1880-1958

MARIE STOPES 

'Queen of Contraception'

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Marie’s mum bullied her dad. This was probably where Marie learnt her scare tactics – the mum was a tight-lipped Suffragette and Shakespearean scholar. I think witnessing routine domestic emasculation taught Marie that men are not masters of the universe.  

 

Thus she had the bottle to apply to UCL in 1900, where she achieved two honours simultaneously (botany and geology). Next, she became the youngest person (ever!) to be awarded a Masters in the UK and was the first female lecturer hired at University of Manchester. 

 

In academia Marie was respected, but disliked. All the boys felt threatened! Poor Marie didn’t have many suitors and scant chance for romancing. She was lonely, but soon eastern promise flickered on the horizon…

 

Kenjiro Fujii was a visiting professor from Japan, and he was married. Yet nothing put Marie off her missions: she ferreted out a research trip to Japan and followed him there. In the Land of the Rising Sun (land of sushi, geishas and onsens), Marie found her lover cooled. He even pretended he had leprosy to put her off. Marie went bridezilla-berserk, met Dr Reginald Gates, and married him in four swift months. 

 

She asserted her independence by keeping her maiden name of Stopes. Dr Gates was ‘dissatisfied’ with this… but not as dissatisfied as Marie would be. In 5 years of connubial living they never consummated their vows. Worse still, Victorian etiquette meant Marie literally knew nothingabout sex. She thought you got pregnant by having ‘chit-chat in Liberty-printed drawing rooms’. 

 

When she found out she was still a virgin – boy, that must have been awkward – she was righteously furious and embarked on a very public divorce. Although she became a national laughing-stock, she vowed no woman would ever be made a fool of again. Her solution? Penning a sex-manual called Married Love, even though she’d still not done it. 

 

With help from a wealthy airplane inventor called Humphrey Roe, Marie published her book – an instant bestseller. Soon after she bullied Humphrey’s fiancée out of the picture and married him herself. She was 37 when she finally got to do the dirty. 

 

Jumping the gun again, Marie penned her next treatise: Wise Parenthoodbefore she was pregnant. Better yet, in 1921 she opened Britain’s first birth control clinic in Holloway. Doctors taught women how to use a primitive version of the diaphragm, and she even invented the first walk-in clinic in form of a horse-drawn cart that women could step into for advice! By this time, she was a global phenomenon. 

 

Marie was fundamentally against abortion – a sad irony considering there’s a chain of abortion clinics named after her. She disowned her beloved son (nicknamed ‘baby Buff-kins’) for marrying a girl with glasses, and during WWI she was invaluable to the government thanks to her expertise on coal. She could be eccentric bordering on batshit crazy. But she was also a high-achiever, pioneer of women’s rights and symbol against the patriarchy. Without her we might not have contraception at all.  

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Want more Marie?

For a longer account of Marie's wild escapades, go  here

For information on Marie Stopes Clinics and the amazing work they do, click here

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For even more on Marie, check out

Ruth Hall's biography, a perfectly researched and vivaciously written account of this family planning maverick

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For further reading, joy of joys Amazon

 still sells copies of Marie's Victorian sex manual. It's a colourful read if you can stomach it - with a lot of disbelieving laughs to be had 

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