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

Spartacus Educational

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I read this article on Marie Stopes [8-Nov-15: link broken, but you can read the original article here] on the “Spartacus Educational” website and noticed that it contained serious errors.  I contacted the author on April 6th 2014 through the “contact” e-mail address shown on the website, marked to the attention of the author.

I have read the article on Marie Stopes (http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/Wstopes.htm) [8-Nov-15: link broken, but you can read the original article here] and thought it might be improved by the incorporation of the following facts.

(1) In the paragraph commencing “Many Roman Catholics believed that…”, you state that “Halide Southland” wrote a book. The author’s name was “Halliday Sutherland”.

(2) The article states that Stopes “founded the Society for Constructive Birth Control”. The correct name of the Society is the “Society for Constructive Birth Control and Racial Progress”.

(3) To say that “Stopes initially won the case” is incorrect. She lost the initial case, appealed and won, then lost in the House of Lords.

(4) Towards the end of the article, it reads: “Marie Stopes was involved in several other crusades during her life” and, a few paragraphs later, eugenics is mentioned.

Your article implies a separation between Stopes’ eugenic and birth-control goals that did not feature in her life. Her eugenic goals and her birth control goals were linked. She joined the Eugenics Education Society in 1912 and continued her membership to 1922, when she became a life fellow. In that same year she established her clinic in Holloway and founded her society for “Constructive Birth Control and Racial Progress” . Stopes’ clinic in Holloway was in furtherance of her eugenic goals, not adjacent or coincidental to them (indeed, the cervical cap she issued was labelled with the brand “Prorace”). A reading of Chapter XX of “Radiant Motherhood” (1920) will confirm this assertion.

Jane Carey, professor at Monash University, has pointed out that the terms “birth-control” and “eugenics” were so closely linked in the inter-war years that they were synonymous. Her essay is at: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/09612025.2012.658180 and I would commend her essay to you. In modern usage, “birth control” refers primarily, I believe, to contraceptive devices whereas at the time the term has wider, societal implications.

Please let me know if you would like any further evidence to back up my assertions.

Kind regards,

Mark Sutherland

I did not receive a reply.  I checked the website and the egregious errors remained.  So on 4th June 2014 I sent this e-mail:

Dear Mr Simpkin,

I am contacting you to report serious factual errors in the article “Marie Stopes” (http://spartacus-educational.com/Wstopes.htm) [8-Nov-15: link broken, but you can read the original article here] on the Spartacus Educational website.  I wrote an e-mail on 6th April to the contact e-mail address but did not receive a reply.

These are the issues:

(1) In the paragraph commencing “Many Roman Catholics believed that…” it states that “Halide Southland” wrote a book.  This is wrong.  The author’s name was “Halliday Sutherland”.

(2) The article states that Stopes “founded the Society for Constructive Birth Control”. This is not correct.  The correct name was “The Society for Constructive Birth Control and Racial Progress”.

(3) To say that “Stopes initially won the case” is wrong.  Stopes initially lost the case, then won at appeal and then lost in the House of Lords.

(4) Where the articles states “Marie Stopes was involved in several other crusades during her life” and, a few paragraphs later, it mentions eugenics, the impression is given that (1) her birth control and eugenic campaigns were separate compartments in her life and (2) that the eugenic campaign came after the birth control campaign.

Stopes “was a eugenicist long before she became a birth controller, joining the Eugenics Society in 1912, only five years after its founding…and in 1921 formed her own Society for Constructive Birth Control and Racial Progress.” (quoted from Richard A Soloway’s 1996 Galton Lecture: “Marie Stopes, Eugenics and the Birth Control Movement”).  Soloway told his audience that, as a member of the second National Birth Rate Commission in 1919, “Stopes argued that the problem was not too many people, as the Neo-Malthusians believed, but too many children being born to the poor, and not enough to the wealthy.  As a solution she favoured birth control for the poor and the compulsory sterilisation for those too defective and irresponsible to follow her advice.”

The “racial progress” aspect of the society she founded; the opening of a free clinic in a poor part of London; the dispensing of the “Pro Race” cervical cap and Soloway’s lecture all support the assertion that she was a eugenicist first and foremost who used birth control in large part (but not entirely) to further her eugenic goals.

Now undoubtedly, Stopes promotion of birth control was not solely for eugenic aims.  She promoted birth control as a way for women to control their reproduction and fertility, and was ahead of her time advocating equality in the sexual relations between men and women.  It should also be noted that, in operating her clinic, “Stopes subordinated eugenic and political considerations to a broader concern with helping the mostly poor, often desperate women who visited the facility” (Soloway) and that the clinic provided advice about birth control to women who could not discuss such things with their (usually male) doctors.

Please note that I don’t use the word “eugenic” as a proxy for “bad”.  The positive eugenic measures suggested by Stopes, such as using contraceptives to space pregnancies and allow the mother to gain full health, are largely accepted as “common sense” today.

Nonetheless, the negative eugenic measures she proposed were as controversial then as they are today, such as when she advocated the compulsory sterilisation of “hopelessly bad cases, bad through inherent disease, or drunkenness or character” (Stopes quoted in the report of the National Birth Rate Commission.  There is more of the same in Chapter XX of her book “Radiant Motherhood”).

Here’s why the balance between the “birth control” and “eugenic” aspects is important: each was a large aspects of what Stopes stood for.  By removing “eugenics”, the article removed a large part of what she stood for.  It hid a significant part of what it was her opponents opposed, and thereby prevents the reader from understanding why her opponents acted the way they did.

Of course, in history, sources are important.  Do let me know if you would like any further evidence to support my assertions.

Regards,

Mark Sutherland

On 5th June 2014 I saw John Simkin’s Google+ account and sent him a message. On 1st July 2014, John Simkin contacted me through this site’s “Contact” page.  He had not received the email on 6th April (Spartacus were in the process of changing their domain address, and he suspected that the e-mail must have gone to the website developer rather than passed on) and was gracious enough to say sorry for the “poor way you have been treated”.  John has made have now made the corrections requested which can be seen here.

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Centenary of the Stopes v. Sutherland libel trial

February 21st, 2023
5.2 years to go.