- Global Publishing Phenomenon in 1918 - 'Married Love'
Marie Stopes was an eccentric British woman mired in controversy, which she gladly courted in order to raise awareness of her explosive views on love, marriage and (oh no!) sex!
One of the UK's first female PhDs (from Manchester University for paleobotanology of all things - fossils in underground coalmines), Marie Stopes became a woman known throughout the British Empire for her best selling book, 'Married Love', which was basically the first sex-education book. As a scientist, and a PhD candidate, she was given access to the British Museum's 'hidden' collections, and came to the realisation that her first marriage had not been consummated. As bizarre as this seems today, taken in the context of Victorian England, where even piano legs were hidden behind 'fabric skirts' so as not to arouse the ardour of the men standing around (really!), it is not surprising that a woman of the upper class was not educated in such 'delicate matters'.
Dr Marie Carmichael Stopes - the Scientist
Marie set out to ensure that no other Victorian woman should go through marriage with the same ignorance, and even went so far as to argue for marriage to be an equal relationship between man and woman. When the book was published, Catholic MP, Dr Sutherland declared that Marie Stopes and her writings were 'a bigger threat to the British Empire than Kaiser Wilhelm'!! Of course the publicity associated with such rash statements was fabulous for the book, which went on to sell like hotcakes - within a fortnight of its release it was in its 6th print run, and by the 1930's had sold over 750,000 copies - an absolute dream for any publisher! The book remained banned in the USA until 1930 when the ban was overturned in court. In 1935, American academics voted her book as one of the 25 most influential books of the last 50 years - ahead of Albert Einstein's 'Theory of Relativity' and Freud's 'Interpretation of Dreams'!
Marie Stopes - The Woman
Marie Stopes went on to write more than 20 books, and through them and the 'Mothers Clinics' which she set up, became an early pioneer of family planning. Her books provided advice on how women could link ovulation to their fertile period, allowing women to assume a role other than as childbearers. Married Love gave permission to thousands of women to celebrate and enjoy their sexuality, though without the certain risk of always falling pregnant, and not to just consider sex as a wifely duty. .... outrageous!
While some of her views would today be considered entirely unacceptable (she was a keen advocate for eugenics, which was all the rage for progressive thinkers in the 1930's), and the book itself today makes for quirky reading (to say the least!), even today, she consistently appears at the very top of 'top 100 Britons' or 'Greatest Britons of the Millenium' polls, and her impact on liberating women cannot be exaggerated.
I must pick this one up. It's always interesting to see how attitudes towards topics like health and sexuality change over time. Also it's great that it was teaching women to know when their most fertile days were. I have often wondered why they don't teach girls how to chart their cycles when they explain about periods and stuff in school. It's so useful, and so many women seem to lack basic knowledge about their own fertility.