To Marie Stopes, palaeobotanist, women's rights campaigner, eugenicist. From Helen Pownall.


Dear Marie Stopes

You fascinate me, and conflict me. Your work was amazing - openly talking and writing about birth control, about how women could take control of their fertility so their lives weren’t taken over by the roller coaster of pregnancy constantly (a very dangerous roller coaster at that, given the times you were alive. But of course you know that - your child dying in labour at the hands of male doctors who bungled the birth), about how safe sex benefited not just women but society. You openly challenged a doctor who wrote against you - slandered you - in court and won. You divorced your first husband, and refused to take your second husband’s name - kinda a big deal in 1918. You did so much for women’s autonomy over their own fertility and, by association, their lives - I can’t imagine not being able to do this, and your work paved the way - thank you.

But you also held views that I find horrible - you only worked with middle class women due to your eugenics beliefs - you didn’t think “C3” women (poor working class) should reproduce. You wrote about sterilisation for ‘unfit’ mothers, you scare-mongered about ‘racial denigration’. Marie, I know you’d probably be horrified with today’s social norms but I’m glad that only some of your thinking and theories come through.

All said, despite your views that I find unpleasant, you made a huge impact on sexual and reproductive rights and for that I thank you. I thank you for talking about women’s bodies not as property, but as living beings who deserve autonomy and respect.


About Marie Stopes

palaeobotanist, women's rights campaigner, eugenicist. Born 1880, died 1958. More information about Marie Stopes.

Received June 11, 2016.
Published September 2, 2016.