception does not take place. The insertion should be absolutely painless and the presence of the spring thereafter should not be felt in any way.
The advantages of this method are that all consideration of the subject may be completed once and for all, and the spring should stay in place for years. No further anxiety or trouble on the part of the woman is required, but a visit twice a year to a nurse or doctor to have the spring cleaned and examined. It is, therefore, the one and only method (apart from actual sterilisation) which is applicable, and of real help to the lowest and most negligent strata of society. It is therefore a method of the greatest possible racial and social value, and should become widely known and practised.
For the more careful woman, too, it has the advantage of being the most aesthetic of all methods because, once inserted, it requires no further thought; and also it allows the seminal fluid full access to and contact with the woman’s tissues while making conception impossible.
It has, for the healthy and still child-bearing woman, however, one drawback so serious that its use ought not to be risked by her at present: it is believed to jeopardise the bearing of future children if it is long in use, by accustoming the womb to remain just a little open and so preventing conception even after the spring is removed. Sufficient observation has not yet been made on this point, so I should only advise its use by women who already have all the children they ought to have. Its chief value should be for the C3 mothers who are already sufferers from the over-production of children and have been rendered dull and careless through misery.
All health workers, district nurses, and workers in schools for mothers know scores of such women, and many have appealed to me asking what they are to advise women too careless to use any ordinary method. Welfare workers should sec that such C3 women have these springs inserted by qualified doctors or nurses. [Emphasis added]

Wise Parenthood, 8th edition (1920) Marie Stopes https://archive.org/details/cihm_990552/page/n49/mode/2up

In October 1920, E.W. Lambert wrote to Stopes about a request he had received “for the ‘Gold Spring’ or ‘Wishbone’ Pessary, as described in the new edition of your book Wise Parenthood.” Being “rather in the dark as to which pessary to send this customer” Lambert asked if it was one of his their products. In her reply, Stopes explained that it was an American device, and that she had sent money to America for it “to have samples to see if you can manufacture it”.

In January 1921 Lambert wrote again: “We have been given to understand you are recommending a Gold Pin or Wishbone Pessary & as we are having some enquiries for it, should be pleased if you could let me have a pattern or give us some idea of its description.” Stopes provided the name and address of the American manufacturer, the cost of the device, and specified that it must be put in place by a fully-trained doctor. In relation to women making enquiries about the Gold Pin, Stopes added: “If they wish to know of a doctor who would handle it, I should recommend Dr. Jane L. Hawthorne of 150, Harley Street, London W.”

According to June Rose:

“In February 1921 Norman Haire, an Australian gynaecologist working in London who admired Marie’s work, visited her Clinic. She spoke to him about the gold pin and early in June wrote to ask him if he would take on two of three cases which he would ‘watch carefully’. Meanwhile, Dr Haire had been making his own inquiries about the new method and was alarmed to learn that the gold pin was unreliable , that if conception did occur it was always followed by an abortion, usually within two or three months and that the device caused irregular and profuse menstruation and sometimes inflammation of the cervix and body of the uterus. He warned Marie that since the pin ‘sometimes, at least, acts as an abortifacient, I cannot try it without risking my professional reputation and rendering myself liable to criminal prosecution’.”

Marie Stopes and the Sexual Revolution (1992) June Rose, page 168.

In June 1921, when Stopes sent two women to Haire to have the pin inserted, Haire explained to them that he could not in good conscience fit the pin and sent them to the Mothers’ Clinic to have a cervical cap fitted instead. [Rose, page 169].

This evidence reveals that Stopes had facilitated the use of the Gold Pin, and that Dr Haire, Dr Hawthorne, and possibly other doctors, were involved.

When was the Gold Pin included in the Stopes v Sutherland libel trial?

On 16th February 1923, five days before the trial opened in the High Court, Sutherland and co-defendant Harding & More gave formal notice to the Court that they were including an additional defence, namely: “The Plaintiff during the year 1921 at the said clinic advocated the use by certain women whose names are unknown to the Defendant of the said Gold Pin or wishbone pessary; and also invited one Norman Haire to fit such women with the said appliance.”

Exterminating Poverty: The true story of the eugenic plan to get rid of the poor, and the Scottish doctor who fought against it (2020) Mark H. Sutherland (in conjunction with Neil Sutherland), page 67.

It is likely that the plaintiff’s solicitor were informed of the inclusion of the Gold Pin prior to formal notification to the Court on 16th February 1923.

How did the defendants learn about the Gold Pin?

This author does not know for certain how the defence learned about the Gold Pin. One possible source was the letters page of The Lancet, in which a public spat between Haire and Stopes had taken place in 1922.

At the Neo-Malthusian World Conference in July 1922, Haire had addressed delegates on Contraceptive Technique. He criticised the cervical cap, and said the Mesinga pessary was the “the best contraceptive method available.” He based his claim on 200 patients that had used the device the previous year without even a single failure. Stopes’ letter to The Lancet on 12th August 1922 contradicted Haire and boast of 1,000 successful cases with the cervical cap. Haire’s reply of 19th August referred to Stopes as a “non-medical woman” and said that: “… her ignorance of medical matters had led her to advocate, in her books, at her clinic, and elsewhere, the use of the Gold Pin pessary, which had been condemned by British medical men as indisputably dangerous, giving rise to sepsis and abortions.”

The bitter exchange of letters ceased only when the editor of The Lancet ordered that it be brought to a close.

Why did the defendants include the Gold Pin in the Stopes v Sutherland libel trial?

In essence, the defendants (Dr. Halliday Sutherland and Mr. Vincent Waring of Harding and More (publisher)) relied on two defences:

  1. “Justification” in other words, that Dr Sutherland’s statements in Birth Control were true in substance and in fact;
  2. “Fair comment” in other words, that Dr Sutherland’s statements were legitimate fair comment on a matter of public interest.

The defamatory passage from Birth Control is shown below for easy reference (note that words with a line through them were published in Birth Control but were not included in the Statement of Claim).


“(b) Exposing the Poor to Experiment.

“Secondly, the ordinary decent instincts of the poor are against these practices and indeed they have used them less than any other class. But, owing to their poverty, lack of learning, and helplessness, the poor are the natural victims of those who seek to make experiments on their fellows. In the midst of a London slum a woman, who is a doctor of German philosophy (Munich), has opened a Birth Control Clinic, where working women are instructed in a method of contraception described by Professor McIlroy as ‘The most harmful method of which I have had experience’. When we remember that millions are being spent by the Ministry of Health and by Local Authorities — on pure milk for necessitous expectant and nursing mothers, on Maternity Clinics to guard the health of mothers before and after childbirth, for the provision of skilled midwives, and on Infant Welfare Centres — it is truly amazing that this monstrous campaign of birth control should be tolerated by the Home Secretary. Charles Bradlaugh was condemned to jail for a less serious crime.”

Exterminating Poverty: The true story of the eugenic plan to get rid of the poor, and the Scottish doctor who fought against it (2020) Mark H. Sutherland (in conjunction with Neil Sutherland), page 45.

Given that the Gold Pin was described as a device (1) to promote conception (2) to prevent conception or (3) to cause an abortion, the defence sought to provide it as an example of an experiment and, given her recommendation was that it should be fitted in “C3” mothers, that it was an “exposing the poor to [this] experiment”.

Given that Haire’s letter to The Lancet said the Pin had been “condemned by British medical men as indisputably dangerous, giving rise to sepsis and abortions,” the defence subpoenaed Haire to testify at the trial.

When the Gold Pin was brought into the Stopes v Sutherland libel trial, how did the plaintiff react?

On 15th January 1923, Mr Percy Braby (her solicitor) gave her an update on the evidence of her witnesses. He remarked: “None of them seem to like the Gold Pin.”

Stopes had a chat with Dr Harold Chapple, a gynaecologist at Guy’s Hospital, who told her the less said about the Gold Pin, the better. Stopes then wrote a letter to her medical witnesses in which she referred to her “useful talk” with Dr Chapple and added that “our doctors [should] not to be lured into saying anything about the Gold Spring”. A template of what they should say was enclosed with the letter.

Given that it is the solicitor’s job to assist with the drafting and signing (under oath) of witness statements, Stopes’ actions were, at best, unusual. There is evidence that the settled statement of one witness, Dr. Jane Hawthorne, was significantly chanced, and it was unconscionable that Stopes interfered with the process of the High Court in this way.

The evidence was a letter from Stopes to Hawthorne dated 19th January 1923 in which she sought to delete the part of her witness statement that said that Hawthorne didn’t like the Gold Pin because of the tendency for “the fibre to get caught in the spring,” a detail indicated Hawthorne’s practical familiarity with the Pin. In the letter Stopes remarked that she did “not want Lambert gratuitously dragged into the case.” Lambert was E. Lambert & Sons & Watkins, manufacturers of surgical appliances in Dalston and her allusion to him begs the question: “Why not?”

On the eve of the opening of the Mothers’ Clinic, E.W. Lambert wrote to Stopes to request that she send “those people who can afford to pay” direct to their premises in Dalston which, he pointed out, was only a short tram ride away. He also donated 144 cervical caps free of charge for use at the Mothers’ Clinic. Presumably, Stopes did not want Lambert dragged into the case because it would reveal her correspondence with him, might lead the defence to ask if anyone had been sent to Hawthorne for the fitting of the Pin, and of the commercial nature of Stopes’ relationship with Lambert.

The Gold Pin in the Stopes v Sutherland libel trial

From the third day onwards, the Gold Pin began to wreck Stopes’ case. That day, for example, Dr Meredith Young (appearing for the plaintiff) admitted that if the Gold Pin were left in after conception, it “would, naturally, later on tend to induce abortion.” The cross-examination of Dr. George Jones, gave Sutherland’s barrister the opportunity to read extracts tracts of Wise Parenthood to the Court and he asserted that the differences between the 7th and 9th editions showed that it was experimental. As I wrote in Exterminating Poverty:

Jones continued: “With great respect to you, this Gold Pin Dr Stopes recommended for people who are so hopelessly bad that they ought to be sterilised; if the Gold Pin cannot be used for people, then they are so bad that they ought to be sterilised. Now we have not got to sterilisation yet, but we are not very far off it, but the Gold Pin is a method of perpetual sterilisation without operation, that is all it comes to.”

“Perpetual abortions?” asked Charles.

“No. Sterilisation,” replied Jones.

This exchange was immensely damaging to the plaintiff’s case. The “racial and social” program that underpinned Dr Stopes’ work had again been revealed in court, and it exposed her to the horns of a dilemma, for if she knew that the Gold Pin was an abortifacient, she was recommending that the law be broken to achieve her aims and, if she did not know, then surely her work could justifiably be called an experiment.

Exterminating Poverty: The true story of the eugenic plan to get rid of the poor, and the Scottish doctor who fought against it (2020) Mark H. Sutherland (in conjunction with Neil Sutherland), page 155.

Stopes’ letter to Braby written later that day revealed that she knew how damaging the Pin had been. In it she included:

“… suggestions which I want you particularly to hand on to both Mr. Patrick Hastings and Sir Hugh Fraser for the Cross-examination… Do, for God’s sake get Mr Patrick Hastings to study them and to use all the technical questions especially. If he does not, particularly on that question of the Gold Pin use absolutely all I have put in we shall simply lose the case.”

Exterminating Poverty: The true story of the eugenic plan to get rid of the poor, and the Scottish doctor who fought against it (2020) Mark H. Sutherland (in conjunction with Neil Sutherland), page 171.

On the fourth day, the testimony of Dr Norman Haire continued the trend, because firstly it revealed a “conflict of evidence” in the testimony of Dr Stopes, secondly because it revealed that Stopes’ standard of care for her patients and correspondents was below that of the medical profession and thirdly, because Haire – who, like Stopes, was a birth control pioneer and who was sympathetic to her cause – condemed the use of the Pin.

The “conflict of evidence”

On the second day of trial, the defence barristers about the use of the Gold Pin:

Charles: “In truth and in fact, have you sent up women from this Clinic to a doctor to be fitted with the Gold Pin.”

Stopes: “No.”

Charles: “You never have?”

Stopes: “Never.”

Charles: “Never to Dr Haire?”

Stopes: “I never sent anyone from the Clinic. I know what you are asking. I have received from unknown correspondents letters asking me to give them the addresses of medical persons and have given, on two or three occasions, the address of a gynaecologist and obstetrician.” [emphasis added]

Charles: “Was that Dr Haire?”

Stopes: “Yes, he is a gynaecologist and obstetrician.”

Charles: “Did Dr Haire tell you that he would not use this Gold Pin because it simply produced an earlier abortion?”

Stopes: “On the contrary, Dr Haire came to my clinic and asked me to send him subjects for the Gold Pin.”

Charles: “There will be a conflict of evidence about that.”

Exterminating Poverty: The true story of the eugenic plan to get rid of the poor, and the Scottish doctor who fought against it (2020) Mark H. Sutherland (in conjunction with Neil Sutherland), page 118-9.

Stopes’ standard of care for her patients and correspondents

When Charles asked if Stopes had sent women from the clinic to be fitted with the Gold Pin, she (1) pointed out that the women were correspondents, not patients (2) said her role had merely been the provision of an address.

When the defence read Stopes’ letter to Haire date 5th June 1921 to the Court, it revealed that her involvement had been more than merely administrative.

“‘I am interested in what you say about the women who are keen on birth control and quite unbiased. Are they themselves speaking from personal knowledge of their own use of it [ie. the Gold Pin], because I hear from American women it is entirely satisfactory. I should therefore, like very much for you, if you do not mind, to take on two or three cases, which you could watch carefully and if these yielded unsatisfactory results, we will drop it. On the other hand, if it does have, as reported, so many advantages, I should be sorry to discard it without proper investigation. I have now on hand two or three people who desire its insertion. May I send these to you definitely? I expect you would rather these were sent to New Cavendish Street than to trouble you to come up to the clinic to meet them. Some time back, relying on your kind offer to do one or two of these cases, in order to study them, I told a woman that there would only be a small charge of, say 5/-s., and Mrs. X.’ …… ‘these two seem to be suitable cases, that is, women who ought not to have any more children and who have asked themselves to have the spring. In corresponding with these two women, I have stated as follows: ‘I would warn you that the method being a new one, we are not yet quite sure whether the result would be entirely satisfactory, but Dr Haire will watch the case carefully and remove the spring if it seems advisable, and recommend some other method.’”

Exterminating Poverty: The true story of the eugenic plan to get rid of the poor, and the Scottish doctor who fought against it (2020) Mark H. Sutherland (in conjunction with Neil Sutherland), page 227.

The letter came as close to an admission of an experiment as the defendants were likely to get. It was very damaging to Stopes’ case, for not only did it reveal that she had lied during her testimony, but that her standards of care fell below those expected of a medical doctor. As Germaine Greer wrote in Sex and Destiny: The Politics of Human Fertility, it made clear: “… her utter disregard for the rights of others and her total ignorance of a code of ethics which binds those doctors who deal with living human flesh instead of fossil plants.”

Medical witnesses condemned the Pin.

Dr. Norman Haire (appearing under subpoena) said:

“I regard it first of all unreliable as a contraceptive. I understand that it was first introduced to facilitate impregnation in some cases of sterility where the neck of the womb is tightly closed and it is difficult for the woman to become pregnant. This instrument is sometimes used by doctors to keep the neck of the womb open long enough for conception to take place, and it is then removed. That is the first reason I regard it as unreliable as a contraceptive, and, secondly, I think if it is left in after contraception has taken place, it would most probably give rise to abortion; thirdly, it keeps the neck of the womb open and leaves free passage for septic germs to get in from the outside, and may give rise to various diseased conditions; it may give rise to inflammation of the womb, of the ovaries and of the tubes, and even, I believe to peritonitis.”

Exterminating Poverty: The true story of the eugenic plan to get rid of the poor, and the Scottish doctor who fought against it (2020) Mark H. Sutherland (in conjunction with Neil Sutherland), page 220-221.

Sir Maurice Abbott Anderson (appearing for Dr Sutherland) described the Gold Pin as a “barbarous instrument.”

Dr Frederick McCann (appearing for Dr Sutherland) said the Gold Pin:

“… hinders conception, but it does not stop it. You can readily understand any foreign body in the womb must exert a certain retarding influence, but its chief action is as a stimulant to the womb, causing it to contract and expel any growing ovum which may be found inside; it ie really, in medical language, an abortifacient; it is a method for procuring abortion.”

Exterminating Poverty: The true story of the eugenic plan to get rid of the poor, and the Scottish doctor who fought against it (2020) Mark H. Sutherland (in conjunction with Neil Sutherland), page 203.

Asked if he had any experience of the Gold Pin, McCann produced one from his pocket and replied:

“This was 15 months in the cavity of the womb and one of the limbs of the divergent blades has become eroded and detached in the same way as the gold wire connected with your teeth sometimes does. The limb has become embedded in the substance of the womb and caused difficulty in its removal; it was causing a free discharge. Happily, the patient survived after it was taken out, and the womb disinfected, but she was running a very, very considerable risk, not only to her health, but to her life.”

Exterminating Poverty: The true story of the eugenic plan to get rid of the poor, and the Scottish doctor who fought against it (2020) Mark H. Sutherland (in conjunction with Neil Sutherland), page 203.

The hagiographers of Stopes gloss over the pin

Generally speaking, the hagiographers of Stopes tend to minimise the Gold Pin. For instance, they might say that the evidence in relation to the Pin was very damaging, but do not explain why. Likewise, they give impression that the use of the Pin related solely to two correspondents of the Mothers’ Clinic and that was the end of it. Yet even following the Stopes v Sutherland libel trial, Stopes continued to advocate the Gold Pin, for example, in her book Contraception (Birth Control): Its Theory History and Practice, published in June 1923.

Photo credit: Science Museum Group. Wishbone or gold spring pessary, Europe, 1880-1936. A606489Science Museum Group Collection Online. Accessed December 9, 2022.

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This entry was posted on 15 January 2023 by in Marie Stopes, Stopes v Sutherland.

Stopes v Sutherland libel trial 1922-24

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