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English Women Doctors, Contraception and Family Planning in Transnational Perspective (1930s–70s)

  • Caroline Rusterholz (a1)
Abstract

This paper explores the influence of English female doctors on the creation of the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) and the production and circulation of contraceptive knowledge in England and, to a lesser extent in France, between 1930 and 1970. By drawing on the writings of female doctors and proceedings of international conferences as well as the archives of the British Medical Women’s Federation (MWF) and Family Planning Association (FPA), on the one hand, and Mouvement Français pour le Planning Familial (MFPF), on the other, this paper explores the agency of English female doctors at the national and transnational level. I recover their pioneering work and argue that they were pivotal in legitimising family planning within medical circles. I then turn to their influence on French doctors after World War II. Not only were English medical women active and experienced agents in the family planning movement in England; they also represented a conduit of information and training crucial for French doctors. Transfer of knowledge across the channel was thus a decisive tool for implementing family planning services in France.

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*Email address for correspondence: cr523@cam.ac.uk
Footnotes
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I am really grateful to all the participants of the international conference on ‘Reproductive politics in France and the UK’, held at the University of Cambridge in September 2016, who offered valuable feedback on the first version of this article. I would also like to thank my ex-colleagues at Birkbeck University, as well as Laura Kelly, who provided constructive comments. I am particularly grateful to the two anonymous reviewers for their useful and stimulating suggestions. I gratefully acknowledge the support of the Swiss National Science Foundation grant number P300P1_171604.

Footnotes
References
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1. I use the term ‘English’, although some of these women were British, to emphasise the fact that they were practising in England during the period under study.

2. Latham, Melanie, Regulating Reproduction: A Century of Conflict in Britain and France (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002); Linda Gordon, The Moral Property of Women: A History of Birth Control Politics in America (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2002); Sofia Kling, ‘Reproductive Health, Birth Control, and Fertility Change in Sweden, circa 1900–40’, The History of the Family, 15 (2010), 161–73; Cornelie Usborne, The Politics of the Body in Weimar Germany: Women’s Reproductive Rights and Duties (London: Springer, 1992); Clare Debenham, Birth Control and the Rights of Women: Post-Suffrage Feminism in the Early Twentieth Century (London: IB Tauris, 2013); L.A. Hall, ‘Marie Stopes and her correspondents: personalising population decline in an era of demographic change’, in Marie Stopes, Eugenics and the English Birth Control Movement: Proceedings of a Conference Organised by the Galton Institute, London, (1996), 27–48; Audrey Leathard, The Fight for Family Planning: The Development of Family Planning Services in Britain, 1921–74 (London: Macmillan, 1980); Deborah A. Cohen, ‘Private Lives in Public Spaces: Marie Stopes, the Mothers’ Clinics and the Practice of Contraception’, History Workshop Journal, 35 (1993), 95–116; Pamela Dale and Kate Fisher, ‘Contrasting Municipal Responses to the Provision of Birth Control Services in Halifax and Exeter before 1948’, Social History of Medicine, 23 (2010), 567–85; Claire Davey, ‘Birth Control in Britain During the Interwar Years: Evidence From the Stopes Correspondence’, Journal of Family History, 13 (1988), 329–45; Emma L. Jones, ‘The Establishment of Voluntary Family Planning Clinics in Liverpool and Bradford, 1926–60: A Comparative Study’, Social History of Medicine, 24 (2011), 352–69.

3. Medicalisation means ‘defining a problem in medical terms, using medical language to describe a problem, adopting a medical framework to understand a problem or using a medical intervention to treat it’: Peter Conrad, ‘Medicalization and Social Control’, Annual Review of Sociology18, 1 (1992), 211.

4. Rusterholz, Caroline, ‘English and French Women Doctors in International Debates on Contraception (1920–35)’, Social History of Medicine, 31, 2 (2018), 328–47. On women being assigned to precarious positions, see Mary Ann C. Elston, Women Doctors in the British Health Services: A Sociological Study of their Careers and Opportunities (Diss. University of Leeds, 1986).

5. Oudshoorn, Nelly, Beyond the Natural Body: An Archaeology of Sex Hormones (London: Routledge, 1994); Rosemarie Tong, Feminist Approaches to Bioethics: Theoretical Reflections and Practical Applications (Boulder: Westview Press, 1997).

6. Bashford, Alison, Global Population: History, Geopolitics, and Life on Earth (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014).

7. For the medicalisation of birth control at the transnational level, see Rusterholz, op. cit. (note 4).

8. ‘Birth Control International Information Centre’, in PP/CPB/C.2, Wellcome Library.

9. Ibid.

10. Ibid.

11. Ibid.

12. Ibid.

13. For the rhetoric of rationalisation, see Marks, Lara, Sexual Chemistry: A History of the Contraceptive Pill (Yale: Yale University Press, 2010), 21.

14. On the subject of population explosion and its connected fears, see Bashford, op. cit. (note 6); Matthew James Connelly, Fatal Misconception: The Struggle to Control World Population (Harvard: Harvard University Press, 2008).

15. Recently, scholars have begun to incorporate a transnational perspective into these issues, pinpointing the permanency of arguments and actors before and after World War II. See references in note 14.

16. Kling, op. cit. (note 2).

17. ‘Letter from Elise Ottesen-Jensen to Joan Malleson, 10 July 1946’, in SA/FPA/A10/10, Wellcome Library.

18. ‘Proceedings of the International Congress on Population and World Resources in Relation to the Family, August 1948, Cheltenham England’, in PP/EFG/A.46, Wellcome Library.

19. The London eugenics leader, Carlos Paton Blacker, and the president of the British FPA, Thomas Jeeves Horder, who presided over the Asian conference in 1933, were also both present.

20. ‘Proceedings of the International Congress on Population and World Resources in Relation to the Family, August 1948, Cheltenham England’, op. cit. (note 18).

21. On these tensions, see Linder, Doris H., Crusader do Sex Education, Elise Ottensen-Jensen (1886–1973) in Scandinavia and on the International Scene (Boston: University Press of America, 1996), 175182.

22. Houghton, Vera, ‘Report of Meeting of International Committee on Planned Parenthood’, Eugenics Review, 43, 3 (1951), 141.

23. ‘Letter from Helena Wright to medical members of the IPPF’s governing body, 3 March 1955’: ‘I proposed the setting-up of a medical sub-committee of doctors only, for the purposes outlined in IPPF 35(L). The governing body gave its sanction and at the second meeting of the Medical Sub-Committee I was appointed Chairman’, in SA/FPA/A10/8, Wellcome Library.

24. ‘The IPPF Medical Committee’ in News of Population and Birth Control, CXVII (1963), in Vellay 9.5 IPPF, BIUM, Paris.

25. ‘First Annual Report, 29 November 1952/31 August 1953, IPPF’, in Fonds Dalsace-Vellay, Vellay 9.5 IPPF, BIUM, Paris.

26. ‘International Planned Parenthood Federation Region for Europe, Near East and Africa Minutes of the Fifth Meeting of the Regional Council, November 1960’, in SA/FPA/A10/8, Wellcome Library.

27. ‘Letter from Elstone Secretary of the IPPF to Helena Wright, 8 November 1963’, in SA/FPA/A/10/8, Wellcome Library; ‘Letter from Elstone Secretary of the IPPF to Mary Pollock, 20 April 1966’, in SA/FPA/A10/8, Wellcome Library.

28. ‘Proceedings of the International Congress on Population and World Resources in Relation to the Family, August 1948, Cheltenham, England’, op. cit. (note 18): 210.

29. ‘First Annual Report, 29 November 1952/31 August 1953, IPPF’, in Fonds Dalsace-Vellay, Vellay 9.5 BIUM, Paris.

30. Ibid.

31. ‘Report on the 11th Congress Vienna, 24–25 June 1968’, Medical Women’s International Journal, (1968), 66, in SA/MWF/K.8/12, Wellcome Library.

32. Bashford, op. cit. (note 6), 330.

33. Hall, Lesley A., ‘A Suitable Job for a Woman: Women Doctors and Birth Control to the Inception of the NHS’, Clio Medica, 61 (2001), 127147.

34. Debenham, op. cit. (note 2); Leathard, op. cit. (note 2).

35. Leathard, op. cit. (note 2). Richard A. Soloway, Demography and Degeneration: Eugenics and the Declining Birthrate in Twentieth-Century Britain (Chapel Hill: UNC Press Books, 2014); Lesley A. Hall, Sex, Gender and Social Change in Britain since 1880 (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012); Lesley A. Hall, The Life and Times of Stella Browne: Feminist and Free Spirit (London: IB Tauris, 2011); Lucy Bland and Lesley Hall, ‘Eugenics in Britain: the view from the metropole’, in A. Bashford and P. Levine (eds). The Oxford Handbook of the History of Eugenics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 213–27.

36. Fisher, Kate, Birth Control, Sex, and Marriage in Britain 1918–60 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006); Hera Cook, The Long Sexual Revolution: English Women, Sex, and Contraception 1800–1975 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).

37. Hall, op. cit. (note 33).

38. ‘Minutes of the meetings of the Council of the Medical Women’s Federation, 8 May 1931’, in CMAL SA/MWF/A 11/4, Wellcome Library.

39. ‘Birth Control in Modern Life’, British Medical Journal, 3910 (1935), 1182.

40. Hall, op. cit. (note 33), 109.

41. Cox, Gladys, Clinical Contraception (London, 1933).

42. Malleson, Joan, The Principles of Contraception: A Handbook for General Practitioners (London, 1935), 9.

43. Ibid., 10.

44. Ibid., 25.

45. Wright, Helena and Wright, Henry Beric, Contraceptive Techniques: A Handbook for Medical Practitioners and Senior Students (London, 1951), 5.

46. Pollock, Mary (ed.), Family Planning: A Handbook for the Doctor (London, 1966).

47. The women doctors contributing to the book were Sylvia Dawkins (medical officer at the Islington Family Planning Centre), Rosalie Taylor, Eleanor Mears, Josephine Barnes, Margaret Moore White, Margaret Neal-Edwards, Mary Egerton, Margaret Blair, Jean Passmore, Elizabeth Draper, Alison Giles, Margaret Pyke and Wright.

48. Murphy, Kathleen, ‘Joan Malleson, The Principles of Contraception’, Medical Women’s Federation Quarterly, (1935–36), 65.

49. E.H., ‘Margaret Moore White, Womanhood ’, Medical Women’s Federation Quarterly, (1952), 37.

50. There was a long tradition of women who had achieved medical qualifications writing handbooks of health guidance for laywomen, who might not be in a position to afford to see a doctor, or who might be shy about discussing womanly ailments with a male medic.

51. Wright, Helena, Birth Control: Advice on Family Spacing and Healthy Sex Life (London: Cassell, 1935), 3.

52. White, Margaret Moore, Womanhood (London: Cassell, 1947), 4.

53. Malleson, op. cit. (note 42).

54. ‘Letter from Wright to Blacker, 18 March 1932’, in PP/CPB/C/1/16, Wellcome Library.

55. ‘Letter from Blacker to Wright, 14 April 1932’, in PP/CPB/C/1/16, Wellcome Library.

56. For a detailed analysis of this rivalry, see Rusterholz, Caroline, ‘Testing the Gräfenberg Ring in Interwar Britain: Norman Haire, Helena Wright and the Debate over Statistical Evidence, Side Effects, and Intrauterine Contraception’, Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, 72, 4 (2017), 448467.

57. Information collected in MS.9178/3/1 Walworth 70th anniversary historical material, Wellcome Library.

58. SA/FPA/A13/85B, Wellcome Library.

59. ‘Letter from the Secretary of the Clinics Medical Sub-Committee to Dr Evelyn Roberts, 26 January 1956’, in SA/FPA/A14/196, Wellcome Library.

60. ‘Demonstration model of the teaching of contraceptive techniques. Designed to the specification of Dr Helena Wright, approved by the FPA. Produced exclusively by Pytram LTD’, in SA/FPA/A19/9, Wellcome Library.

61. Szreter, Simon and Fisher, Kate, Sex Before the Sexual Revolution: Intimate Life in England 1918–63 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010).

62. Cox, Gladys, Clinical Contraception (London, 1933), 10.

63. Wright, Helena, Contraceptive Technique: A Handbook of Practical Instruction, 3rd edn, S (London, 1968), 5.

64. Jackson, Margaret C.N., ‘Birth Control and the Medical Profession’, British Medical Journal, 3621 (31 May 1930), 1022.

65. Pyke, Margaret A., ‘Contraception and Fertility’, The Lancet, 231, 5972 (February 1938), 405.

66. Alabaster, George H., ‘Contraceptives and Fertility’, British Medical Journal, 4024 (19 February 1938), 419; George H. Alabaster, ‘Contraception and Fertility’, The Lancet, 231, 5973 (February 1938), 462.

67. Malleson, Joan, ‘Contraceptives and Fertility’, British Medical Journal, 4025 (26 February 1938), 484.

68. Ibid.

69. Jackson, Margaret C.N., ‘Contraceptives and Fertility’, British Medical Journal, 4026 (5 March 1938), 539.

70. Malleson, Joan, ‘Contraception and Sterility’, British Medical Journal, 4322 (6 November 1943), 587; Joan Malleson, ‘Contraception and Sterility’, British Medical Journal, 4328 (18 December 1943), 796–7.

71. Strange, Julie-Marie, ‘The Assault on Ignorance: Teaching Menstrual Etiquette in England, c. 1920s to 1960s’, Social History of Medicine, 14, 2 (2001), 247265.

72. ‘Letter from the General Secretary of the FPA to Greta Graff, 6 April 1954’, in SA/FPA/A14/188, Wellcome Library.

73. Mears, Eleanor, ‘Clinical Trials of Oral Contraceptives’, British Medical Journal, 5261 (4 November 1961), 11791183; P. Eckstein et al, ‘The Birmingham Oral Contraceptive Trial’, British Medical Journal, 5261 (4 November 1961), 1172–79; Margaret C.N. Jackson, ‘Oral Contraception in Practice’, Journal of Reproduction and Fertility, 6, 1 (1963), 153–73. See also SA/FPA/A4/A1.3, Wellcome Library; ‘Minutes of the fourth meeting of doctors conducting Council for the investigation of fertility control, oral contraceptive trial, 30 June 1964’, in SA/FPA/A5/158B, Wellcome Library.

74. Mears, Eleanor, ‘Oral Contraception: The Results’, Family Planning, 10, 4 (1962), 4.

75. Peberdy, Mary, ‘Problem Families’, Medical Women’s Federation Quarterly, (April 1965).

76. ‘Letter from Eleanor Mears to all medical officers conducting contraceptive trials, 13 January 1965’, in SA/FPA/A5/158B.

77. Pavard, Bibia, Si Je Veux, Quand Je Veux: Contraception et Avortement Dans La Société Française (1956–79) [If I Want, When I Want: Contraception and Abortion in France (1956–79)] (Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2012); Christine Bard and Janine Mossuz-Lavau, Le Planning Familial: Histoire et Mémoire, 1956–2006 [Family Planning: History and Memory, 1956–2006] (Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2007).

78. Pavard, Bibia, ‘Du Birth Control Au Planning Familial (1955–60): Un Transfert Militant’ [From Birth Control to Family Planning, An Activist Transfer], Histoire@ Politique, III (2012), 162–78.

79. See Teresa Ortiz-Gómez and Agata Ignaciuk, ‘The Fight for Family Planning in Spain During Late Francoism and the Transition to Democracy (1965–79)’, Journal of Women’s History, 30, 2 (2018), 38–62.

80. ‘News of Population and Birth Control’, 34 (1955), in Vellay 9.5 IPPF, BIUM.

81. ‘Letter from La maternité Heureuse, MFPF, 31 October 1961 to Mrs Pyke’, in SA/FPA/A21/8 France 1951–67, Wellcome Library.

82. Dossier 11. 1, Fonds Vellay 9.5 IPPF, BIUM, Paris.

83. For exchange of information between England and France, see ‘Letter from Vera Houghton, 15 December 1954’, in Fonds Vellay 9.5 IPPF; BIUM, Paris.

84. ‘Letter from Arlette Fribourg to Eleanor Mears, 25 April 1961’, in SA/FPA/A21/8 France 1951–67, Wellcome Library.

85. ‘Report of the March 1957 International Planned Parenthood Federation and accounts for the region for Europe’, in SA/FPA/A10/8 1955–66 IPPF, Wellcome Library.

86. They were not alone. According to a report from the FPA, Dr Pierre Bertrand, Dr Geneviève Hall, Dr Mato Medeau, Dr Elizabeth Palmer, Mrs Pechabrier (Ministry of Health and Education), Dr Yves Peninou, Evelyn Sullerot and Dr and Mrs Weill-Hallé were all trained in 1956: SA/FPA/A10/8 1955–66 IPPF, Wellcome Library.

87. ‘Letter from S. Le Sueur Cappel to Eleanor Mears, 11 November 1961’: ‘I came back to Versailles very happy from my too short sejour in England. I thank you very much for the charming welcome I have found wherever I have been received and all the centres I have seen, [they]were very interesting for me’, in Revue trimestrielle du Mouvement français pour le planning familial, December 1962, 2.

88. ‘Herewith the usual forms and literature for the four who will be attending the lectures and demonstration session in London on Tuesday 12 November: Dr Chatelin (male doctor) Dr Houdville (male doctor), Dr Jacqueline Cahen-Wolff, Dr Branle.’: ‘Letter to Joan Rettie, 8 November 1963’, in SA/FPA/A10/8 1955–66 IPPF, Wellcome Library.

89. On training in England, see ‘Report of the March 1957 International Planned Parenthood Federation’, in SA/FPA/A10/8 1955–66 IPPF, Wellcome Library.

90. ‘Letter from Mrs Wintersgill to Mrs Nelson-Barette, 13 December 1960’, in SA/FPA/A10/8 1955–66 IPPF, Wellcome Library.

91. ’The FPA Walworth Women’s Welfare Centre, Annual Report 1960’, in SA/FPA/A13/85B, Wellcome Library.

92. ‘Letter from medical secretary Mears to Mr and Mrs Dalsace, 15 November 1963’; ‘Letter from Mears to Raoul Palmer, 15 November 1963’; ‘Letter from Mears to Weill-Hallé, 15 November 1963’, in SA/FPA/A10/8 1955–66 IPPF, Wellcome Library.

I am really grateful to all the participants of the international conference on ‘Reproductive politics in France and the UK’, held at the University of Cambridge in September 2016, who offered valuable feedback on the first version of this article. I would also like to thank my ex-colleagues at Birkbeck University, as well as Laura Kelly, who provided constructive comments. I am particularly grateful to the two anonymous reviewers for their useful and stimulating suggestions. I gratefully acknowledge the support of the Swiss National Science Foundation grant number P300P1_171604.

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