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.

“All These Barriers…” British Newspaper Archive 7 January 2020

I read ‘All These Barriers are Broken Down’ – Five Remarkable Women Who Shaped the 1920s by Rose Staveley Wadham at the beginning of 2022. The article contained serious errors in the section on Dr Marie Stopes. In part, it read:

5. Dr Marie Stopes – A Burning Sympathy for All Oppressed Women

Another woman spearheading firsts in Great Britain was Dr Marie Stopes. Dr Marie Stopes founded Britain’s first birth control clinic in 1921, and came to be seen as the ‘figure-head of the birth control movement’ in the United Kingdom.

Stopes’ views on contraception caused controversy during the 1920s. In 1923 she claimed libel damages from one Dr Sutherland, who had labelled her writings ‘nauseating,’ as well as being ‘a mixture of physiology and emotions.’ Sutherland’s concern was that Stopes’ teachings would ‘lower public morality,’ using ‘certain methods that were contrary to nature’ (Pall Mall Gazette).

https://blog.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/2020/01/07/five-remarkable-women-who-shaped-the-1920s/ viewed 27 March 2022.

I attempted to comment following the article on the BNA website. I gave up because the comment was rejected and I received an error message despite several attempts to post it. Had I been able to comment, this is what I would have written.

The headline mentions Stopes’ “burning sympathy for all oppressed women”. Then there’s Stopes statement about some of these women in John Bull in 1924:

“From the point of view of the economics of the nation, it is racial madness to rifle the pockets of the thrifty and intelligent who are struggling to do their best for their own families or one and two and squander the money on low grade mental deficients, the spawn of drunkards, the puny families of women so feckless that they apathetically breed like rabbits.”

Marie Stopes quoted in John Bull magazine, 2nd February 1924, page 13.

This is just one example (there are many others) of the appalling words Stopes used to refer to those less fortunate than herself.

The article states that Stopes “… claimed libel damages from one Dr Sutherland, who had labelled her writings ‘nauseating,’ as well as being ‘a mixture of physiology and emotions’”. Sutherland made those statements during his testimony on the fourth day of the trial, so it is self-evident that the suit was motivated by something else. The words at the centre of the trial are quoted elsewhere on this site. Admittedly, Wadham isn’t claiming that the case arose for this reason, but the juxtaposition of the statements suggest that Sutherland’s objection to Stopes related to a prudish discomfort in relation to her writings. The article failed to mention the elephant in the room, namely eugenics.

There is a large amount of evidence that Stopes set up her clinic to improve British “racial stocks” by eugenic breeding:

  • Stopes brand-names of the cervical caps dispensed at the clinic were “Prorace” and “Racial“;
  • Stopes testified on the second day of Stopes v Sutherland that: “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.”
  • The manifesto of Stopes Society for Constructive Birth Control and Racial Progress (CBC) which stated: “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.”

“Unfitted for parenthood” included poverty, unemployment and even the possibility of unemployment.

“Racially diseased” included Consumption (a respiratory disease caused by the tuberculosis bacteria). Leading eugenicists (such as Karl Pearson, Sir James Barr and Dr. Stopes) believed that Consumption was caused primarily by heredity. While they knew that infection did play a part, they believed the primary factor was the defective genes and narrow lungs passed from unfit parents to their offspring. Consumption was an infectious disease of poverty that killed around 50,000 people in Britain each year at that time, including 10,000 children.

It was Consumption led Dr. Sutherland to oppose eugenics and subsequently, Stopes. In 1910, he was in the forefront of fighting the disease, making Britain’s first public health cinema film and setting up a school in a bandstand in Regent’s Park. In 1912, he exposed the erroneous beliefs of eugenicists in the British Medical Journal when he showed that Consumption was primarily caused by infection, not heredity.

It wasn’t merely an academic spat because the eugenic solution was to breed out the “tuberculous types” from “British racial stocks” by letting nature take its course. For instance, Sir James Barr opined that the eradication of tuberculosis would be “nothing short of a national calamity” on the grounds that it did a “rough a rough, but on the whole very serviceable check, on the survival and propagation of the unfit.” When Stopes opened the Mothers’ Clinic, Barr congratulated her for inaugurating “… a great movement which I hope will eventually get rid of our C3 population and exterminate poverty. The only way to raise an A1 population is to breed them.” Barr became a vice-president of the CBC and testified against Sutherland on the first day of the trial in the High Court in 1923.

When Stopes opened her clinic, Sutherland was appalled because he said that Britain would become a Servile State:

“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.”

Dr Halliday Sutherland Birth Control: A Statement of Christian Doctrine Against the Neo-Malthusians (1922).

Wadham’s statement that “Stopes’ modus operandi was to provide women with a choice” also needs clarification. Stopes campaigned for laws to compulsorily sterilise those she deemed unfit, and she lobbied MPs and Prime Minister Lloyd George to this end. Had she been successful in getting these laws, women would have had “choice”, but the choice would have been made by the State!

Stopes v Sutherland libel trial 1922-24

Centenary of the Court of Appeal's judgment7 July 2023
28 days to go.

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