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Guide to the Marie Carmichael Stopes Birth Control Collection
Mss 122  
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Collection Details
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  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information
  • Biography
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Related Material

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Marie Carmichael Stopes Birth Control Collection,
    Date (inclusive): ca. 1871-1967
    Date (bulk): (bulk 1920-1958)
    Collection Number: Mss 122
    Extent: 9.0 linear feet (22 document boxes and 1 oversized box)
    Repository: University of California, Santa Barbara. Library. Department of Special Collections
    Santa Barbara, California 93106-9010
    Physical Location: Del Sur (Boxes 1-22) and Del Sur Oversize (Box 23)
    Language: English.

    Administrative Information

    Access Restrictions


    Publication Rights

    Copyright has not been assigned to the Department of Special Collections, UCSB. All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Head of Special Collections. Permission for publication is given on behalf of the Department of Special Collections as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which also must be obtained.

    Preferred Citation

    Marie Carmichael Stopes Birth Control Collection. Mss 122. Department of Special Collections, Davidson Library, University of California, Santa Barbara.

    Acquisition Information

    The bulk of the collection was purchased in 1967 from London bookseller, Peter Eaton, with subsequent smaller purchases from multiple sources, through ca. 1980s.


    Marie 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 the 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 she made sure her daughter was fully aware of the arguments for women's suffrage.
    Henry Stopes was a distinguished scientist and Marie Stopes shared her father's interest in this subject. At the age of eighteen, she won a science scholarship at University College, London. Stopes was a talented and committed student and in 1901 achieved a double first, a first-class honors degree, in the subjects of botany and geology. She continued her studies in Munich and in 1905 when she obtained her Doctorate, she became Britain's youngest Doctor of Science.
    Although very involved in her academic work, Marie Stopes was also interested in politics. Like her mother she supported the women's suffrage campaign and eventually joined the Women's Freedom League. However, she was never arrested or sent to prison for her beliefs.
    Stopes married Reginald Gates in 1911. Unlike Stopes, Gates held traditional views of how women should behave. He strongly opposed her membership in the Women's Freedom League. After several years of conflict Stopes obtained a divorce in 1916.
    During the First World War Stopes began writing a book about feminism and marriage. In her book Married Love, she 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." 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."
    It 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 few weeks 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 obscene and it was promptly banned.
    Stopes' next book was about birth control. She had become interested in this subject after meeting Margaret Sanger, a birth control advocate from America. Sanger had fled to Britain in 1915 after she had been charged for publishing in her newspaper an "obscene and lewd article" that offered advice on birth control. In London she met Marie Stopes. After hearing Margaret Sanger's story Stopes decided to start a birth-control campaign in Britain, although realizing it would be dangerous as several people in Britain already had been sent to prison for such advocacy.
    In 1918 Stopes wrote a concise guide to contraception called Wise Parenthood, which upset the leaders of the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church. Despite this opposition, Stopes continued her campaign and in 1921 founded the Society for Constructive Birth Control (CBC). With financial help from her second husband, Humphrey Roe, Stopes also opened the first of her birth-control clinics in Holloway, North London on March 17, 1921.
    Marie Stopes was involved in several other crusades during her life, including an attempt to stop education authorities from firing married women teachers. She also become involved in the campaign to persuade the Inland Revenue to tax husbands and wives separately.
    Stopes 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. She also wrote novels, poetry, and children's stories. These included Love's Creation (1928) and Love Songs for Young Lovers (1938). Marie Stopes died in 1958.
    Further information about Marie Stopes is available in a number of works, including:
    Bryant, Keith. Marie Stopes: A Biography (London, 1962). Cohen, Deborah A. "Private Lives in Public Spaces: Marie Stopes, the Mothers' Clinics and the Practice of Contraception," History Workshop Journal 35 (1993): 95-116. Eaton, Peter. Marie Stopes: A Checklist of Her Writings (London, 1977). Hall, Ruth E. Marie Stopes, a Biography (London, 1977). Holtzman, Ellen M. Marriage, Sexuality, and Contraception in the British Middle Class: 1918-1939: The Correspondence of Marie Stopes (PhD Thesis, Rutgers University, 1982). Jackson, Margaret. The Real Facts of Life: Feminism and the Politics of Sexuality c. 1850-1940(London, 1994) Neushul, Peter. "Marie C. Stopes and the Popularization of Birth Control Technology," Technology and Culture, 39, 2 (1998): 245-272. Peel, Robert A., ed. Marie Stopes, Eugenics and the English Birth Control Movement (London, 1996). Rediscovering Forgotten Radicals: British Women Writers (Chapel Hill, 1993). Reynolds, Moira Davison. Women Advocates of Reproductive Rights: Eleven Who Led the Struggle in the United States and Great Britain (Jefferson, N.C., 1994). Rose, June. Marie Stopes and the Sexual Revolution (London, 1992). Stopes, Marie [plaintiff]. Birth Control and Libel: The Trial of Marie Stopes(South Brunswick, N.J., 1968). Women in the Milieu of Leonard and Virginia Woolf: Peace, Politics, and Education (New York, 1998).
    Related works on the history of birth control include:
    Controlling Reproduction: An American History (Wilmington, Delaware, 1997). McClaren, Angus. A History of Contraception from Antiquity to the Present Day (Cambridge, Mass., 1990). Soloway, R. A. Birth Control and the Population Question in England, 1877-1930 (Chapel Hill, 1982).
    Web sites with further information on Marie Stopes:
    London Museum, WSPU Collection: http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/Wstopes.htm (information on Women's Social and Political Union, with biographical data on Marie Stopes and others affiliated with women's emancipation issues; links to related sites). Marie Stopes International: http://www.mariestopes.org.uk

    Scope and Content of Collection

    The collection contains material pertaining to Marie Stopes, organizations with which she was affiliated, and other organizations and individuals concerned about issues of abortion, birth control, contraception, eugenics, obstetrics, population, sexual behavior, sterilization, and welfare of women, primarily in Great Britain, but also including some items from the U.S. and other countries. The collection has been assembled from multiple sources.

    Related Material

    At UCSB:
    The Marie Stopes Collection in the Department of Special Collections also contains a number of printed works, including books by and about Marie Stopes, as well as books by others on topics including birth control, prostitution, and sexual behavior. These titles are cataloged and may be searched on Pegasus, the UCSB Libraries online catalog.
    The Garret Hardin Papers (UCSB faculty) contains correspondence, research files, and drafts of his publications on birth control and population studies. UArch FacP 14.
    At Other Institutions:
    British Library of Political and Economic Sciences. British Birth Control Material at the British Library of Political and Economic Sciences: 1800-1947, 10 microfilm reels (London, 1974).
    Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine Library [London]. Contemporary Medical Archives Centre. Extensive holdings, with many archival collections relating to birth control, including Marie Stopes papers, 70+ boxes, with letters from members of the general public, medical profession, clergy, etc., who had read her works; in some cases with copies of her replies. Also material on clinics and CBC Society, meetings, literary and legal papers. Web site at: http://library.wellcome.ac.uk/