In the third instalment of our series on Jews & Sex, Nathan Abrams considers the darker side of the work of the feminist pioneer and her relationship to Jews.
Dr. Marie Stopes (1880-1958) is best remembered as a feminist and a birth control pioneer.
As the most forceful sexual revolutionary of her age, as well as Britain’s foremost crusader for birth control and enlightened sex education, she became a hero for many women of her own and later generations.
But one of the prime motives behind her life’s work was far more sinister than the liberation of women. This is because, in advocating for birth control and family planning, Dr. Stopes was motivated by eugenics. This widely held theory in the early twentieth century argued that selective breeding could remove ‘undesirables’ from society. Such beliefs included Jews.
Eugenics was then also part of the wider reform movement and hence connected to the antisemitism of both the left and right.
As her biographer, June Rose has pointed out in her book, Marie Stopes and the Sexual Revolution, Dr. Stopes’ motives were nothing less than ‘the creation and preservation of a system of breeding which is in many respects similar to that advocated in Nazi Germany.’
And like Nazis, Dr. Stopes held similarly repugnant views towards the Jews. It is reported here how, during the Second World War, when friends whom she invited to lunch, asked if they could bring along a Jewish boy they were caring for – a refugee from Nazi Germany, Stopes replied: certainly not; it would offend her other guests.
In fact, she was a Nazi supporter. In 1935, she attended a Nazi Congress for Population Science in Berlin. Four years later, in 1939, she sent wrote an overflowing personal letter to Adolf Hitler, enclosing a volume of her love poetry, Love Songs for Young Lovers. ‘Dear Herr Hitler,’ she wrote, ‘love is the greatest thing in the world: so will you accept from me these that you may allow the young people of your nation to have them?’
She also penned the poem, ‘Catholics, Prussians, /The Jews and the Russians, / All are a curse/Or something worse’.
Such attitudes spilled over into and motivated her professional work. Dr. Stopes called for new laws that allowed the ‘hopelessly rotten and racially diseased’ to be sterilised and wrote fiercely against interracial marriage. Jews were among those races.
In her textbook, Contraception (1923), she described the physiological make-up of Jewish women thus:
It is interesting to note that the Jewish women of the slum quarters of east London appear to have cervices much larger than those normal among more typically British stocks, and there is an extra very large size of cervical occlusive cap which was originally made for Jewish midwives and used by them among their patients.
Informed by such beliefs, Dr. Stopes set up the Society for Constructive Birth Control and Racial Progress in 1921. Known as the ‘CBC’, it promoted and supplied contraception on a eugenic basis through their Mother’s Clinics.
Based in Holloway, North London, the first Mother’s Clinic supplied contraceptive caps to women under the brand, ‘Prorace’. The trademarked ‘Prorace’ and ‘Racial’ brands clearly indicate Stopes’ support for eugenics and selective breeding.
One such rubber cervical cap, ‘used and fitted by Jewish midwives’ was donated to the Science Museum by the Marie Stopes Memorial Foundation. It is doubtful that the midwives knew of her more harmful motivations.
In a further irony, given the firm’s Jewish origins, as recounted here, the London Rubber Company (LRC) stocked these products in the early 1930s, along with lots of other wholesale birth control stuff which was a normal part of the landscape at that time to appeal to the widest common denominator. The manufacture of the Prorace cap may even have gone to LRC at one point.
While Dr. Stopes’ beliefs may have cooled in later years, particularly after World War II, surely they had some lingering influence on her work.
In a desire to break its association with these racist beliefs held by the family planning pioneer, Marie Stopes International (MSI) is to change its name.
But the dark side of its origins and history about Jews, eugenics and reproduction should neither be airbrushed nor forgotten.
Interesting how often the seeds of antisemitism are found in what have become relatively progressive movements. Good to become educated about Marie Stopes.