Stopes, the daughter of Henry Stopes and Charlotte Carmichael,
was born in Edinburgh in 1880. Charlotte, the daughter of the
artist, J. F. Carmichael, was the first woman in Scotland to obtain
a university certificate. At university Charlotte was not allowed
to attend lectures and although she took the same examinations
as the male students, because she was a woman she was awarded
a certificate rather than a degree. Charlotte's university experiences
turned her into a passionate feminist and made sure her daughter
was fully aware of the arguments for women's suffrage.
Stopes was a distinguished scientist and Marie shared her father's
interest in this subject. At the age of eighteen, Marie won a
science scholarship at University College, London. Marie was a
talented and committed student and in 1901 achieved a double first
in botany. She continued her studies and in 1905 she obtained
her DSc and became Britain's youngest doctor of Science.
very involved in her academic work, Marie Stopes was also interested
in politics. Like her mother she supported the women's suffrage
campaign but and eventually joined the Women's Freedom League.
However, she was never arrested or sent to prison for her beliefs.
several unsuccessful love affairs, Marie married Reginald Gates
in 1911. Unlike Marie, Reginald held traditional views of how
women should behave. He strongly opposed her membership of the
Women's Freedom League. After several years of conflict Marie
obtained a divorce from her husband in 1916.
the First World War Marie began writing a book about feminism
and marriage. In her book Married Life, Marie argued that marriage
should be an equal relationship between husband and wife. However,
she had great difficulty finding a publisher. Walter Blackie of
Blackie & Son rejected her manuscript with the words: "The
theme does not please me. I think there is far too much talking
and writing about these things already
Don't you think you
should wait publication until after the war? There will be few
enough men for the girls to marry; and a book like this would
frighten off the few." Blackie objected to passages such
as, "far too often, marriage puts an end to women's intellectual
life. Marriage can never reach its full stature until women possess
as much intellectual freedom and freedom of opportunity within
it as do their partners."
was not until, March 1918, that Marie Stopes found a small company
that was willing to take the risk of publishing Married Love.
The book was an immediate success, selling 2,000 copies within
a fortnight and by the end of the year had been reprinted six
times. Married Love was also published in America but the courts
declared the book was obscene and it was promptly banned.
next book was about birth-control. She had become interested in
this subject after meeting Margaret Sanger, a birth-control campaigner
from America. Sanger had been converted to socialism, while working
as a nurse in the slums of New York. She observed that many women
died of self-induced abortions or raised large families in poverty.
Sanger began publishing her own newspaper where she argued in
favour of birth-control and abortion. The main theme of her articles
was that "no woman can call herself free who doesn't own
and control her own body." After advice about birth-control
appeared in her newspaper in 1915, she was charged with publishing
an "obscene and lewd article". Margaret Sanger fled
to Britain and it was while she was in London she met Marie Stopes.
hearing Margaret Sanger's story Marie decided to start a birth-control
campaign in Britain. She knew it would be dangerous as several
people in Britain, including Richard Carlile, Charles Bradlaugh
and Annie Besant, had been sent to prison for advocating birth-control.
1918 Stopes wrote a concise guide to contraception called Wise
Parenthood. Marie Stopes' book upset the leaders of the Church
of England who believed it was wrong to advocate the use of birth
control. Roman Catholics were especially angry, as the Pope had
made it clear that he condemned all forms of contraception. Despite
this opposition, Marie continued her campaign and in 1921 founded
the Society for Constructive Birth Control. With financial help
from her rich second husband, Humphrey Roe, Marie also opened
the first of her birth-control clinics in Holloway, North London
on 17th March 1921.
Marie Stopes was not prosecuted, Guy and Rose Aldred, who published
a pamphlet written by Margaret Sanger, were found guilty of selling
an obscene publication. Many Roman Catholics believed that Marie
should also be charged with an offence. Halide Southland wrote
in an article in The Daily Express where he called for her to
be sent to prison.
also wrote a book, Birth Control, where he accused Marie Stopes
of writing obscene books. Stopes sued him for libel and although
she initially won the case, later the decision was overturned
by the House of Lords.
Stopes was involved in several other crusades during her life.
This included an attempt to stop education authorities from sacking
married women teachers. Marie also become involved in the campaign
to persuade the Inland Revenue to tax husbands and wives separately.
spent the rest of her life campaigning for the causes she believed
in. Much of her time was spent writing articles for her newspaper
Birth Control News. Marie also wrote novels and poetry. This included
Love's Creation (1928) and Love Songs for Young Lovers (1938).
Marie Stopes died in 1958.
To Scottish Physicians