History,  Thought-provoking

How do you solve a problem like Marie?

Joe Cook opens the curtain of history and discovers some alarming truths about the “Woman of the Millennium”. 

There was once a woman called Marie who believed in equal rights and opportunities for women. Heads nod in virtuous approval. Many of Marie’s other opinions, however, are highly controversial. For instance, she supported eugenics. Grimaces and disapproving in-takes of breath all round.  

The Marie in question was Marie Stopes, who died aged 77 in 1958 after a life-time of campaigning for all sorts of things, including women’s rights.  

Yet she showed an unhealthy interest in the sterilisation of those she deemed unworthy of having children. In one of her books, called Radiant Motherhood, she looked forward to a time “when bills are passed to ensure the sterility of the hopelessly rotten and racially diseased”. 

This was around the year 1920. In the same year, she contributed to a book called The Control of Parenthood; here she advocated the “compulsory sterilisation of the insane, feeble-minded… revolutionaries… half-castes [sic]”. 

Regarding another controversial issue, that of abortion, Marie’s views seemed to waver. Publicly, she opposed it, helping to prosecute abortionists, for example, and accusing Avro Manhattan of ‘murdering’ an unborn child. However, in a letter in 1919, she outlined in detail a method for the very thing she had deemed murderous. So we’re left with a confusing trail of evidence. 

Also confusing was her affection for Adolf Hitler.

She was at the Nazi-sponsored International Congress for Population Science in Berlin with him in 1935, and wrote him a letter four years later. “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?” 

By the word ‘love’, she was presumably referring to that transitory feeling towards a new romantic interest, but which doesn’t extend further than the idolised object – certainly not to those deemed to be a ‘curse’ on society: “Catholics and Prussians, The Jews and the Russians, All are a curse, Or something worse… 

These lines from a poem of Marie’s written in 1942, clearly in support of Nazi ideology amidst the horrors of the holocaust, can only fill the modern reader with horror. 

Yet decades after her death, Marie was to be voted Woman of the Millennium by readers of the British national newspaper The Guardian. One might have thought that Guardian readers, of all people, might have chosen someone with a more politically-correct track-record! Perhaps they were misinformed. 

Stopes’ birth-control clinics were taken on by what has now become a worldwide abortion organisation – Marie Stopes International (MSI). The MSI website doesn’t happen to mention Marie’s views on eugenics or abortion. Perhaps they fear these details might put people off terminating their pregnancies (or in Marie’s own terminology, ‘murdering’ their infants) and lead to a loss of income for the organisation.  

Given that reputation is of huge importance when it comes to maintaining trust, many people might be confused as to why MSI has held onto its original name throughout the decades. Is it hoping that given enough time the facts about Marie will disappear?

Whether or not taxpayers are happy to fund abortion, are they happy to fund – via the NHS – a chain of clinics named after Marie Stopes?

One would have thought that Pro-Choice supporters, embarrassed by Marie’s connections to eugenics and the like, might vote in favour of MSI changing its name, and also request a re-vote regarding Woman of the Millennium.  

The removal of an offensive name would be in keeping with a recent decision of Planned Parenthood in the States, who have finally realised that officially holding onto the name of their pro-eugenics founder, Margaret Sanger, is not the best way of advertising their ‘services’. (It’s surely not insignificant that Marie had been influenced by Margaret, having sought her advice in 1913). 

Some zealous pro-lifers, on the other hand, given the lack of statues to topple, might desire the toppling of buildings bearing Marie Stopes’ name.  

Personally, I would hope for more than a mere toppling of buildings, or a renaming ceremony. My hope is for a miracle. I hope for the miraculous transformation of Marie’s buildings, that they might become places of warmth, where mothers and babies in crisis, from all kinds of backgrounds and abilities (or disabilities), are given the support they need to live life to the full.  

Many charities around the world are already doing this, and would be the inspiration for such a turnaround, with their beautiful examples of true compassion. Marie’s old buildings could then be placed under the aegis of a more suitable patroness: Mary, Mother of Jesus. It was the teenager of Nazareth, after all, whose crisis pregnancy led to immense suffering for herself and others, but also to the transformation of the world. 

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After studying English at Bristol, Joe moved to London and worked in a community for several years, living alongside people with disabilities. For the last four years, Joe has been teaching English at The Cedars secondary school in South Croydon. He is particularly interested in the importance of cultural knowledge, and in the links between History, Theology and Literature.


  • Mark H Sutherland

    Interesting article.

    The problem is that Stopes’ advocacy of contraception was founded on her eugenic beliefs. They are inseparable; you cannot have the one without the other.

    So while Stopes’ Holloway Mothers’ Clinic did bring knowledge of contraceptives to poor and working class women, it was part of her wider campaign to achieve: “Not a reduction in the total birth rate, but reduction of the birth rate at the wrong end of the social scale and increase of the birth rate at the right end of the social scale.” (the quote is taken from Stopes’ testimony to the High Court on day 2 of the Stopes v Sutherland libel trial).

    It was for this reason that she made contraceptives readily available to the women who wanted them, while she campaigned for laws to compulsorily sterilize the women (and men) who did not.

    I don’t think that the situation is going to change anytime soon. For a start, there are interests (such as academic reputations or institutions bearing Stopes’ name, etc.) that depend on maintaining the status quo. These interests are unlikely to agitate to change the false narrative. Further, it is possible that researchers feel pressured to adhere to the party line, or to be careful about where they publish their dissenting views. I formed this view when I read a 1992 interview with June Rose (author of “Marie Stopes and the Sexual Revolution”) in which she said:
    “What the author reveals about her subject will cause a great deal of controversy, possibly exposing the biographer to ridicule, perhaps even cries of betrayal. “I am very apprehensive about the book’s reception”.
    The interviewer, Cal McCrystal, recorded that Rose “… does not talk easily about herself and is somewhat fearful of being known as the woman who brought Marie Stopes crashing from her pedestal.” (See: https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/notebook-the-monster-and-the-master-race-she-altered-womens-lives-for-ever-but-a-new-book-reveals-1541975.html)

    My interest in this topic arose because my grandfather, Dr Halliday Sutherland, has been accused of all sorts of terrible things for opposing Stopes. I later learned the truth and have I have written about this at hallidaysutherland.com and in my book “Exterminating Poverty: The true story about the eugenic plan to get rid of the poor and the Scottish doctor who fought against it.” I am not suggesting you buy a copy because there is a great deal of information in the free preview available on Amazon.

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