Marie Stopes

( 1880 - 1958 )

Sexologist

Marie Stopes was a palaeobotanist and women's rights campaigner who is best known as a pioneer of family planning.

Read more in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
Marie Stopes

Marie Stopes, by Elliott & Fry, bromide print, 1948, © National Portrait Gallery, London, CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0

Marie Stopes studied for a science degree at University College London, graduating in 1902. Here she was also president of the Women's Debating Society and introduced events at which women and men took part equally.

Stopes went on to a remarkably successful scientific career in palaeobotany, the study of fossil plants. She studied for a PhD at the Botanical Institute in Munich, where she was the only woman among 500 men. She completed her thesis in one year (and defended it in German), becoming the first woman to gain a botany PhD from the Institute. 

In the following year Stopes became the first woman to lecture in botany at the University of Manchester, and was appointed a fellow of University College London in 1910. In the 1910s, Stopes became active in the birth control movement, and her book Married Love (1918) proved both controversial and hugely successful. 

From 1912 Marie Stopes was a member of what became the Eugenics Society. Her interest in eugenics—then a popular and multi-faceted doctrine endorsed by members of the political left and right—has prompted criticism from some modern commentators. At the same time Stopes’ recent biographers and historians of birth control note her partial and periodic engagement of eugenic theories in her work, and her growing marginalisation from the Eugenics Society.

With her husband, Stopes opened her first birth control clinic in 1921 in a working-class district of north London. She later popularised the cause of family planning in mass meetings, at which she emphasised the importance of 'healthy, happy, desired, babies'. Today Marie Stopes International works in almost 40 countries around the world, providing life-saving services to millions of women in greatest need. 

 

Affiliated with

University College London

Subjects studied

  • Science