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Marie Stopes

Marie Stopes

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Marie Carmichael Stopes (15 October 1880 – 2 October 1958) was a British
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 author, palaeobotanist, campaigner for women's rights
Women's rights
Women's rights are entitlements and freedoms claimed for women and girls of all ages in many societies.In some places these rights are institutionalized or supported by law, local custom, and behaviour, whereas in others they may be ignored or suppressed...

 and pioneer in the field of birth control
Birth control
Birth control is an umbrella term for several techniques and methods used to prevent fertilization or to interrupt pregnancy at various stages. Birth control techniques and methods include contraception , contragestion and abortion...

. Stopes edited the newsletter Birth Control News which gave anatomically explicit advice, and in addition to her enthusiasm for protests at places of worship this provoked protest from both the Church of England
Church of England
The Church of England is the officially established Christian church in England and the Mother Church of the worldwide Anglican Communion. The church considers itself within the tradition of Western Christianity and dates its formal establishment principally to the mission to England by St...

 and the Roman Catholic Church
Roman Catholic Church
The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the world's largest Christian church, with over a billion members. Led by the Pope, it defines its mission as spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, administering the sacraments and exercising charity...

. Her sex manual
Sex manual
Sex manuals are books which explain how to perform sexual intercourse and other sexual practices. They often also feature advice on birth control, and sometimes safe sex, as well as advice on sexual relationships.-Early sex manuals:...

 Married Love
Married Love
Married Love or Love in Marriage is a book written by Dr. Marie Carmichael Stopes, first published in March 1918 by a small publisher, after many other larger publishers turned her down because of the content. It rapidly sold out, and was in its sixth printing within a fortnight.The US Customs...

, which was written, she claimed, while she was still a virgin, was controversial and influential.

The modern organisation that bears her name, Marie Stopes International
Marie Stopes International
Marie Stopes International is an International Non-Governmental Organisation working on Sexual and Reproductive Health with headquarters in London, UK. It is named after Marie Stopes, a Scottish author, campaigner for eugenics, women's rights, and a pioneer in the field of family planning...

, works in over 40 countries. In 2008, there were 560 centres, including 5 in Bolivia, 9 in the UK, 10 in Australia, 25 in Kenya, 24 in South Africa, 48 in Pakistan and over 100 in Bangladesh.

Early work and education

Stopes was the daughter of Shakespeare scholar and women's rights campaigner Charlotte Carmichael Stopes
Charlotte Carmichael Stopes
Charlotte Carmichael Stopes was a British scholar, author, and campaigner for women's rights. She published several books relating to the life and work of William Shakespeare. Her most successful publication was British Freewomen: Their Historical Privilege , a book which influenced and inspired...

 and her husband Henry. She attended University College London
University College London
University College London is a public research university located in London, United Kingdom and the oldest and largest constituent college of the federal University of London...

 as a scholarship student studying botany
Botany, plant science, or plant biology is a branch of biology that involves the scientific study of plant life. Traditionally, botany also included the study of fungi, algae and viruses...

 and geology
Geology is the science comprising the study of solid Earth, the rocks of which it is composed, and the processes by which it evolves. Geology gives insight into the history of the Earth, as it provides the primary evidence for plate tectonics, the evolutionary history of life, and past climates...

, graduating with a first class B.Sc. in 1902. After carrying out research at University College London, she pursued further study at the University of Munich, receiving a Ph.D.
A Ph.D. is a Doctor of Philosophy, an academic degree.Ph.D. may also refer to:* Ph.D. , a 1980s British group*Piled Higher and Deeper, a web comic strip*PhD: Phantasy Degree, a Korean comic series* PhD Docbook renderer, an XML renderer...

 in palaeobotany in 1904. Following this, Stopes earned a D.Sc. degree from University College London, becoming the youngest person in Britain to have done so. In 1903 she published a study of the botany of the recently dried-up Ebbsfleet River
Ebbsfleet River
Ebbsfleet River is a river in Kent, south-east England. It gives its name to the Ebbsfleet Valley redevelopment area. Its source was eight natural springs at Springhead. In Roman times the river was used to link Watling Street to the River Thames, in the fourteenth century it was a stopping place...

. In 1907 she went to Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

 on a scientific mission, spending a year and a half at the Imperial University, Tokyo, exploring for fossil plants. She was also Fellow and sometime Lecturer in Palaeobotany at University College London and Lecturer in Palaeobotany at the University of Manchester
University of Manchester
The University of Manchester is a public research university located in Manchester, United Kingdom. It is a "red brick" university and a member of the Russell Group of research-intensive British universities and the N8 Group...

 (she held the post at Manchester from 1904 to 1907; in this capacity she became the first female academic of the University of Manchester).

Work in palaeobotany

During Stopes's time at Manchester, she studied coal
Coal is a combustible black or brownish-black sedimentary rock usually occurring in rock strata in layers or veins called coal beds or coal seams. The harder forms, such as anthracite coal, can be regarded as metamorphic rock because of later exposure to elevated temperature and pressure...

 and the collection of Glossopteris
Glossopteris is the largest and best-known genus of the extinct order of seed ferns known as Glossopteridales ....

 (seed ferns). This was an attempt to prove the theory of Eduard Suess
Eduard Suess
Eduard Suess was a geologist who was an expert on the geography of the Alps. He is responsible for hypothesising two major former geographical features, the supercontinent Gondwana and the Tethys Ocean.Born in London to a Jewish Saxon merchant, when he was three his family relocated toPrague,...

 concerning the existence of Gondwanaland or Pangaea
Pangaea, Pangæa, or Pangea is hypothesized as a supercontinent that existed during the Paleozoic and Mesozoic eras about 250 million years ago, before the component continents were separated into their current configuration....

. A chance meeting with Robert Falcon Scott
Robert Falcon Scott
Captain Robert Falcon Scott, CVO was a Royal Navy officer and explorer who led two expeditions to the Antarctic regions: the Discovery Expedition, 1901–04, and the ill-fated Terra Nova Expedition, 1910–13...

 (Scott of the Antarctic) during one of his fund-raising lectures brought a possibility of proving Suess's theory. Stopes's passion to prove Suess's theory led her to discuss with Scott the possibility of joining his next expedition to Antarctica. She failed to join the expedition, but Scott promised to bring back samples of fossils to provide confirmatory evidence for the theory. (The interior of Antarctica, being perpetually below 0°C, is not suitable for life, and the existence of fossils can be taken as providing inferential evidence of major changes in biological conditions in that region during geologic time.) Although Scott died during the expedition
Terra Nova Expedition
The Terra Nova Expedition , officially the British Antarctic Expedition 1910, was led by Robert Falcon Scott with the objective of being the first to reach the geographical South Pole. Scott and four companions attained the pole on 17 January 1912, to find that a Norwegian team led by Roald...

, his corpse was found; and located near the bodies of him and his companions were fossils from the Queen Maud Mountains
Queen Maud Mountains
The Queen Maud Mountains are a major group of mountains, ranges and subordinate features of the Transantarctic Mountains, lying between the Beardmore and Reedy Glaciers and including the area from the head of the Ross Ice Shelf to the polar plateau in Antarctica...

 that did indeed provide this evidence.

More information can be found at the Geological Society website concerning this area Cold Comfort.

Work in family planning

Stopes opened the UK's first family planning clinic, the Mothers' Clinic at 61, Marlborough Road, Holloway
Holloway, London
Holloway is an inner-city district in the London Borough of Islington located north of Charing Cross and follows for the most part, the line of the Holloway Road . At the centre of Holloway is the Nag's Head area...

, North London
North London
North London is the northern part of London, England. It is an imprecise description and the area it covers is defined differently for a range of purposes. Common to these definitions is that it includes districts located north of the River Thames and is used in comparison with South...

 on 17 March 1921.

In 1925 the Mothers' Clinic moved to Central London
Central London
Central London is the innermost part of London, England. There is no official or commonly accepted definition of its area, but its characteristics are understood to include a high density built environment, high land values, an elevated daytime population and a concentration of regionally,...

, where it remains to this day.

Stopes and her fellow family planning pioneers around the globe, like Dora Russell
Dora Russell
Dora Black, Lady Russell was a British author, a feminist and socialist campaigner, and the second wife of the eminent philosopher Bertrand Russell....

, played a major role in breaking down taboo
A taboo is a strong social prohibition relating to any area of human activity or social custom that is sacred and or forbidden based on moral judgment, religious beliefs and or scientific consensus. Breaking the taboo is usually considered objectionable or abhorrent by society...

s about sex and increasing knowledge, pleasure and improved reproductive health. In 1930 the National Birth Control Council was formed.

Advocacy of eugenics

Stopes was a prominent campaigner for the implementation of policies inspired by eugenics
Eugenics is the "applied science or the bio-social movement which advocates the use of practices aimed at improving the genetic composition of a population", usually referring to human populations. The origins of the concept of eugenics began with certain interpretations of Mendelian inheritance,...

, then not a discredited science. In her Radiant Motherhood (1920) she called for the "sterilisation of those totally unfit for parenthood [to] be made an immediate possibility, indeed made compulsory."

She contributed a chapter manifesto to The Control of Parenthood (1920), comprising a sort of manifesto for her circle of Eugenicists, arguing for a "utopia" to be achieved through "racial purification":
Those who are grown up in the present active generations, the matured and hardened, with all their weaknesses and flaws, cannot do very much, though they may do something with themselves. They can, however, study the conditions under which they came into being, discover where lie the chief sources of defect, and eliminate those sources of defect from the coming generation so as to remove from those who are still to be born the needless burdens the race has carried.

However, in this tract, she argues that the leading causes of "racial degeneration" are "overcrowding" and sexually transmitted disease (ibid, p. 211). It concludes somewhat vaguely, that racial consciousness needs to be increased so that, "women of all classes [may] have the fear and dread of undesired maternity removed from them ..." to usher in the promised utopia, described throughout. (ibid, p. 221)

She also bemoaned the abolition of child labour for the lower classes:

"Crushed by the burden of taxation which they have not the resources to meet and to provide for children also: crushed by the national cost of the too numerous children of those who do not contribute to the public funds by taxation, yet who recklessly bring forth from an inferior stock individuals who are not self-supporting, the middle and superior artisan classes have, without perceiving it, come almost to take the position of that ancient slave population."

In 1935 Stopes attended the International Congress for Population Science in Berlin
Berlin is the capital city of Germany and is one of the 16 states of Germany. With a population of 3.45 million people, Berlin is Germany's largest city. It is the second most populous city proper and the seventh most populous urban area in the European Union...

, held under the Nazi regime. She was more than once accused of being anti-Semitic by other pioneers of the birth control movement such as Havelock Ellis
Havelock Ellis
Henry Havelock Ellis, known as Havelock Ellis , was a British physician and psychologist, writer, and social reformer who studied human sexuality. He was co-author of the first medical textbook in English on homosexuality in 1897, and also published works on a variety of sexual practices and...


As came to public attention in years later, she was a personal as well as political follower of Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party , commonly referred to as the Nazi Party). He was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and head of state from 1934 to 1945...


“Dear Herr Hitler, Love is the greatest thing in the world: so will you accept from me these (poems) that you may allow the young people of your nation to have them?” (letter from Marie Stopes to Hitler, August 1939

After her son Harry married a myopic
Myopia , "shortsightedness" ) is a refractive defect of the eye in which collimated light produces image focus in front of the retina under conditions of accommodation. In simpler terms, myopia is a condition of the eye where the light that comes in does not directly focus on the retina but in...

 woman, Stopes cut him out of her will. The daughter-in-law—Mary Eyre Wallis, later Mary Stopes-Roe—was the daughter of the noted engineer Barnes Wallis
Barnes Wallis
Sir Barnes Neville Wallis, CBE FRS, RDI, FRAeS , was an English scientist, engineer and inventor. He is best known for inventing the bouncing bomb used by the RAF in Operation Chastise to attack the dams of the Ruhr Valley during World War II...

. Stopes reasoned that prospective grandchildren might inherit the condition.

Supporters of Stopes including Family Planning NSW (formerly the Racial Hygiene Association of New South Wales
Racial Hygiene Association of New South Wales
The Racial Hygiene Association of New South Wales was an Australian based association founded in 1926 by Lillie Goodisson and Ruby Rich of the Women's Reform League. The association was originally known as the Racial Improvement Society until 1928...

) generally concede that she made such remarks, but argue that they should be read in their historical context; i.e. that eugenics
Eugenics is the "applied science or the bio-social movement which advocates the use of practices aimed at improving the genetic composition of a population", usually referring to human populations. The origins of the concept of eugenics began with certain interpretations of Mendelian inheritance,...

 was more politically correct than 'family planning' at the time.

Following the death of Marie Stopes in 1958, a large part of her personal fortune went to the Eugenics Society.

Personal life

Stopes had a serious relationship with Japanese botanist Kenjiro Fujii (or Fugii), whom she met at the University of Munich in 1904 whilst researching her Ph.D. It was so serious that, in 1907, during her 1904-1910 tenure at Manchester University, she went to be with him in Japan, but the affair ended. In 1911 Stopes married Canadian geneticist Reginald Ruggles Gates
Reginald Ruggles Gates
Reginald Ruggles Gates , was a Canadian born anthropologist, botanist, and geneticist. He did most of his work in the United Kingdom and the United States. He received his Bachelor of Science from McGill University with further education in Chicago and London. He did botanical work in Missouri in...

. She later claimed that the marriage was never consummated. Her marriage to Gates was annulled
Annulment is a legal procedure for declaring a marriage null and void. Unlike divorce, it is usually retroactive, meaning that an annulled marriage is considered to be invalid from the beginning almost as if it had never taken place...

 in 1914.

In 1918 she married the financial backer of her most famous work, Married Love: A New Contribution to the Solution of the Sex Difficulties
Married Love
Married Love or Love in Marriage is a book written by Dr. Marie Carmichael Stopes, first published in March 1918 by a small publisher, after many other larger publishers turned her down because of the content. It rapidly sold out, and was in its sixth printing within a fortnight.The US Customs...

, Humphrey Verdon Roe, brother of Alliott Verdon Roe
Alliott Verdon Roe
Sir Edwin Alliott Verdon Roe OBE, FRAeS was a pioneer English pilot and aircraft manufacturer, and founder in 1910 of the Avro company...

. Their son, the philosopher Harry Stopes-Roe
Harry Stopes-Roe
Dr. Harry Stopes-Roe is a British philosopher and humanist. He is a Vice-President of the British Humanist Association.He is the son of Marie Stopes, the women's rights and family planning pioneer, and Humphrey Verdon-Roe. He started his career as a physicist, and received a BSc and MSc in...

, was born in 1924.

Stopes died at her home in Dorking
Dorking is a historic market town at the foot of the North Downs approximately south of London, in Surrey, England.- History and development :...

, Surrey, UK from breast cancer
Breast cancer
Breast cancer is cancer originating from breast tissue, most commonly from the inner lining of milk ducts or the lobules that supply the ducts with milk. Cancers originating from ducts are known as ductal carcinomas; those originating from lobules are known as lobular carcinomas...


The modern Marie Stopes International organisation

From the 1920s onward, Marie Stopes gradually built up a small network of clinics that were initially very successful, but by the early 1970s were in financial difficulties. In 1975 the clinics went into voluntary receivership. The modern organisation that bears Marie Stopes' name was established a year later as an international Non-Governmental Organisation working on Sexual and Reproductive Health. The Marie Stopes International
Marie Stopes International
Marie Stopes International is an International Non-Governmental Organisation working on Sexual and Reproductive Health with headquarters in London, UK. It is named after Marie Stopes, a Scottish author, campaigner for eugenics, women's rights, and a pioneer in the field of family planning...

 global partnership took over responsibility for the main clinic, and in 1978 it began its work overseas in New Delhi
New Delhi
New Delhi is the capital city of India. It serves as the centre of the Government of India and the Government of the National Capital Territory of Delhi. New Delhi is situated within the metropolis of Delhi. It is one of the nine districts of Delhi Union Territory. The total area of the city is...

. Since then the organisation has grown steadily and today the MSI works in over 40 countries, has 452 clinics worldwide and has offices in London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

, Brussels
Brussels , officially the Brussels Region or Brussels-Capital Region , is the capital of Belgium and the de facto capital of the European Union...

, Melbourne
Melbourne is the capital and most populous city in the state of Victoria, and the second most populous city in Australia. The Melbourne City Centre is the hub of the greater metropolitan area and the Census statistical division—of which "Melbourne" is the common name. As of June 2009, the greater...

 and USA.

In 2006 alone, the organisation provided services to 4.6 million clients and by 2010 aims to protect 20 million couples from unplanned pregnancies and unsafe abortion.

Portland Museum

Marie Stopes founded Portland Museum, Dorset
Portland Museum, Dorset
Portland Museum is a local museum on the Isle of Portland, located on the Jurassic Coast in Dorset, southern England. It is at the southern end of the village of Easton, close to Church Ope Cove.The museum was founded by Marie Stopes and opened in 1930...

 on the Isle of Portland
Isle of Portland
The Isle of Portland is a limestone tied island, long by wide, in the English Channel. Portland is south of the resort of Weymouth, forming the southernmost point of the county of Dorset, England. A tombolo over which runs the A354 road connects it to Chesil Beach and the mainland. Portland and...

, which opened in 1930, and acted as the museum's curator. The cottage housing the museum was an inspiration behind The Well-Beloved
The Well-Beloved
The Well-Beloved is a novel by Thomas Hardy, published in 1897.The main setting of the novel was the Isle of Slingers, a caricature of the Isle of Portland in Dorset, southern England....

, a novel by Thomas Hardy
Thomas Hardy
Thomas Hardy, OM was an English novelist and poet. While his works typically belong to the Naturalism movement, several poems display elements of the previous Romantic and Enlightenment periods of literature, such as his fascination with the supernatural.While he regarded himself primarily as a...

, who was a friend of Marie Stopes.

See also

  • Suffragette
    "Suffragette" is a term coined by the Daily Mail newspaper as a derogatory label for members of the late 19th and early 20th century movement for women's suffrage in the United Kingdom, in particular members of the Women's Social and Political Union...

  • Social hygiene movement
  • Marie Stopes International
    Marie Stopes International
    Marie Stopes International is an International Non-Governmental Organisation working on Sexual and Reproductive Health with headquarters in London, UK. It is named after Marie Stopes, a Scottish author, campaigner for eugenics, women's rights, and a pioneer in the field of family planning...

  • Abortion debate
    Abortion debate
    The abortion debate refers to discussion and controversy surrounding the moral and legal status of abortion. The two main groups involved in the abortion debate are the self-described "pro-choice" movement and the "pro-life" movement...

External links