Doctor. Tuberculosis pioneer. Best-selling author. Convert to Catholicism. Enemy of eugenics, and eugenicists.
In February 2015, I read A Sexual Revolution written by an unnamed author and published by UKEssays.com. The essay was prefaced with this statement: “The history essay below has been submitted to us by a student in order to help you with your studies. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.”
The essay concerned the life of Marie Stopes and, in my opinion, contained some significant factual errors. Reading the UKEssays.com piece, I switched to HGS Watch mode and then doubt set in: drop it…for pete’s sake, it’s a student’s essay. Hesitation, followed by: yes, but an essay nonetheless, and likely to be used as the factual basis for other essays. So, on 15th February 2015, I sent an e-mail to enquiries(at)ukessays(dot)com to notify them of this post. Here are the issues I raised:
The essay stated: “For the meantime, in 1921, Stopes and her new husband Roe founded the Society for Constructive Birth Control.” The essay said:
“For the meantime, in 1921, Stopes and her new husband Roe founded the Society for Constructive Birth Control. They opened the first birth control clinic in England, which soon expanded into an entire chain. These clinics were all female staffed of nurses and doctors. The people who went to the clinic were mostly poor women who needed the help (nnbd.com).” (Source UKEssays.com “A sexual revolution“)
The correct name of the Society was the Society for Constructive Birth Control and Racial Progress. The full name should be used given it reveals the eugenic aims of the Society (The Galton Institute, 1996).
The essay further stated that Stopes: “was accused of having a plan to, ‘weed out the undesirables’. Whether this is true or not…” The essay said:
Stopes had faced criticism as well. The fact that her clinics were aimed toward slowing reproduction of the lower class made her a topic of criticism. She was accused of having a plan to, “weed of the undesirables”. Whether this is true or not it was obvious that Stopes had a very real commitment to help women who suffered from unwanted pregnancies (nndb.com). The Catholic church seemed to be Stopes’ top critic. In 1923 she had problems with doctor Halliday Sutherland, who she eventually sued for libel. She had lost, but she did win at appeal and then lost again in the House of Lords. This case created a stir in the public for Stopes’ views (bbc.co.uk.com). (Source: UKEssays.com “A sexual revolution“)
The author of the essay gives no details of the accusation and then, without resolving the issue, moves on. The accusation remains as a contentious point. It wasn’t, because Stopes did have a plan to weed out the undesirables. Here’s the evidence:
Firstly, on the second day of the Stopes v. Sutherland trial on 22nd February 1923 Mr Patrick Hastings K.C. examined Dr Marie Stopes:
Mr Patrick Hastings: “Now a few general questions about the objects of your campaign. First of all, I want to ask you this general question: Is the reduction in the birth rate any part at all of your campaign?”
Dr Marie Stopes: “Not reduction in the total birth rate, but reduction of the birth rate at the wrong part and increase of the birth rate at the right end of the social scale.”
Hastings: “I may summarise that by saying the birth of children at the best period of their mother’s life for the children and the mother?”
Stopes: “That is so.”
The Lord Chief Justice: “The previous answer seemed to indicate something a little different from that.”
Mr Charles (barrister representing Dr Sutherland): “I thought so.”
Hastings: “I am sorry: it may be my fault that I am trying to keep your answers as short as possible. Would you, in your own words, describe to us in a few sentences what are the objects and purposes of your Society?”
Stopes: “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 C3 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.” (Femina Books, 1967)
[Note: “C3” referred to the British army’s categorisation of recruits. C3 was meant that the recruit would be rejected as unfit for service. While the reference is army jargon, Stopes is using it in terms of people in the general community.]
That was Stopes’ answer when under oath in the High Court of Justice, King’s Bench Division. The second piece of evidence is from the pages of John Bull on 2nd February 1924, in which Stopes explained why she had these views:
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 of one and two and squander the money on low grade mental deficients, the spawn of drunkards, the puny families of women so feckless and deadened that they apathetically breed like rabbits. (Stopes M. C., 1924)
Thirdly, in Stopes’ book Radiant Motherhood (1920), she compared the poor to a “parasite” which was sapping the healthy tree of “our race” and suggested that the British Parliament order the compulsory sterilization of undesirables. Now a parasite is not a weed, but as a metaphor, it is in the same ballpark. She wrote:
A second and almost greater danger is not a simple ignorance, but the inborn incapacity which lies in the vast and ever increasing stock of degenerate, feeble-minded and unbalanced who are now in our midst, and who devastate social customs. These populate most rapidly, these tend proportionately to increase and these are like the parasite upon the healthy tree sapping its vitality [emphasis added]. These produce less than they consume and are able only to flourish and reproduce so long as the healthier produce food for them; but by ever weakening the human stock, in the end they will succumb with the fine structure which they have destroyed.
There appear then two obstacles which might block the materialization of my racial vision…”
Stopes explained that the first obstacle was ignorance before turning to the second obstacle a few paragraphs later:
The other obstacle presents a deeper and more difficult task. It must deal with the terrible debasing power of the inferior, the depraved and feeble-minded, to whom reason means nothing, who are thriftless, unmanageable and appallingly prolific. Yet if the good of our race is not to be swamped and destroyed by the debased as the fine tree by the parasite, this prolific depravity must be curbed. How will this be done? A very few quite simple Acts of Parliament could deal with it.
Three short and concise Bills would be sufficient to afford the most urgent social service for the preservation of our race. They should be simply worded and based on possibilities well within the grasp of modern science.
She then outlined what the Acts of Parliament would enable, namely, the compulsory sterilization of undesirables using X-Rays (Stopes, 1920, page 245).
Fourthly, Stopes sent a copy of Radiant Motherhood to Frances Stevenson. Stevenson was secretary to then Prime Minister, Lloyd George. According to the biographer June Rose, Stopes:
“drew attention to the chapter on eugenics in which she commented on the tens of thousands of “stunted, warped and inferior infants, who would invariably drain the resources of those with a sense of responsibility.” (Rose, 1993, page 138).
Fifthly, in November 1922 Stopes:
“sent out a questionnaire to parliamentary candidates asking them to sign a rather curiously worded declaration: “I agree that the present position of breeding chiefly from the C3 population and burdening and discouraging the A1 is nationally deplorable, and if I am elected to Parliament I will press the Ministry of Health to give such scientific information through the Ante-natal Clinics, Welfare Centres and other institutions in its control as will curtail the C3 and increase the A1.”” (Rose, 1993, page 161)
[Note: “A1” and “C3” were two categories in the system used by the British army to assess and categorise the physical fitness of recruits. “A1” was the best and “C3” the worst. C3s were rejected. The army’s system came into popular usage when it was widely thought that around 50% of recruits presenting themselves for service in the Boer War were turned away on the grounds that they were unfit.]
Sixthly, Stopes was a member of the Eugenics Education Society (The Galton Institute, 1996 page 54). Her:
…particular efforts to provide birth control for the poor had far more to do with her eugenic concerns about the impending ‘racial darkness’ that the adoption of contraception promised to illuminate. She was a eugenicist long before she became a birth controller, joining the Eugenics Society in 1912, only five years after its founding. (The Galton Institute, 1996 page 56)
Seventhly, Stopes biographer, June Rose, supports the accusation:
Marie was an élitist, an idealist, interested in creating a society in which only the best and the beautiful should survive. Brought up on the ideas of Darwin, she responded enthusiastically to the view that his theory of natural selection argued for the need to create a super breed of humans. She was in sympathy with the aims of the Eugenics Society, founded in 1908 by Darwin’s cousin, Francis Galton, to encourage the prevalence of the more suitable races or strains of blood over the less suitable. Like writers of the calibre of Shaw and H.G. Wells, Marie was inspired by the simplistic notion of human perfectibility. Personally she was convinced that theories derived from research into the plant and animal kingdom could be applied to the complexities of the human situation. Her attitude to the problem was entirely academic, reinforced by her own studies into the evolution of primitive plants. The First World War had advanced the cause of the Eugenics lobby, since it had revealed a widespread disease and disability among the lower classes. Marie believed passionately that if such people could be persuaded not to breed, society would benefit. She told the National Birth Rate Commission in her evidence in 1919 that the simplest way of dealing with chronic disease, drunkenness or bad character would be to sterilize the parents. (Rose, 1993, page 134)
The Trial of Marie Stopes. (M. Box, Ed.) London: Femina Books Limited.
Rose, J. (1993). Marie Stopes and the Sexual Revolution. London: Faber and Faber Limited
Stopes, M. C. (1920). Radiant Motherhood. Putnam.
Stopes, M. C. (1924, February 2). John Bull, page 13.
The Galton Institute. (1996). The Galton Lecture 1996: Marie Stopes, Eugenics and the Birth Control Movement by Richard A. Soloway. (R. A. Peel, Ed.) London: The Galton Institute (formerly the Eugenics Society).
UKEssays.com “A sexual revolution” at http://www.ukessays.com/essays/history/a-sexual-revolution.php##ixzz3RKMk7W8w viewed 5:30PM on 12/2/2015.