In the wake of the controversy and debate which has arisen over the inclusion of Marie Stopes, in the Royal Mail’s Women of Distinction series of stamps next month, one should not lose sight of the huge difference she has made in helping women, and men, in their sexual health and reproductive needs, which continues to this day.
Marie Stopes has always been a woman of ‘firsts’. A talented student, she obtained a double first in botany and in 1905 became Britain's youngest Doctor of Science. But her fame was as a pioneer advocate of birth control and the reproductive health of women - no less important in the twenty-first century.
Controversy she may have courted, but it is difficult not to be astounded by Marie Stopes’ achievements - all the more remarkable if we view them in the context of the period in which she lived. A time, for example, where campaigning about birth-control could lead to imprisonment.
Born in the reign of Queen Victoria and growing up in Edwardian times, as a woman, she would have faced the socio-political restrictions of that era. Her academic achievements, and the associated elevation in status that would bring, would still have been dwarfed by the fact that as a woman, she had no political voice - no right to vote.
In a positive sense, Marie Stopes indeed became a product of her time – and joined other forward-thinking British women who began to challenge the status quo. The rumblings in women’s suffrage spurred Marie Stopes to turn her ideas into ‘bricks and mortar’. In 1921, she opened the UK’s first family planning clinic in Holloway, North London – seven years before women got the vote.
The opening of the clinic created one of the greatest social impacts of the 20th century and marked the start of a new era in which couples, for the first time, could reliably take control over their fertility. The clinic offered a free service to married women and also gathered scientific data about contraception.
Marie Stopes did more than make reproductive health care accessible for women – she endeavoured to change the mindset of a conservative society, and approach the subject of sex in the wider context of increasing sexual pleasure for couples. In our present voyeuristic, media-intrusive society, it is easy to dismiss the bravery of Marie Stopes in bringing sexual issues to the fore under a barrage of criticism from all quarters.
In 1925, the Marie Stopes Clinic moved to Whitfield Street in Central London, where it remains today as the flagship clinic of the modern organisation that bears her name: Marie Stopes International.
The modern organisation was set up by Dr Tim Black in 1975 and, continues to make pioneer strides around the world with a team of 5000 and support offices in London, Brussels, Melbourne, and Colorado.
Today, Marie Stopes International works in 43 countries around the world has 547 clinics and thousands of outreach sites and mobile services all providing high quality sexual and reproductive health care. An organisation of distinction, Marie Stopes International continues to receive a daily stamp of approval – from just over 5 million men and women a year who are grateful for the positive difference that MSI has made, and continues to make, in their lives. For further information please refer to the below statement release:
“Marie Stopes deserves to be included in the Women of Distinction series of stamps by the Royal Mail” claims the charity that bears her name