Marie Stopes

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Marie Stopes in 1904
Blue plaque commemorating Marie Stopes at the University of Manchester

Marie Carmichael Stopes (15 October 1880 in Edinburgh – 2 October 1958 in Dorking) was a British palaeobotanist, author and campaigner for birth control.

Stopes' newsletter Birth Control News, her book Married Love, and her organisation Marie Stopes International,[1] were hugely important in Britain and throughout the British Empire. She was the founder of British family planning, and fought many battles in print with those whose opinions differed from hers.

Education[change | edit source]

Stopes was one of the most highly educated women of her time. Her parents, who were both well educated, kept her away from school until she was twelve.[2] She went to University College London in 1900, and graduated in 1902 with double honours in Botany and Geology. She was awarded a year's scholarship for research.

Stopes next went to the University of Munich, where she got a PhD in palaeobotany (fossil plants). She took the viva voce in German.[2][3] In 1905 she became DSc (Doctor of Science) of the University of London.[4] She was then the youngest holder of the Doctor of Science degree in England.[2]

Career[change | edit source]

Botany[change | edit source]

Stopes published about 100 papers and books on botany, mostly on fossil plants.[2] She was expert on fossil ferns, cycads and gymnosperms.

She held a lecturership in palaeobotany at the University of Manchester from 1904 to 1907; she was first female academic of that university.[2]p12 In 1910, at the age of 30, she became a Fellow of University College London. She had reached the top of the tree. Not only was she a palaeobotanist, but she was an expert on the botany of the coal measures which were laid down in the Pennsylvanian (Upper Carboniferous). Coal was the most vital source of energy at that time.

Stopes continued to publish on botany until 1935, but by about 1912 her interests began to change because of problems in her private life.

Birth control and female health[change | edit source]

After a disastrous marriage, Stopes became aware of how ignorant many people were about sex, and what troubles women had inside marriage. Her goals were: improved happiness through better knowledge, and the protection of female health by controlling the pregnancies which naturally occurred in marriage.

Stopes' first book on family planning, Married Love: a new contribution to the solution of the sex difficulties, 1918, ran to 28 editions and over 150 reprints. It was translated into 14 languages, and braille. The English-language version sold over a million copies, and made her rich.

The social effects of the book were tremendous. No-one can say why social changes take place, yet attitudes to sex and marriage certainly changed during her life. Between the first edition of her book and the last, the women of the Europe and North America changed from almost no birth control to most using birth control.[5] This was despite the opposition of the Catholic Church and other forces.

Also, there has been a continuous improvement in knowledge about sex and in medical attention to female needs in relation to birth.[6] The availability of knowledge on all subjects relating to personal life has continued to improve.

Later in 1918 Stopes published a second book, Wise Parenthood: a sequel. This ran to 25 editions and many reprints. in 1919 came A letter to working mothers on how to have healthy children and avoid weakening pregnancies. The stream of books and pamphlets continued to the end of her life.

The Marie Stopes Clinic[change | edit source]

Stopes opened the UK's first family planning clinic at 61, Marlborough Road, Holloway, North London on 17 March 1921. In 1925 the Mothers' Clinic moved to Central London, where it remains to this day.[7]

The parent body of Marie Stopes Clinics round the world is now called Marie Stopes International.[8] It is especially strong in Bangladesh and Pakistan.

Personal life[change | edit source]

Stopes had a relationship with Japanese botanist Kenjiro Fujii (or Fugii). They met at the University of Munich in 1904 whilst she researched her Ph.D. It was serious, and in 1907 she went to be with him in Japan. However, the affair ended there.

In 1911 Stopes married Canadian botanist and geneticist Reginald Ruggles Gates. It was a disaster which changed her life. She got a divorce on the grounds that the marriage was never consummated.[9] Her marriage to Gates was annulled in 1914.

In 1918 she married Humphrey Verdon Roe.[10] He was the financial backer of her most famous work, Married Love.

Stopes died at her home in Dorking, Surrey, UK from breast cancer.

References[change | edit source]

  1. Marie Stopes International
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Eaton, Peter and Warnick Marilyn 1977. Marie Stopes: a checklist of her writings. Croom Helm, London; Introduction.
  3. Viva voce was the questioning of the candidate about her thesis.
  4. Traditionally, the doctorates are the highest degrees awarded by British universities. Apart from DSc, there are the D.Litt (Doctor of Literature, or more generally, the Humanities); D.D (Doctor of Divinity) and MD (Doctor of Medicine). PhDs were not awarded by British universities until later.
  5. Kinsy, Alfred et al. 1953. Sexual behavior in the human female. Saunders, Philadelphia. ISBN 978-0-253-33411-4
  6. Hite, Shere 1976. The Hite Report, on female sexuality.
  7. Marie Stopes UK site
  8. Marie Stopes International
  9. Means they never had sexual intercourse.
  10. Morpurgo J.E. 1972. Barnes Wallis, a biography. Longman, London.