The Margaret Sanger Papers

Stopes, Marie Carmichael (1880-1958)

Scottish-born sexual reformer and birth control advocate. Married geneticist Reginald R. Gates (1911, marriage annulled 1916); married Humphrey Verdon Roe (1918), one son. Daughter of feminist Charlotte Carmichael, Stopes was educated in London and Munich and in 1904 became the first woman to receive a doctorate in botany. After doing research on fossil plants in Japan in 1908-09, she returned to England and married. Stopes' interest in sex education was born when she declared that after three years, her marriage had not been consummated. The marriage was annulled and Stopes began research on sex and reproduction that culminated in the publication of her best-selling advice book, Married Love (1918) which included information on birth control. The book was a best seller and Stopes became an instant expert in sexual matters. Margaret Sanger met Stopes in London in 1915 when she gave a lecture on birth control to the Fabian Society. Claiming she encouraged Stopes to include a mention birth control in Married Love, Sanger and Stopes became friends. In 1915, Stopes organized a petition in support of Sanger signed by prominent British artists and intellectuals which was sent to President Wilson. Sanger, in turn, helped Stopes find an American publisher (William J. Robinson's Critic & Guide) for Married Love. By 1920, however, the friendship had become strained. When Stopes published her next book, Wise Parenthood, in 1919 she became the most well-known birth control advocate in England and was not anxious to share the spotlight with Sanger, who planned to open the first birth control clinic in England. Instead, Stopes challenged the medical community and the Catholic church by opening the Mothers' Clinic in London in 1921 and, with her second husband, founded the Society for Constructive Birth Control and Racial Progress. Sanger and Stopes became permanently estranged in 1921 when Stopes appeared at a meeting held by the Voluntary Parenthood League run by Sanger's most notable American rival in the birth control movement, Mary Ware Dennett. In 1923 Stopes sued Dr. Halliday Sutherland for libelling her in his work, The Case Against Birth Control. The subsequent trial provided a national forum on birth control. Though initially defeated, Stopes won an appeal, though it was later overturned in favor of Halliday in the House of Lords. Stopes continued to publish books on marriage, sex, and birth control, as well as The Birth Control News. In 1930 she was instrumental in publicizing the Ministry of Health's Memorandum 153 which allowed birth control information to be provided at state-run maternity and child welfare centers. Stopes joined the National Birth Control Council, an association of British clinics (later renamed the Family Planning Association), but resigned by 1933. Stopes played an increasingly peripheral role in the post-war birth control movement, devoting much of her time to writing plays and poetry.
    Copyright to documents written by Marie Stopes must be secured from: The British Library, Manuscript Collections, Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3DG, U.K.
References: Ruth Hall, Passionate Crusader: The Life of Marie Stopes (1977); June Rose, Marie Stopes and the Sexual Revolution (1992); Margaret Sanger, An Autobiography (1938).