Marie Stopes and Her Birth Control Movement in Britain in 1913-1943

Subject: Healthcare Research
Pages: 7
Words: 2022
Reading time:
8 min
Study level: College


The campaigns directed at advancing the state of birth control science are a significant topic of historical research. The work of Marie Stopes focused on improving the methods of birth prevention, as well as her contributions to the birth control movement, are an essential part of the historical and medicinal fields in the years from 1913 to 1943. Stopes’ accomplishments vary significantly, from theoretical writings to the establishment of clinical institutions (Debenham, 2018). The environment of that time is a vital part of her achievements, as it envelopes such spheres of life as social dilemmas, theoretical visions, and previous incidents related to this subject.

Justification of Research and Summary

The recent study provides an insight into the topic of birth prevention methods implemented in 20th century Britain. A clear understanding of tools utilized in this period is essential for both historical and clinical fields. First of all, knowledge of this subject entails the history of British society. Evaluating the main beliefs regarding birth control prevalent among the community of that time provides information about the issues encountered by various social classes and the society’s attitudes towards managing birth processes. Secondly, it is necessary to obtain data connected to the efficiency of the clinical professionals’ procedures. Factual information about positive or negative outcomes of these processes can largely contribute to the development of contemporary birth prevention methods.

It is imperative to outline the main findings of the recent study. It was discovered that Stopes’ contribution to the management of birth procedures was extremely beneficial. Even though some scholars argued that the woman’s activities were mostly inconsistent and damaging, most clinical professionals agree that her actions were highly productive and positively influenced the British medical field. The present research describes the central origins of the birth control movement that transpired in Britain between 1913 and 1943, outlining the main social dilemmas: poverty and lack of reproduction learning. Examination of the theoretical and practical roots of Stopes’ work, such as Malthusianism and Margaret Sanger’s experience, is also conducted.

The Historical Origins of the Birth Control Movement in Britain at the Beginning of the 20th Century

The birth control movement in Great Britain has originated due to various social and situational issues. One of the pertinent difficulties at the beginning of the 20th century was poverty, caused by the consequences of devastating wars and the industrial revolution (Langer, 1975). Colossal numbers of British citizens were suffering from the lack of necessary living resources, a problem reported by various scholars of that age (Langer, 1975). Another complication was the Industrial Revolution’s rapid technological achievements, which uncovered multiple social problems, from resistance to change to underdeveloped lower classes (Mayo, 2014). Altogether, Britain was facing a substantial population overflow, which could not be contained by the birth control methods available.

Various scholars suggested the doctrines served as the theoretical basis for the early 20th century birth prevention procedures. The most influential approach was proposed by Thomas Malthus, who argued that the leading cause of the societal issues was the lack of education available to the working classes (Langer, 1975). Malthus believed that excessive birth rates were to be lowered to gain economic stability1. Achievement of such results was deemed possible by teaching the workers that it is essential to restrain themselves from marriage and subsequent childbirth. Malthus’ strategy became extremely popular among the scientific society, leading to the creation of Malthusianism (Langer, 1975). The supporters of this theory supplied the lower social groups with additional learning channels in an attempt to prevent further community growth (Langer, 1975). However, these efforts proved unsuccessful and were soon discouraged by other professionals. The British society, confronted with multiple population issues, was in dire need of productive contraception methods.

Implementation of new birth control procedures in the US was presented by Margaret Sanger. As an experienced nurse, Sanger was knowledgeable of the main issues that arose due to the restrictions related to female reproductive rights (Katzive, 2015). The complications manifested in large families with scarce financial resources required advanced medical and legal solutions, as abortion practices were illegal2. Even though, in some cases, birth prevention could be the only option to save a woman’s life, such methods remained outlawed (Katzive, 2015). Sanger became a highly influential activist who fought to secure an individual’s right to make their own decision regarding birth and family size (Neushul, 1998). The woman’s cause was adopted in various countries, including Great Britain, and her creation of the first birth control clinic had a vast impact on birth control practices implemented (Katzive, 2015). Overall, the practical experience of Margaret Sanger had substantially affected birth control beliefs and activities worldwide.

Mary Stopes and her birth control career

The professional career of Marie Stopes involves several stages. Initially, it is imperative to consider the woman’s upbringing and the environment that surrounded her. Stopes was born into an academic family, being exposed to the world of science from early childhood (Debenham, 2018). Her subsequent scientific advances in the areas of paleobotany, writing, and sexual education were primarily grounded on Stopes’ interests in science and the desire to construct a brilliant career (Debenham, 2018). Marie Stopes was the youngest woman to be awarded a doctoral degree, as well as the first female science lecturer in the University of Manchester (Debenham, 2018). The academic’s exceptional knowledge of the scientific community’s inner works and popular literature contributed to her future success.

Stopes’ achievements in regard to birth control issues begin with her marriage experience. A difficult divorce changed the woman’s interests from academia to problems encountered by Britain’s female population in their romantic relationships (Debenham, 2018). The writer recognized the gap in the contemporary studies and publications, stating that only a small amount of scholarly journals addressed sexual and reproductive systems (Chow, 1999). Moreover, a particular stigma towards marriage and women’s rights existed in the society of that time, often leaving young generations without sufficient knowledge regarding pregnancies and intercourse3. Observation of biological misrepresentations and social stereotypes prompted Stopes to create a novel approach to sexual education.

A pertinent difficulty experienced by British females was connected to birth control. Common knowledge on this topic was exceptionally scarce and outdated, mostly assuming that women’s desires are manipulated by chaotic impulses (Stopes, 2004). Stopes became a pioneer in this field, gathering and transferring information on female reproduction to the general public. Her most admired work was released in 1918 under the name of Married Love, granting the author remarkable success (Geppert, 1998). The writer’s ideas were viewed as rebellious at that age, as they directly addressed the themes of contraception and intercourse, mainly from the women’s perspective (Geppert, 1998). The general idea of Married Love resides in providing a thorough explanation regarding biological aspects of birth, as well as the possibility of controlling the number of future pregnancies. Researchers state that the book was primarily directed towards reshaping social attitudes on contraception and women’s rights (Neushul, 1998). Discussion of socially prohibited topics stimulated the movement for women’s rights, liberation, and intercourse awareness.

An essential addition to the first Stopes’ publication is her second work Wise Parenthood. While Married Love referred to the general topics of sexual education and obstacles to females’ well-being, the other piece explored specific birth control supplements4. This book can be considered more biological but still socially challenging, as the subject of birth prevention was highly sensitive. The next writing produced by Stopes labeled Radiant Motherhood entailed the advantages of contraception, simultaneously appealing to women’s choice related to birth and family.

Stopes’ ideas on pregnancy control are remarkably evident in all of her published novels. The author continued passionate endorsement of the proper delivery of sex education to the public. Her books addressed all of the British social classes, explaining how popularising birth control methods can enhance the community’s quality of life and significantly improve women’s well-being (Debenham, 2018). Stopes advised that ignoring the rising demand for intercourse and pregnancy learning can gruesomely impact future generations’ lives.

Implementing the ideas translated required practical endeavors from the writer. To further elevate the novels’ influence, Stopes established several birth prevention institutions that were designed to assist women with any pregnancy and birth-related complications (Cohen, 1993). The first birth control clinic in Britain achieved tremendous success, providing mothers with necessary procedures (Neushul, 1998). It is exceptionally noteworthy that Stopes demonstrated her affection to all social classes, building a service affordable for the workers (Debenham, 2018). The medical offices opened by the activist faced such an immense demand that the organization was soon able to expand to the regional areas (Munroe et al., 2015). By 1934, her institutions became available to Wales and Scotland’s residents, creating a largely beneficial enterprise.

The enormous popularity and nationwide success of Stopes’ efforts were immediately recognized by governmental authorities of different countries. Married Love significantly impacted the attitudes towards contraception in the United States. The book was initially banned in the country due to its “offensive” nature, however, this act only increased the overall demand for the author’s publications5. Stopes’ actions were shown to impress multiple societies, changing the negative stereotypes regarding birth control and women’s rights.

The tremendous impact described can be observed in various writings of that age. Stopes gained many opponents and followers, receiving both negative commentary and praise. While some authors described her activities as obscene, asking the readers to refrain from following her advice, other community members emphasize the significance of her attempts (Geppert, 1998). As such, multiple women were inspired by Stopes, starting a birth control campaign of their own and supporting the movement for the liberation of female rights. A fellow academic, Mary Stocks, discussed the woman’s endeavors as admiring, and Bessie Braddock challenged the political front to ensure the campaign’s success (Debenham, 2018). Various individuals, motivated by Stopes’ actions, initiated additional movements for their common cause.

Disputes From Beginning to the End

Such a socially undesirable subject as birth control was met with mixed reactions from the public. Many authors state that social attitudes related to contraception were highly negative, and the discussions of this theme were unwelcome even in private interactions (Chow, 1999). A major obstacle was the Catholic Church’s intervention, as catholic views directly opposed contraception (Langer, 1975). The church officials were highly insulted by Stopes’ propositions and advocated that birth prevention procedures should be condemned along with other sinful activities.

Another controversial fact linked with Stopes’ career is grounded in the fields of eugenics. Evaluated as an immoral science, eugenics was considered a misleading topic, non-beneficial for academic areas (Neushul, 1998). Nevertheless, the activist stated her close affiliation with eugenics, once referring that “A third of the men in England should be sterilized” (Neushul, 1998, p. 246). However, Stopes chose to ignore the racial issues surrounding this science and decided to address females of all races, assisting all females in need (Debenham, 2018). The woman’s beliefs are evident to be partially biased, forming an unexplained inconsistency.

An essential part of the writer’s campaign is associated with the concept of feminism. Various researchers comment that Stopes had hugely altered the flow of the feministic movement at the beginning of the 20th century, as she argued for freedom of female choice (Geppert, 1998). As such, she claimed that any woman should be allowed to determine the flow of her education, romantic relationships, and marriage, as well as express her beliefs and opinions (Stopes, 2004). Intimate involvement in the theme of feminism marks Stopes as an influential female author of her time.


To conclude, multiple questions connected with Marie Stopes and her birth control movement were examined in this paper. The woman’s tremendous impact on the scientific community is vivid in various academic fields, from paleobotany to human reproduction education. The social and economic environment of 1913 shaped a lucrative basis for the birth prevention campaign focused on popularizing contraception methods. Stopes’ writings were highly beneficial for this goal, broadening common knowledge and changing the community’s attitudes. The outcomes of the woman’s work inspired various social and political activists, allowing females from multiple countries to receive quality relationships and pregnancy care, as well as endorsing them to fight for freedom of choice.


Chow, K. (1999). Popular sexual knowledges and women’s agency in 1920s England: Marie Stopes’s Married Love and E.M. Hull’s The Sheik. Feminist Review, 63(1), 64–87.

Cohen, D. A. (1993). Private lives in public spaces: Marie Stopes, the mothers’ clinics and the practice of contraception. History Workshop Journal, 35(1), 95–116.

Debenham, C. (2018). Marie Stopes’ sexual revolution and the birth control movement. Springer.

Geppert, A. C. T. (1998). Divine sex, happy marriage, regenerated nation: Marie Stopes’s marital manual Married Love and the making of a best-seller, 1918-1955. Journal of the History of Sexuality, 8(3), 389–433.

Holtzman, E. M. (1982). The pursuit of married love: Women’s attitudes toward sexuality and marriage in Great Britain, 1918-1939. Journal of Social History, 16(2), 39–51.

Katzive, C. E. (2015). Margaret Sanger: Demonstrating leadership and legacy through her crusade for women’s reproductive rights. The History Teacher, 49(1), 127–138.

Langer, W. L. (1975). The origins of the birth control movement in England in the early nineteenth century. The Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 5(4), 669–686.

Mayo, E. (2014). The social problems of an industrial civilisation. Routledge.

Munroe, E., Hayes, B., & Taft, J. (2015). Private-sector social franchising to accelerate family planning access, choice, and quality: Results from Marie Stopes International. Global Health: Science and Practice, 3(2), 195–208.

Neushul, P. (1998). Marie C. Stopes and the popularization of birth control technology. Technology and Culture, 39(2), 245–272.

Stopes, M. C. (2004). Married love. Oxford University Press.


  1. See full overview in Langer, W. L. (1975). The origins of the birth control movement in England in the early nineteenth century. The Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 5(4), 669–686.
  2. Katzive (2015) provides examples of related events.
  3. See Holtzman (1982) for a full overview.
  4. For detailed comparison see Geppert (1998).
  5. Katzive (2015) elaborates on the connection in Margaret Sanger: Demonstrating leadership and legacy through her crusade for women’s reproductive rights. The History Teacher, 49(1), 127–138.