My life in books
Dear Dr. Stopes - Sex in the 1920s
My lovely MFMM friends will know this little scene
But do you also know one of the first “fighter” for Birth control? Marie Charlotte Carmichael Stopes (15 October 1880 - 2 October 1958) palaeobotanist turned author and advocate for birth control, eugenics and women’s right.
In 1921 Marie Stopes and her (second) husband of three years, Humphrey Verdon Roe, founded the Mothers’ Clinic for Constructive Birth Control at 61 Marlborough Road, Holloway, North London; it was the first birth control clinic in England.
After she published her first books Married Love and Wise Parenthood in 1918 she also became the first person to whom a large numbers of men and women wrote freely about their sexual and marital problems. Naturally, the correspondence was limited to the book buying public, overwhelmingly middle class. But after the opening of the clinic in 1921 and the wide coverage given to her sensational libel action in 1923, her influence spread to all classes of society. She now got desperate letters for help from women in the London slums as well as disapproving deckle-edged comments from episcopal places.
As much of a forward thinker Marie was in regards of women / birth control rights and fulfilled sexuality, she also was a woman of her time with views we would find questionable today. She did not condone abortion, but was a strict support of eugenics. She condemned sex before marriage and homosexuality.
Dear Dr. Stopes contains a variety of letters sent to her from 1918 to 1928 (roughly).
The book is divided into chapters according to social class (lower class, upper class, clergy, medical profession, armed services, overseas etc.) rather then topics. Which gives you an interesting insight into how different the mind set of the classes really were.
Only the letters addressed to Dr. Stopes are published not her answers to the addressors, with some interesting exceptions.
Those letters gives you a great view into the lives of women in the 1920s. Some are heart-breaking, some are disturbing and some are heart-warming. It also makes you see behind the curtain of the British class system of the time. The upper class always knew about how to prevent pregnancy while the women of the lower class struggled with pregnancy after pregnancy. Most letters of the lower class made me tear up for those poor women. They didn’t know how to feed another child, had very serious health issues due to the large numbers of pregnancies and injuries during birth. Some women couldn’t even sit without being in pain. The doctors would only tell them they should not get pregnant again, but didn’t inform them how they could do it.
As much as I’m “in love” with the 20s, I’m very happy to live today.
Overall it was an interesting read. I would have enjoyed it a little more if I could have read the answers of Dr.Stopes and her team too. Even without them, I would recommend it to anyone interested in the history of women’s rights and birth control. It also gives you a very different view of the 20s compared to MFMM.