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Marie Stopes: botany and birth control

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: (Published 29 October 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e7208

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Re: Marie Stopes: botany and birth control

Wendy Moore, though noting that Marie Stopes was a member of the Eugenics society and had some ‘decidedly odd views’ arguably underplays the role of Stopes’ views on eugenics as a central and driving force in her life.

Stopes wrote of her opposition to her son, Harry’s choice of wife, Mary Wallis, because

‘The essential is health in a potential mother and she has an inherited disease of the eyes which not only makes her wear hideous glasses so that it is horrid to look at her, but the awful curse will carry on and I have the horror of our line being so contaminated and little children with the misery of glasses ... Mary and Harry are quite callous about both the wrong to their children, the wrong to my family and the eugenic crime.’ (1)

Stopes refused to attend her son’s wedding and even cut him out of her will as a result of his “callousness” in going through with the marriage.

Stopes founded the ‘Society for Birth Control and Racial Progress’ in 1921.(2) This points to the very close relationship between birth control/family planning and Stopes’ utopian (and eugenic!) vision to create a superior race.

She described herself as ‘God’s prophet’(3) for this cause. Her utopian vision was that birth control would lead the human race ‘into the promised land...’ so that ‘...people must be transformed ... into greater perfection of physical, mental and spiritual beauty.’ (4)

Her aim was to eliminate the
‘... vast and ever increasing stock of degenerate, feeble-minded, and unbalanced ... These populate most rapidly; these tend proportionately to increase; and these are like the parasite upon the healthy tree sapping out its vitality. These produce less than they consume, .... [and are] ever weakening the human stock.’(5)

She was adamant that ‘... the only hope for the race is the conscious elimination of all diseased and overcrowded lives before their conception…’ (6)

It is therefore no coincidence that Stopes opened her first family planning clinic ‘in a poor area of North London’ as Moore notes.

However, the following is even more sinister. She proclaims that

‘It is the urgent duty of the community to make parenthood impossible for those whose mental and physical condition [is such that] ... there is ... a certainty that their offspring must be physically and mentally tainted, if not utterly permeated by disease. (7)

Not surprisingly, her answer to the problem of ‘the miserable, the degenerate, ..., who when reproducing multiply the misery and evil of the world...’(8) is sterilisation: She called for ‘sterilisation of those totally unfit for parenthood (to be) made ... compulsory .’(9)

If these are the kind of ‘decidedly odd views’ Moore has in mind perhaps they do put Stopes’ work in a quite different light to the rose-coloured glow Moore shines on it?

1. Quoted in Reist MT. Defiant Birth: Women who resist medical eugenics. 2006. p 40f.
2. Marie C Stopes. Wise Parenthood, G P Putnam’s Sons; 8th edition, 1922; introduction, p.10.
3. Marie C Stopes. Radiant Motherhood. GP Putnam’s Sons, New York and London 1921p. 249.
4. Marie C Stopes. Section on ‘Imperial and Racial Aspects’ in: Thomson JA, Hill L, Inge D et al. The Control of Parenthood. G P Putnam’s Sons. 1920; p.207-22.
5. Radiant Motherhood. p 245.
6. The Control of Parenthood
7. Radiant Motherhood, p 237.
8. Radiant Motherhood, p 247.
9. Radiant Motherhood; p. 249.

Competing interests: No competing interests

06 November 2012
DR HC Raabe
General Practice
Partington Central Surgery, Partington, Manchester, M31 4FL