The Margaret Sanger Papers


How-Martyn, Edith (1875-1954)

British suffragist and birth control advocate. Married Herbert Martyn in 1899. A university graduate with a degree in economics, Edith How-Martyn became a lecturer in mathematics before devoting herself full-time in feminist causes. An ardent suffragist, she joined the militant Women's Social & Political Union (WPSU) and in 1906 was sent to prison for giving a suffrage speech in the lobby of the House of Commons. In 1907, after conflicts with the Pankhursts, How-Martyn helped form the rival Women's Freedom League. Unlike many suffrage advocates, How-Martyn was an early advocate of birth control and although she did not accept its conservative economic rationale, with her husband she joined the Malthusian League in 1910. She met Margaret Sanger in June of 1915 after hearing the American fugitive give a lecture on birth control in London and soon became a friend and collaborator. Like Sanger and Marie Stopes, How-Martyn espoused a broader context for supporting birth control, one that focused as much on women's sexual fulfillment as on general economic considerations. How-Martyn ran unsuccessfully for Parliament, but in 1918 was elected to the Middlesex County Council. In 1919 she founded the Suffrage Fellowship, serving as president until her death. How-Martyn helped Sanger organize the 1927 World Population Conference in Geneva and served as director of Sanger's Birth Control International Information Centre from 1929 until its demise in 1937. In that capacity, she travelled with Sanger to India and the Far East in 1935-6. How-Martyn co-authored The Birth Control Movement in England (1930) with Mary Breed and Around the World For Birth Control with Margaret Sanger (1937). She and her husband emigrated to Australia in 1939.
References: "Edith How Martyn," Biographical Dictionary of British Feminists, Vol. 2; Rosanna Ledbetter, A History of the Malthusian League, 1877-1927 (1976); and Richard Allen Soloway, Birth Control and the Population Question in England, 1877-1930 (1982).