To what extent did the use of contraception increase as a result of feminist efforts during the first half of the twentieth century?


The twentieth century saw a revolutionary decline in fertility with an increased number of married couples utilising available methods of birth control.[1] Since the voluntary motherhood movement of the 1870s, women have been collectively striving to achieve control over their bodies, including their reproductive systems. This was followed by the birth control movement between 1910-1920, and the planned parenthood movement of the 1940s.[2] All three of these movements aimed to achieve the same fundamental goal: to introduce the power of choice to parenthood, and on a simplistic level, these stages were merely renamed in order to detach from the stigma around contraception after birth control advocate, Margaret Sanger, coined the term prior to World War One.[3]

After the Second World War and up until and the mid-century, fifty-eight percent of the married couples analysed by Szreter and Fisher, were using withdrawal to prevent pregnancy. A further fifty-eight percent used condoms, ten percent used female pessaries, and seventeen percent used female caps; sixteen percent resorted to abortion.[4] As these figures total over two hundred percent, we can infer that married couples of this period were using multiple methods of contraception, implying that they were determined to reduce the likelihood of pregnancy. For the purpose of this essay, I use the term ‘contraception’ to mean a conscious effort to reduce the both the global and household population through the prevention of conception. This definition therefore encompasses artificial and natural forms of birth control, however does not include abortion, although the significance of the harmful effects of abortion will be discussed.

Whilst attempts to prevent births have occurred since ancient society, restrictive sexual standards (particularly those of the Victorian period) forced the practice underground. Feminist historians, such as Linda Gordon, argue that the re-emergence of birth control as a respectable practice was part of a wider “process of changing sexual standards, largely produced by women’s struggle for freedom”.[5] My essay will firstly evaluate the extent to which this statement is correct by examining the motivations and actions of individuals campaigning for birth control to secure women’s rights, such as Sanger. I will then consider several alternative factors which increased the widespread use of contraception, including: eugenic policies, general health concerns and improved services, changing attitudes towards the size and purpose of the family unit, and finally, a struggling economy. At first glance, one would presume that this extensive list of factors would suggest that the feminist contribution to the wider use of contraception was equal to that of eugenicists and medical practitioners. However, birth control advocates occasionally used eugenics as an alternative ideology in order to achieve feminist needs as the male audience would be more receptive to this.[6]Therefore, in some instances, these factors cannot be entirely separated from feminist motivations with regards to birth control advocacy. Throughout this essay I will be referring to case studies conducted in the United Kingdom, America, and Germany as in addition to adopting similar attitudes towards contraception, I consider these to be comparable economically and socially during the first half of the twentieth century.

Main Text

Contraception was a major point for campaigning for some feminist groups during the first half of the twentieth century, particularly for the generation of young women during the 1920s who, inspired by the suffrage movement, were determined to extend their demands to secure a life of happiness.[7] Contemporary British author and feminist campaigner, Dora Russell, believed that “there could be no true freedom for women without the emancipation of mothers”, as women would otherwise continue to be restricted by maternity and motherhood unless birth control was adopted by the majority.[8] Until planned parenthood was seen as a respectable practice, “no economic [or political] changes would give equality or self-determination to any woman unable to choose or refuse motherhood of her own free will.”[9] The German concept of the mid 1920s ‘new woman’, was notably less motherly, both in a quantitative and qualitative sense.[10] These women were having fewer babies and were becaming more self-centred in terms of their aspirations, taking employment in offices as typists, and at switchboards and sales counters.[11] The fact that this increase in employment coincided with a decrease of births implies that women practiced a form of available contraception or abstinence in their reluctance to immediately sacrifice their individual opportunities to serve the lifelong sentence of motherhood.

Feminist literature reinforced this “enthusiasm for the expanded life” that came with the freedom and opportunities suddenly available to young women.[12] Margaret Sanger, the first active feminist campaigner for birth control (who was also the first to be arrested), published seven issues of a revolutionary newspaper called The Woman Rebel in 1914, through which she hoped to alleviate the suffering of working class women by addressing their specific needs, which included saving them from suffering a life of continuous pregnancy as their mothers and grandmothers had endured before them.[13] It is evident from the title of the newspaper that Sanger believed the control of reproduction to be a female issue as her newspaper addresses only one parent. The notion of feminist issues such as work, domesticity and marital status also feature in several women’s magazines during this period.[14] E. M. Briggs wrote an article outlining a dozen possible careers for women, including sales, journalism, textiles and midwifery.[15] Young British women were keen to adopt this advertised lifestyle. Two-thirds of working women between 1901-1931 were under thirty, and three-quarters of these were single, with this trend continuing throughout the interwar period.[16] As this demographic is typically the child-bearing population, this poses a struggle between the value of female productivity at the expense of reproductivity, particularly as in Leonora Eyles’s opinion (writing for Modern Woman in 1925), it was no longer a “disgrace” to work, instead it was a “disgrace not to”.[17] This statement clearly highlights a change in societies expectations of women, which necessitated the use of birth control if they were to be met. An article in Women’s Weekly (1919) goes further than merely advertising career opportunities, and instead explores a situational argument between husband and wife, with the feminist wife arguing for equal rights whilst the husband exercises his patriarchal power, deeming women to be incapable of taking up employment and caring for the home simultaneously. This emphasised the need for birth control to be adopted if women are to permanently become part of the labour force.[18] These debates reached their peak during and after the Second World War as male unemployment was high due to the injuries they had obtained on the front lines, therefore married women were forced to work in order to feed and educate their families.[19] The government acknowledged that  “our success in social reconstruction will depend on the extent to which we can maintain an increased productivity, and in view of the loss in war of man power this must be largely dependent on the possibility of retaining the commercial and industrial services of women”.[20] Women were suddenly faced with what Fiona Anne Seaton considers to be their “central dilemma of modernity”: traditional marriage and motherhood, or the pursuit of a career.[21] Women therefore were, as sociologist Wally Seecombe states, the “driving force behind family limitation”, as they sought to utilise it in order to achieve independence and self-esteem; this would allow them to pursue a more ambitious lifestyle than was traditionally expected of women during a period of developing female roles and widening opportunities for young women.[22]

Whilst this literature highlights the development of women’s roles within society which raises the issue of women’s biological function, the average woman was not the primary user of birth control – largely due to their ignorance on the topic which countered the efforts of feminist campaigns. Some feminists, such as Ezra Haywood, demanded “women’s natural right to ownership and control over her own body-self”, yet disapproved of the use of contraceptive devices, considering the artificial methods to be “unnatural, injurious and offensive”.[23] Often, male knowledge of birth control was more extensive than women’s. Over half of the sixty-two women interviewed by Kate Fisher claimed they knew nothing of birth control before their marriage (on average in 1934), in stark contrast to the three out of thirty-five men who stressed their ignorance.[24] In fact, the women in Fisher’s study appear passive on the topic of the reproductive system, stating “not til I was married I didn’t know where a baby come from…my husband knew most of it”.[25] Arguably, ignorance on topics of a sexual nature cannot be taken at face value as these women might be hiding their knowledge in order to preserve their perceived innocence.[26] When questioned about family limitation, Phyllis responded, “just up to my husband then, wasn’t it?”[27] The questioning tone of Phyllis’s response implies that she didn’t conceive the idea of a woman making the decision to use contraceptives. Millie also “thought it was [her husband’s] place, anyway. [She] didn’t think it was [hers]”.[28] The men in this study recognised that “it was the man’s option to prevent the children…it was the man’s job”.[29] As a result of this, it was often male methods, such as withdrawal and the condom that were used, as opposed to the female caps, as it is evident that women were reluctant to take the lead in acquiring appliances. This is supported by Nurse Daniels who admitted “it is often the husband who persuades the wife to visit [clinics]” to discuss family planning.[30] Fisher’s qualitative evidence shows that “fostered patterns of contraceptive activity which privileged male action and female passivity”.[31] This highlights that men were more willing than women to obtain and utilise these new methods thus implying that feminist motivations were not the only factor that contributed to the increased use of birth control over the twentieth century.

Historians such as Deborah Cohen believe that the sudden increase in the use of birth control was in fact a repressive intervention staged by the elite who considered it to be an effective mechanism of social control.[32] In 1883, Charles Darwin’s cousin Francis Galton coined the term eugenics whereby racial qualities of future generations are genetically improved through encouraging the selective breeding of those deemed fit and desirable, whilst simultaneously discouraging the reproduction of those deemed unfit by society.[33] At the turn of the century, this scientific theory inspired the notion of procreative class eugenics when the “superior stock” learned that they were reproducing only half as quickly as the unfit, which would eventually lead to what was known as “race suicide”, whereby the perceived quality of society is seen to degenerate.[34] In particular, Liberal MP (1906-1909), Harold Cox saw contraception as a means of reducing the poor, stating that “the real danger is that the higher racial…types may be swamped by the lower types, and the only way of avoiding that danger is by popularising throughout the world the knowledge of how to prevent conception”.[35] This view was also held by Marie Stopes, who in Wise Parenthood, complained of the number of “unfit weaklings and diseased individuals who threaten the race” as it was the “less thrifty and conscientious who bred rapidly and produced children weakened and handicapped by physical as well as mental warping and weakness.”[36] This concept was further advertised in contemporary pamphlets produced by the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, founded in 1916, which state that “planned parenthood is an invitation to apply a basic social and scientific concept to the improvement of the family unit – and, thereby our whole population…”.[37] Each of these statements clearly shows that the elite were determined to encourage the poor to utilise contraception in order to build a desirable race.[38] America especially grasped hold of this concept, founding the Eugenics Section of the American Breeders Association in 1910, which later became the American Genetic Association in 1913. These personnel, formed largely of professional men, believed that eugenics formed the basis of an ideology to defend the superior status for generations to come.[39] It is unsurprising that America’s focus at this time was race building, as they were concerned about immigration from Italy, Ireland, and Eastern Europe.[40] Guy Irving Burch, director of the American Eugenics Society and leader in the American Coalition of Patriotic societies, particularly boasted of his work to “prevent the American people from being replaced by alien or Negro stock”.[41]

During the 1920s, Kansas had a particular interest in the development of “fitter families”, to the extent that annual contests were held, during which seventy-five families were examined and scored based on their intelligence, psychiatric, reflex, emotional and intellectual responses which would be biased towards the wealthy who invested more money and time into their child’s education.[42] The event organisers believed that, far too often, people married without little scientific thought to physical fitness regarding the bearing and raising of children. “[Was] it any wonder that the number that the number of mentally and physically unfit increase?”.[43] The article written on the 1923 competition appears to desensitise sexual intercourse entirely, despite Capper’s brief dismissal that “there should be no thought of eliminating sentiment from the choice of mate” as he immediately counters this with, “but the future generations can be trained to give these matters the serious consideration they deserve”, implying that young people should prioritise the future of society over their own emotions.[44] Germany similarly encouraged “responsible marriages” likely to produce “healthy and high quality” offspring whilst discouraging the unfit. This was advertised through the Prussian Ministry for Social Welfare who, in February 1926, issued a decree for the establishment of medically directed marriage counselling, believing the Nietzschean proverb: “don’t just reproduce, but also upgrade”.[45] The emphasis on considering the health of a future child largely derived from the general belief that babies with hereditary diseases were not desired by mothers, with The Malthusian commenting in 1909 that there were “few women who would continue to bear sickly and diseased children if easy means of prevention were known to them”.[46] This cold statement can be supported by an article from the Chicago Daily Tribune (1915) which boldly states “woman says ‘it’s for best’” that her baby is left to die, and questions whether “humanity demand[s] the saving of defective babies” after a doctor is to “let defective baby expire unaided”.[47] These actions highlight the extent to which healthcare professionals, and individual members of society, were determined to create a healthy race. If the birth of a malformed child was to result in its abandonment by the mother or mercy killing by a doctor this poses a more serious ethical debate than the adoption of birth control. Whist birth control was opposed by some for the perceived immorality in preventing conception, if the couples most likely to produce unhealthy offspring were to take precautions this would be a far less traumatic ordeal for all parties involved. Whilst this was the idealised view, a made statement by  Dr Herbert, Chairman of he Denbighshire County Council ‘Committee for the Care of Mental Defectives’  in the Birth Control News of July 1920 shows us that this was hard to implement as actually “the better classes [were] sterilising themselves, the disease ridden [were] breeding copiously and the result [was] that the country [was] not getting the children it ought to have”.[48]

Whilst it is evident that eugenicists caught the attention of the elite and doctors who were keen to implement birth control in order to create a healthier society, their overall contribution to the cause is negligible as more likely than not, largely due to its dysgenic tendency as the upper classes received more education on the topic and were therefore more keen to adopt the practice.[49] The fact that upper class women had access to contraceptives violates these eugenic principles, and thus leans more towards the feminist argument as universal access would consider the happiness of all women, regardless of class.[50] Feminist and eugenic views were largely interconnected by individual campaigners as they were fundamentally linked through discussions about population control and reproduction.[51] Malthusian League member Marie Stopes’s eugenic interests proceeded her birth control advocacy, believing “voluntary mothers [to be] eugenic mothers”.[52] This view is reinforced by a similar statement in which she argues that the focus of family planning should not just be “repression of lives which ought not to be started, but [also the] bringing into the world of healthy, happy, desired babies”.[53] Stopes  called this “radiant motherhood” whereby planned conception and a healthy pregnancy by “highly evolved parents in a eugenically conscious world”, produced racially fit children.[54] In 1921, Stopes formed the Society for Constructive Birth and Racial Progress, believing the problem not to be general overpopulation, but too many children being born to the poor and not enough to the wealthy; therefore, Stopes favoured birth control as a form of controlling the demographics of the population.[55] Similarly, Sanger’s birth control propaganda from 1919 has been deemed by some historians to be more fitting to eugenic arguments than feminist as it included statements such as “more children from the fit, less from the unfit – that is the chief issue of birth control”.[56] Whilst in the preface to Married Love, Stopes makes her eugenic intentions clear to the reader by informing them that “in this little book average, healthy, mating creatures will find the key to happiness”, her personal beliefs are arguable as she later contradicts this, stating that she does not wish to discuss eugenics.[57] It is possible therefore, that much like feminist historians’ evaluation of Sanger, that Stopes, during her “birth control crusade”, adopted eugenic principles to achieve ulterior motives, namely women’s rights and welfare, knowing that this would attract the attention of the male elite as it would be in their interests to preserve their class.[58] Sanger’s bold statement that “eugenics without birth control seemed to [her] a house built upon sands”, combined with the knowledge of her feminist campaigns for birth control, could imply that she was also using radical eugenic ideology to gain the attention of medical professionals and the elite who’s support would both destigmatise and legitimise the use of contraceptives by women, which would allow them to take another step closer to achieving emancipation.[59] Ultimately however, eugenic efforts were undermined during the second world war, with a declining in birth rate and fears about replacement ratios.[60] Post-war, eugenics were seen less favourably as a consequence of the Holocaust which was born out of a genocidal agenda to protect the purity of the Aryan race from Jewish “contamination”.[61] It is because of this association with Nazism’s totalitarian and fascist ideology that people became reluctant to associate birth control to eugenics, to avoid linking the practice to one of the “darkest chapters of twentieth century history”.[62]

Alternatively, it can be argued that eugenic ideals were part of a wider health consciousness arising in the first half of the twentieth century which justified the widespread use of birth control, particularly as physicians understood that telling women to avoid pregnancy without universally providing a safe means to do so would drive them to seek the help of quacks.[63] Between 1924-1928, there was an increase in public health services in Germany, including pregnancy, maternal and infant care clinics, school health facilities, VD treatment programmes and marriage counselling centres, suggesting that general health was being highly invested in and prioritised at this time.[64] Paul Weindling, historian of medicine, labels this period as being the “Golden Age of health and propaganda”.[65] One of the most serious concerns regarding women’s health during this time was the consequences of abortion, reflected in the National Leave for Birth Control and Sexual Hygiene (RV) leaflet ca.1930 which calls out “Workers!…Girls!…Women!…let yourself be counselled and avoid abortions that can destroy your bodies”.[66] This concern was justified by the increasing amount of casualties resulting from quack abortions, including a fifteen year old girl who was found dying in a street in Berlin, 1929.[67] This issue was not specific to Germany; a study conducted by Ethel Elderton during the early twentieth century found that seventy to eighty percent of all women in York took abortion drugs. The northern areas of Britain used the highest number abortifacients such as herbs, washing powder in gin, salts and led pills. These methods were frequently unreliable as they did not have a specific effect on the uterus, but acted as a general poison causing convulsions and providing abortion as a side effect. [68] If this failed, unsterilized instruments such as needles and crochet hooks would be resorted to, inflicting internal damage which would, more often than not, result in severe illness, the inability to bear children in later life, or at worst, death.[69]

By 1935, there was increasing concern about the rising rates of maternal mortality which was at its national height; the previous year had seen an average rate of 4.6 maternal deaths per 1000 births in England.[70] Birth control clinics were initially set up in areas of the country that had the highest rates of maternal mortality from abortion, such as Sheffield in which thirty-nine percent of all maternal deaths were a consequence of abortion.[71] Ultimately, sex reformers believed that if pregnancy was undesirable, it was “better to prevent than to abort” for the sake of the mother’s health.[72] In order to save lives, the government acknowledged that birth control must be made available within the health services. Councillor Asbury made his support for this clear, stating that “he had heard no evidence that women died as a consequence of the use of contraceptives, but he did know that the numbers who died from abortions were increasing yearly”.[73] This implies that the use of birth control increased as a result of the concern around dangerous abortions which would be performed by those determined enough to avoid motherhood if another option was not provided. The aim of birth control then, was to professionalise the prevention of conception giving it scientific legitimacy over quackery.[74] In Germany,  a country known for its sexological research and sex reform innovations, the RV (founded in 1928) aimed to cooperate with professionals in medicine, with doctors now explaining the proper use of birth control in lectures with the use of blackboards, slides and exhibitions of devices.[75] Women who visited the counselling centre from 1930 would also be fitted with diaphragms and cervical caps, and would be offered Dr Lehfeldt’s The Book of Marriage which explained the reproductive system and fertility cycle. The prevention of pregnancy now lay in the safe hands of the doctor.[76]

It was not just the harmful effects of abortion that was raising concerns about women’s health, but also the effects of pregnancy and childbirth in general. During the 1920’s, thirty-nine thousand women died in childbirth in England and Wales.[77] Labour women began to campaign for birth control as they believed it to be “four times as dangerous to bear a child as to work in a coal mine”.[78] Marie Stopes was particularly concerned for women overburdened by frequent childbirth as repeated pregnancies took their toll on the mother’s health and stretch the families resources.[79] Medical specialists recognised that “at least a year should pass before the second life is allowed to begin its unfolding, so that a minimum of about two years should elapse before the second child is born” in order to give the mother enough time to recover and the first child sufficient time to be cared for without the pressing needs of another dependant interfering with its development.[80] However, this precise child spacing could only be achieved by long periods of abstinence or by adopting birth control. This made birth control a necessary practice if couples wanted to resume their sexual relationship but also adhere to health guidelines. At the same time, attitudes towards the family unit were changing from the Victorian “cult of motherhood” that had previously been romanticised.[81] Since the First World War, there had been a trend towards smaller families with a vision for domestic happiness which meant decreasing domestic crowding to live in more comfort and with more privacy as only the privileged had before.[82] Between 1918-1939, two-thirds of households were connected to an electric supply, and the invention of appliances such as the iron were alleviating “the drudgery of housework” women were used to by shortening the length of time it took to complete tasks such as laundry, giving them more time to participate in leisure activities or enter employment.[83]

In 1925, the average family in Germany had only one child.[84] The Prussian minister for social welfare stated of this that “people simply do not want more than one or two children”.[85] This view was also carried through the 1915 Letters from Working Women who stated their reluctance for large families.[86] Furthermore, evidence from the Norman Hines Study in 1927 shows that most women attending birth control clinics were in their early thirties and already had around three children.[87] Working class women in particular were attending these clinics because they desperately needed their service; twenty-one year old mother of four was in despair, telling the Mass Observation in 1945 that “there’s enough babies in Poplar…We don’t know how to stop ‘em do we? I wish you’d tell us”.[88] This woman’s last statement is particularly telling, as it suggests that information on birth control was not being sufficiently distributed to women of the working classes, however it does acknowledge their awareness of there being available methods, and their desire to use them in order to keep their family size down. This issue was possibly only just coming to light due to the development of health services, such as the NHS and antibiotics which dramatically reduced infant mortality and now economically burdened families who had several children.[89]

The voluntary motherhood movement, although initially formed to give women the option to have children whilst maintaining sexual lives, was concerned with the welfare of children and the suffering of those who were unwanted or unwisely spread and thus struggling for resources.[90]  This notion largely derived from post-Malthusians such as John Stuart Mill who believed Britain needed to give the greatest happiness to greatest number of people which meant improving the standard of living by reducing the size of the family.[91] Since 1906, birth control had been considered as a form of self defence against industrialisation, with Virginia Butterfield arguing in her book Parental Rights and Economic Wrongs that the “unjust system of distributions made people poor”.[92] The need for birth control to alleviate the competition for resources became evident in 1915 when William Sanger was tried for distributing his wife’s Family Limitation pamphlet in Portland, Oregon. Although arguably campaigning on feminist grounds, it is evident that people were interested in family limitation for other reasons as the petition in support of Sanger included a handwritten opinion by the first signer that the “industrial system which needs children as food for powder or factories may desire unlimited propagation, but the masses who suffer in poverty have no right to add suffers to the already too many competing for bread”, implying that this was the real reason people needed to use birth control.[93] The same acknowledgements were being made in Germany, as towards the end of 1928, the RV concluded that “under the current prevailing economic system, [birth control] is the only thing that can save the family from hunger and misery”, clearly promoting family limitation as a form of economic defence against the “chaos” and “disorder” of capitalism which would become more necessary during the depression of 1929.[94] Under these conditions, birth control could be seen as a necessary evil as it was considered better to prevent the birth of children rather than let them suffer. Instead of being seen as immoral, it could be considered as responsible and forward thinking, as if personal or national “economic conditions “are hard, as they so often are”, it was concluded that “it may be better to marry and defer the children”.[95]

The planned parenthood act of the 1940s sought to focus on the social planning of the population.[96] Arguably however, it was the feminist movement that brought birth control to the attention of the government, and once their battle for the right to control their own bodies was over (with regards to maternity), birth control could be viewed from a wider social and economic perspective, and could ultimately help society progress. This change of focus replaced the negative public image of preventing births and instead moved towards positive thinking about building families at desired sizes and intervals.[97] This was particularly important during the war years as sex had become a normal aspect of dating for the sake of morale, however if birth control wasn’t destigmatised alongside this changing sexual norm, this would result in either unwanted children or add to an already large number of children with absent fathers and working women which would destabilise the family unit and could prove to be economically challenging.[98] It is likely therefore, that birth control was adopted more with enthusiasm under these circumstances as campaigns were now addressing contraception as being in the interests of men and women and children, rather than it being a purely feminist movement.[99]


In conclusion, birth control was certainly, towards the beginning of the twentieth century, a feminist movement centred around the bodily rights of women and the ability to decide if, and when, they were to become mothers. However, it is clear from the oral testimony discussed throughout this essay that their message did not reach women of all classes, as the majority of working-class women remained outwardly ignorant on the topic. Therefore, feminist’s direct contribution to the cause can be considered minimal. However, through feminist campaigns, birth control had been brought to the attention of the elite and the government who took interest in the subject when they saw it could solve other social and economic issues such as eugenics and poverty. Sanger and Stopes realised this and began campaigning for birth control from a eugenics point of view instead, as they realised this could still aid the feminist cause for contraception by destigmatising and normalising the practice; this would allow women to use available means of contraception under their own conditions even if it was legitimised under alternative circumstances. Up until the end of the Second World War, eugenicists certainly drove the birth control movement, however their credibility immediately decreased in the aftermath of the Holocaust. Regardless, birth control by then, was being seen in relation to wider health concerns. Alongside the health of future children, women’s health was particularly focused upon by medical advisors. The fact that the hardship of continuous pregnancy shows that the feminist voice had been heard; particularly with regards to abortion, as women who were determined to gain rights over their own body would go to extremes to terminate the pregnancy. Whilst not a direct feminist campaign, the adoption of birth control to adhere to health guidelines on child spacing, would provide women with the information and devices needed to decide how many pregnancies their bodies endured. Overall this would give them more rights over their bodies than they had previously had.

Ultimately, the increased use of birth control during the first half of the twentieth century was simply an inevitable response to modernity that required women to be able bodies of society. Modern society in Britain, Germany and America was favouring equality that was beginning to encompass feminism and therefore necessitated birth control if women were to engage in the same working and leisure lifestyles that men were living. That said, women’s desire to enter the workplace coincided with government requiring women’s labour force during and post-war, therefore arguably the feminist influence in this regard is again, indirect. This societal progress combined health, feminism, employment and changing attitudes towards the home and family which altogether and called for the wider adoption of birth control if this idealised society was to be achieved. Ultimately however, the increased acceptability and use of birth control wouldn’t necessarily have occurred when it did if it weren’t for feminist campaigns which raised the initial concept.


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Capper, Arthur. ‘Registering Human Pedigrees’, Popular Science, Vol. 103(2) (August 1923), p.54.

Carey, Jane. ‘The Racial Imperatives of Sex: Birth Control and Eugenics in Britain, the United States and Australia in the Inter-War Years’, Women’s History Review, Vol.21(5) (01 November 2012), pp.733-752.

Draper, Elizabeth. Birth Control in the Modern World: The Role of the Individual in Population Control (Allen & Unwin, 1965).

Ellis, Havelock. ‘Birth Control and Eugenics’, Eugenics Review, Vol. 9(1) (April 1917) pp.32-34.

Fisher, Kate. ‘”She Was Quite Satisfied with the Arrangements I Made”: Gender and Birth Control in Britain 1920-1950,’ Past & Present, Vol.169 (2000), pp.161-93.

Fisher, Kate. “Uncertain Aims and Tacit Negotiation: Birth Control Practices in Britain, 1925-50”, Population and Development Review, Vol. 26(2) (2000), pp.295-317.

Fisher, Kate; Szreter, Simon. ‘”They Prefer Withdrawal”: The Choice of Birth Control in Britain, 1918-1950’, Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Vol.34(2) (2003), pp.263-291.

Gordon, Linda. ‘The Politics of Population: Birth Control and the Eugenics Movement’, Radical America, Vol.8(4) (1974), pp.61-98.

Gordon, Linda. Woman’s Body, Woman’s Rights: A Social History of Birth Control in America, (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1977).

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[1] Kate Fisher, ‘”She Was Quite Satisfied with the Arrangements I Made”: Gender and Birth Control in Britain 1920-1950,’Past & Present, Vol.169 (2000), p.161.

[2] Linda Gordon, Woman’s Body, Woman’s Rights: A Social History of Birth Control in America, (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1977), pxv-xvi.

[3] Elizabeth Draper, Birth Control in the Modern World: The Role of the Individual in Population Control (Allen & Unwin, 1965), p.13.

[4] Simon Szreter and Kate Fisher, Sex Before the Sexual Revolution: Intimate Life in England 1918-1963 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), p.231.

[5] Gordon, Woman’s Body, Woman’s Rights, p.xii.

[6] Jane Carey, “The Racial Imperatives of Sex: Birth Control and Eugenics in Britain, the United States and Australia in the Inter-War Years”, Women’s History Review, Vol.21(5) (01 November 2012), pp.738-9.

[7] Sheila Rowbotham, A New World for Women: Stella Browne, Socialist Feminist (London: Pluto Press, 1977), pp. 60-61.

[8] Rowbotham, p.33, Lucy Bland, Banishing the Beast: Feminism, Sex and Morality (London: Tauris Parke, 2001), p.212.

[9] Rowbotham, p.63

[10] Atina Grossman, Reforming Sex: The German Movement for Birth Control and Abortion Reform, 1920-1950, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), p.3.

[11] Grossman, p.6.

[12] Fiona Anne Seaton, ‘They Opened Up a Whole New World: Feminine Modernity and the Feminine Imagination in Women’s Magazines, 1919-1939’, Thesis: (PhD) (University of London: Goldsmiths’ College, 2011), p.104.

[13] Linda Gordon, ‘The Politics of Population: Birth Control and the Eugenics Movement’, Radical America, Vol.8(4) (1974), pp. 64-65.

[14] Seaton, p.11.

[15] Seaton, p.112.

[16] Seaton, p.105.

[17] Seaton, p.105, p.110.

[18] Seaton, p.123-4.

[19] Seaton, p.105.

[20] Sybil Gotto, “The Eugenic Principle in Social Reconstruction”, Eugenics Review, Vol. 9(3) (October 1917), p.194.

[21] Seaton, p.121.

[22] Fisher, ‘”She Was Quite Satisfied…”’, p.162; Gordon, Woman’s Body, Woman’s Rights, p.343; Szreter and Fisher, p.38.

[23] Gordon, Woman’s Body, Woman’s Rights, p.97, pp.103-4.

[24] Fisher, ‘”She Was Quite Satisfied…”’, pp. 165-168.

[25] Fisher, ‘”She Was Quite Satisfied…”’, p.169.

[26] Fisher, ‘”She Was Quite Satisfied…”’, p.170.

[27] Fisher, ‘”She Was Quite Satisfied…”’, p.174.

[28] Fisher, ‘”She Was Quite Satisfied…”’, p.174.

[29] Fisher, ‘”She Was Quite Satisfied…”’,  p.174.

[30] Fisher, ‘”She Was Quite Satisfied…”’, p.175, p.179.

[31] Fisher, ‘”She Was Quite Satisfied…”’, p.174.

[32] Deborah Cohen, ‘Marie Stopes and the Mothers’ Clinics’, in Marie Stopes, Eugenics and the English Birth Control Movement: Proceedings of a Conference Organised by the Galton Institute, London, 1996, ed. by Robert A. Peel (London: Galton Institute, 1997), p.78)

[33] Lucy Bland, Banishing the Beast: Feminism, Sex and Morality (London: Tauris Parke, 2001),


[34] Cohen, p.81; Richard Soloway, ‘The Galton Lecture’ in Marie Stopes, Eugenics and the English Birth Control Movement, p.55.

[35] Rowbotham, p.24.

[36] Soloway, ‘The Galton Lecture’, p.55.

[37] Gordon, Woman’s Body, Woman’s Rights, p.346.

[38] Bland, p.224.

[39] Linda Gordon, Woman’s Body, Woman’s Rights, p.275.

[40] Richard A. Soloway, “The ‘Perfect Contraceptive’: Eugenics and Birth Control Research in Britain and America in the Interwar Years”, Journal of Contemporary History, Vol.30(4) (1995), p.639.

[41] Gordon, ‘The Politics of Population’, p.77.

[42] Arthur Capper, ‘Registering Human Pedigrees’, Popular Science, Vol. 103(2) (August 1923), p.54.

[43] Capper, p.54.

[44] Capper, p.54.

[45] Grossman, p.10.

[46] Bland, pp.234-236.

[47] “He’s Going to Let Her Baby Die”, Chicago Daily Tribune, (17th November 1915), p.7.

[48] Julie Grier, “Eugenics and Birth Control: Contraceptive Provision in North Wales, 1918-1939”, Social History of Medicine, Vol.11(3) (December 1998), pp.443-458.

[49] Havelock Ellis, “Birth Control and Eugenics”, Eugenics Review, Vol. 9(1) (April 1917), p.34.

[50] Cohen, p.81.

[51] Carey, p. 736.

[52] Carey, pp.738-9.

[53] Soloway, ‘The Galton Lecture’, p.56.

[54] Soloway, ‘The Galton Lecture’, p.56

[55] Soloway, ‘The Galton Lecture’, pp.54-5.

[56] Gordon, ‘The Politics of Population’, p.75.

[57] Marie Carmichael Stopes, Married Love (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), p.84.

[58] Soloway, ‘The Galton Lecture’, p.61; Carey, p.733.

[59] Gordon, ‘The Politics of Population’, p.78.

[60] Soloway, “The ‘Perfect Contraceptive’, p.659.

[61] Carey, p.737.

[62] Gordon, ‘The Politics of Population’, pp.80-81; Carey, p.735.

[63] Grossman, p.61.

[64] Grossman, pp.8-9.

[65] Grossman, p.9.

[66] Grossman, p.14.

[67] Grossman, p.30

[68] Bland, p.190; Rowbotham, p.46.

[69] Tania McIntosh, ‘”An Abortionist City”: Maternal Mortality, Abortion, and Birth Control in Sheffield, 1920-1940’, Medical History, Vol.44(1) (2000), p.75.

[70] McIntosh, pp. 75-76.

[71] McIntosh, p.76.

[72] Grossman, p.15.

[73] McIntosh, p.92.

[74] Grossman, p.19.

[75] Grossman, p.37, p.20.

[76] Grossman, p.25.

[77] Rowbotham, p.43.

[78] Rowbotham, p.43.

[79] Grier, p.445.

[80] Stopes, p.83.

[81] Gordon, Woman’s Body, Woman’s Rights, p.19.

[82] Grossman, p.22; Szreter and Fisher, p.28.

[83] Seaton, p.87, p.92.

[84] Grossman, p.3.

[85] Grossman, p.4.

[86] Rowbotham, pp.31-32.

[87] Rowbotham, p.48.

[88] Cohen, p.79.

[89] Szreter and Fisher, p.27.

[90] Gordon, Woman’s Body, Woman’s Rights, p.120.

[91] Bland, p.198.

[92] Gordon, Woman’s Body, Woman’s Rights, p.210.

[93] Gordon, Woman’s Body, Woman’s Rights, p.267.

[94] Grossman, p.20-22, p.75.

[95] Bland, p.198; Stopes, p.80.

[96] Gordon, Woman’s Body, Woman’s Rights, p. 232.

[97] Elizabeth Draper, Birth Control in the Modern World: The Role of the Individual in Population Control (Allen & Unwin, 1965), p.13.

[98] Gordon, Woman’s Body, Woman’s Rights, p.356.

[99] Gordon, Woman’s Body, Woman’s Rights, p.356.

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