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Marie Stopes (1880-1958)

Marie Stopes was born into a middle-class Victorian family. She became a leading 20th-century campaigner for women’s rights and birth control. She was highly controversial and divisive, but her influence on sexual and reproductive health remains strong over 50 years after her death.

Stopes was educated as a scientist. She gained public attention in 1918 with the publication of her first book, Married Love. The book was a sensation because it discussed sexuality and birth control within a marriage of equal partners. It was condemned by the church, press and medical establishment. However, it sold out rapidly. Stopes was inundated with letters from women wanting further advice. More books followed, and in 1921 Stopes provided practical help by opening the first family planning clinic in North London. It was a free service, but only for married women.

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Stopes also passionately advocated eugenics. She called for compulsory sterilisation of those deemed unfit for parenthood. Her concerns about passing on ‘inferior’ traits saw her disinherit her son when he married a woman who had poor eyesight.

The charity Marie Stopes International (MSI) was established in the 1970s to continue Stopes’s family planning work. It is now the leading provider of sexual and reproductive health care in the UK, and there are numerous MSI clinics worldwide. Services include treatments and advice on contraception, pregnancy testing, abortion and sterilisation.

 

Related links

Techniques and Technologies:

Bibliography

M Stopes and L A Hall (ed.), Birth Control and Other Writings (Bristol: Thoemmes Press, 2000)

J Rose, Marie Stopes and the Sexual Revolution (London: Faber and Faber, 1992)

Glossary:

Eugenics

The study of human improvement by selective breeding, founded in the 1800s by English scientist Sir Francis Galton. Widely discredited after its use by the Nazi regime.